Boiler explosions left deep and lasting memories in the families
of those who were killed or injured, in the days when threshing was
so much a part of the American farm scene.
This graphic account of an explosion in 1918 was written by Mrs.
Atlee Hershberger, R. 2, Box 110, Oakland, Maryland 21550. The
disaster claimed the life of her step grand father, Dan T. Miller,
and his son Albert.
Mrs. Hershberger wrote it down because the older generation is
passing and 'there may soon be no one here to recall the things
that happened long ago.' She plans to have a booklet
She was helped by Mr. & Mrs. Eli D. Hershberger, Holmesburg,
Ohio who wrote their recollections. Hershberger obtained
information from Mrs. Jacob P. Weaver, Jacob J. Swartzenruber, Joe
E. Kline and Dan P. Weaver, who has since died. Others aided,
including Mrs. Emanual Slabaugh, Dalton, Ohio.
The account was published in The Diary, monthly publication of
the Old Order Amish Church of America. We reprint it with
permission of Joseph F. Beiler, R. D. 1, Gordonville, Pennsylvania,
It was August 27, the year was 1918. The Dan T. Miller family
was up early for it was threshing day. Dan T. and his son Albert
were the operators of an old steam engine threshing rig.
The engine had been in need of repairs so it had been
overhauled. The inspector was there the day before and okayed the
engine. This morning they would start threshing on their own farm
which was located one mile east of Maysville, Ohio. This is the
farm which was later bought by my parents, Joni Millers, and my
mother is still living in the small house. My brother Uriah now
owns the farm.
Dan T. who was 54 years old, seemed extra happy that morning as
he went about his work of firing up the engine. His wife, Mary, was
busy helping with the chores around the barn. She went by close to
the engine to feed a cluck with little chicks, and stopped to talk
to her husband. The steam engine was an old one and Mary had some
misgivings about it. 'Do you think it is safe?' she asked
'Yes, it should be safe. The inspector said it was all
right,' he assured her. She finished tending the chicks and
then started for the house.
Fannie A. Yoder (now Mrs. Jacob P. Weaver), the hired girl, was
at the barn with a tea kettle of hot water to wash the cream
separator. She was walking towards the water trough and Jacob
Swartzentruber was walking with her. Jacob was hired hand for Peter
E. Miller and had arrived already to help thresh. He was early, for
most of the other neighbors had something else to do that morning
at home and had not yet arrived.
Albert was helping his father with the engine, and a younger
son, Andy, was standing outside the milkhouse by the barnyard
It was decided to connect some water pipes and hose to the water
trough in order to save hauling water with the water tank. Albert
and Jacob Swartzentruber had been working with the hose. Jacob had
been on the engine with Dan T. when Dan told him, 'You go over
to the water trough and let Albert come here to help me with the
Jacob walked towards the trough and Albert came and worked on
the engine to get the water started into the boiler.
By this time the fire in the engine was burning hot and, unknown
to the men, the water in the boiler had evaporated into steam. The
boiler was soon very hot.
Dan was standing on the front wheel fixing something on the
governor, and Albert was on the step on the side of the engine
trying to get the water pumps working.
Suddenly the pumps began to work. There was a terrible explosion
that was heard for miles around.
Several miles to the west, Ben Sausers, another experienced
thresherman, who was firing up his engine on a farm near
Applecreek, heard the explosion and exclaimed, 'There goes Dan
T.'s old pot!'
Among the early arrivals at the Miller farm that morning had
been Godfred Master and Bob Haunstein, two laborers who had been
hired to help with the threshing. These two men were sitting on
some feed bags on the den floor in the barn waiting for the wagons
to come. Terrified by the explosion, they hurried down the hayhole,
raced through the barnyard, and left the farm as fast as they could
At that time there were Mennonite people living on the farm
where Yost Yoders lived later, by the name of Dan Nussbaums, and
there was a woods between their farm and the Miller farm. They
claimed later that they saw Dan T. up in the air over the woods.
They ran to see what had happened.
Dan's wife, Mary, had not yet arrived at the house when the
explosion came. She turned and ran towards the bam but met the
hired girl, Fannie, who told her she had better not go to the barn,
so she turned, again and went into the house.
When Dan came down he came through a small roof that had been
built over the barn bridge. He landed on the den floor. His right
leg was torn off above the knee. His foot with part of the leg flew
over the barn and got caught in the fence on the east side of the
barn. The other part of his leg was never found.
Dan P. Weaver was the first one of the neighbors to arrive after
the explosion, but he said he could not do anything. He was in a
state of shock. Next came Eli D. Hershberger, who lived
three-fourth mile east of the Miller farm. When he heard the
explosion he jumped on a horse and rode as fast as he could. When
Eli found Dan he was still living. 'Oh, my leg hurts so
much,' he said.
Eli told him that his leg was off and Dan asked what had
happened. When Eli told him there had been an explosion he asked,
'Albert is dead,' Eli told him.
'Send word for all the children to come,' were the last
words he said. Several of the married children lived in Geauga
When the neighbors arrived they told Fannie to start ringing the
bell. But she did not respond as she was in a state of shock. Then
Andy was asked to ring the bell, but he did not understand either.
But in a short time many bells were ringing in the
A blanket was brought for Dan to lay his head on and a doctor
was sent for, but before the doctor arrived he was dead. He lived
about forty-five minutes after the explosion.
Dan had a gash above his right ear, about a four inch triangle
with one corner hanging down over his ear. He was scalded over his
chest so that the skin came off.
W. M. Hostetler, who lived on the D. M. Kauffman farm at that
time, said he saw Dan's foot come over the barn with the shoe
and sock still on.
Albert was found north of the barn in three pieces. His body had
been torn off at the waist and the legs torn apart. One leg was
seventy-five yards from where the engine stood and parts of his
body were found elsewhere.
When the Nussbaums arrived their daughter said to Fannie Yoder,
'Come, let us go see where Albert is.'
When they got to the peach tree, Fannie could go no further and
turned around to go back, but the other girl went on and soon she
called, 'Here he is.'
When more people had arrived a close search was made and both of
their watches were found. They were still running at the time.
The boiler was under an apple tree seventy-five feet away and
the firebox was turned end for end. The boiler had been ripped open
lengthwise in line with the men's feet where Dan and Albert had
A long shaft with a big heavy wheel on one end came down just
outside the door where Fannie and Jacob Swartzentruber had gone in
only a few moments before. The shaft went into the driveway so that
it stood on end with the heavy wheel on top. They also narrowly
missed being hit by the water and steam from the boiler.
At Dave K. Troyers, two miles to the south, the house shook so
that the windows rattled and the dishes in the cupboard moved.
The bodies were gathered up and cleaned as best as could be
done. Albert's body was laid out in the little orchard close by
the chicken house. The undertaker accidentally got his legs on
wrong. But since it would be quite a job to change them they were
left that way.
The bodies were put on boards and carried to the house. Because
of the heat and the condition the bodies were in, they were kept on
ice until they were taken to the cemetery.
Mary, Dan's wife, was in bed most of the time until after
the funeral. Her son, Mahlon, had died that spring on May 9th. When
her husband died she said, 'I have not forgotten Mahlon yet as
he was always so good to me. Now it's Dan and Albert.'
The funeral services were held at the Dan P. Weaver home. Bishop
Noah Bontrager of Howard County, Indiana and Samuel Yoder preached
in the barn while Daniel D. Yoder and Daniel M. Wengerd preached in
Noah Bontrager, who helped preach the funeral sermon, is still
living. He resides in Holmes County, near Sugarcreek, Ohio.
The bodies were left at the Miller home and the people walked
from the Weaver home to view them. Fifteen hundred people walked
past the coffins. Burial was in the Hershberger Cemetery west of
Mt. Eaton, Ohio.
Dan T. was my step-grandfather and this was the home where I was
born two years later. I can well recall the fear I always had when
I was a little girl and a steam engine would go by our place or
come in to thresh for us. I had heard about the accident so often
that I was afraid any engine would explode.