Deadly Day: Boiler Explosion on the Farm

Boiler explosion killed three and injured another in a 1937 incident.

| September 2017

  • Although these photos capture a different boiler explosion – one that occurred on Sept. 13, 1910 – the scene is probably similar to the explosion described in this article. Note the man with a bandage, and another (far right) operating what appears to be a box camera.
    Photo by Farm Collector archives
  • This photo was taken before the explosion.
    Photo by Farm Collector archives
  • Scene of a 1908 explosion in Canada.
    Photo by Farm Collector archives

When considering life on the farm decades ago, we sometimes slip into a fantasy land of pastoral splendor. But the twin realities of farm life seven or eight decades ago were hard work and danger. Steam engines were particularly unforgiving of oversight. The article reprinted here describes a typical and unfortunately deadly boiler explosion in North Carolina in 1937.

Three men were killed and a fourth was injured about 10 o’clock this morning when a steam boiler on a traction engine exploded at the home of E.J. Potts a short distance out of Advance.

The dead are Wiley Potts, 42, Isam Potts, 16, a nephew of the elder man, and Walter Glenn Jarvis, 26, all residents of the neighborhood where the accident occurred. O.D. Zimmerman sustained minor injuries.

The men were all blown to bits in the terrific explosion which, it is believed, occurred when water was pumped into the boiler after the water level was allowed to get too low.

Several people were standing around the traction engine when the explosion occurred, and it is regarded as remarkable that others were not seriously injured or killed. A large crowd gathered around the wrecked machine shortly after the accident and stated that the noise was heard for many miles.

The boiler had been fired up and the crew were preparing to go to the home of Mr. Zimmerman to thresh lespedeza. There was no advance warning of the impending disaster.


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