Courtesy of Mr. Russell Shaw, 1440 Munson St., Flint, Michigan
I first learned of this tragedy three or four years ago. Last fall, when my wife and I made a trip visiting relatives in Fremont, Mich., we took time out to run down this story and get as many facts as possible. With the help of Mr. Austin Cochrane, I got the newspaper clipping which is a reprint that appeared in the Newaygo Republican about a year ago. With him we visited the church where the funeral was held, also the cemetery where we were able to verify the exact date from the tombstones.
I was unable to learn much from my interview with Mr. Geo. Haight. He and Oscar Evans, were at the rear of the barn, near the spot where the boiler came out. Mr. Evans received a broken leg, plus minor injuries. Mr. Haight was badly hurt and lay unconscious for a time. What he knows is only what he learned from others later. Geo. later married his brothers (Charles) widow and has lived on his place ever since. Over the years Geo. has found bits of metal when plowing the fields on both sides of the road. One piece of the engine he found not long ago lay in the wood lot behind where Geo. is standing in the snap shot, that would be a distance of some 500 yds.
Those of us old enough to have lived in the days before and during the coming of the gas buggy, remember the steam farm engine with more or less fondness, more if you happen to be one who worked around them. Of course there was much that did not seem so wonderful at the time, the long hours that started before day break, the sweat and dirt, the breakdowns and bog-downs, the headaches -and sometimes heartaches.
This story concerning a tragedy that occurred sixty-five years ago was perhaps the worst boiler explosion that ever happened on a farm anywhere, in numbers killed and injured. The location was an area known as Big Prairie, in western lower Michigan. The in closed newspaper cliping is a copy of the original article that was printed in the Newaygo Republican a few days after the explosion. The snapshot is of the old barn as it looks today, very much the same as it was then, except for the roofing over the old shingles and the lean-to. The man in the picture is Mr. Geo. Haight one of the two men still living who were at the scene when the explosion took place. Mr. Haight was twenty years of age then. The engine stood just left of where Mr. Haight is standing. The house, since replaced, was behind me (taking the picture) across the road from the barn.
Mr. Austin Cochrane now living in Fremont Mich, also twenty years of age at the time, lived a few miles from there. He and his mother were called upon to do the singing at the funeral, held in the open at a neighborhood church for six of the seven victims. Mr. Cochrane states that the funeral procession of horse and buggys was well over a mile long. Today in the nearby cemetery you can read on their tombstones, DIED JULY 31, 1899.
This article was copied from our Scrap Book. We think it may have happened 60 years ago.
Appalling Accident Six Men Killed Instantly Four Injured, one of whom died
The most terrible catastrophe that ever shocked this county took place in the township of Big Prairie, about eight miles east of White Cloud, last Monday morning. A threshing machine and portable engine were taken to the residence of Charles Haight last Saturday evening for the purpose of threshing Mr. Haight's grain. Preparations were going forward for commencing work last Monday morning about nine o'clock, and the men who made up the regular crew were working around the machines, and several neighbors, who had assembled to assist, were standing about. A fire had been built in the boiler, which had been filled Saturday night, but a large portion of the water must have leaked out, as when about forty pounds of steam had been made it was noticed that the water gauge showed no signs of water in the boiler.
Mr. Crabtree the engineer, commenced to pull the fire from underneath the boiler, when Alford Haight turned the water through the injector before anyone knew what he was doing, and in an instant there was an explosion which shook the earth and was heard a distance of four miles. When the smoke and dust cleared away a sight was presented which caused strong men to shudder and women to faint away. The bodies of six men lay scattered about, mangled, bruised, broken and dead, and four others injured more or less seriously, one of them dying at 10 o'clock Monday night.
The dead were Charles Haight, Alford Haight, Charles Crabtree, Bert Salter, Cecil Priest, 16 years old, Raymond Howe, 16 years old. The injured were: George Overly, died since. Oscar Evans, leg broken and minor injuries. George Haight, badly bruised.
The engine was located between the house and barn, about 75 feet from each and the separator stood in the barn. When the explosion occurred the boiler headed straight for the 'barn, crushing and killing as it went. It struck the separator in front and demolished about half of it and forced the other part out of doors. The rear of the barn was literally torn to pieces, timbers twelve inches square were splintered like matches and even the sill of the barn was broken into bits. The boiler landed fourteen rods from where it started by actual measurement. A rear wheel of the separator was forced into the cylinder and fastened there as tightly as if it had been built that way. The door of the boiler was flung against the dwelling house which was substantially built, and struck it flatly with such force that all the lettering and marks upon, it are plainly imprinted in the wood. A large piece of the engine struck the cornice of the porch just above Mrs. Charles Haight's head.
Dr. Kuhn of White Cloud, was seen by the writer after his return from the scene and said it was the most terrible sight he ever saw. He and Dr. J. C. Branch were sent for and reached the place as soon as horses could get them there. Dr. Kuhn said that four of the dead bodies had been washed, and lay on. the barn floor, and two others were on boards being washed when they arrived. 'Never, in all my experience, have I seen human bodies so fightfully mutilated as these were. A Mr. Blaisdell, Isaac Coon, and Andrew Goebell, who were in the barn when it happened, were not injured but so dazed and stunned that they could not realize what had happened.
A young man by the name of LeBaron carried the news to White Cloud. When he arrived there his face was still black and his clothing bloody and he said he had been struck and knocked down by the flying body of a man. Three of the bodies lay piled together, which accounts for the first report that only three were killed; the last three had not been discovered at that time. Mr. Overley lingered until 10 o'clock in the evening and died without becoming conscious. The physicians said they injected solutions of nitro glycerine and whiskey into his body, but with little apparent effect. All the men except Mr. Overley, who home was in Mecosta county, were residents of Big Prairie. Three, Charles Haight, Salter, and Crabtree, were married and leave three, one and six children respectively. Aside from the boys, those killed were from thirty to forty years old. A jury was impaneled toy W. S. Utley, Jr., J. P. and a verdict of accidental death returned.
By Pat King, Kenneth, Minnesota
I could not resist taking issue with the statement on page 39 of the current issue of the November-December I.M.A. 1965 that the two wheel engine tender is a headache. The article also insinuated that it took a section of land to turn around on. If the guide rods of the tender are adjusted correctly and the undercarriage isn't bent or sprung out of shape, you can turn just as short-either forward or backward-even in loose plowed ground as you could without the tender. What constitutes a real headache is trying to dig coal out of a small opening in a bunk on the platform, especially if the coal is in large chunks as it usually was in the steam engine era. Nevertheless, it should be broken up in small pieces because it produces more heat that way. In this manner the coal can be used in a more economical firing. It would also be much more convenient to shovel the coal, if it was out in the open on the coal compartment on top of the tender.
A tender has many advantages, one being that more water can be kept on hand in case the tank man has to haul it a long distance. Still another advantage is that the tender removes much of the weight from the engine, facilitating crossing soft spots and weak bridges with less danger of getting stuck or breaking through a bridge.
So. it is my contention that the two wheel automatic tender was one of the best things that ever happened when threshing was done with steam power. The two wheel tender was made to work and it did work perfectly; but like every thing else, it must be kept in working order to get satisfactory service.