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Past Events


13 Jan 1965
Submitted by Lynne Canterbury


Working In Airshaft At Mine

Two men were killed Tuesday afternoon when a bucket from a crane fell on them in a deep airshaft being opened for Fird Coal Co.'s Mine 3 at Tire Hill.

The dead were identified as:

     FRANCIS H. MAY, 49, Johnstown R.D.4, near Tire Hill.

     RENO VIOLA, 34, Morgantown, W. Va.

The accident happened about 3 o'clock in the Moonshine Hollow section of Tire Hill, south of Johnstown in Conemaugh Township, Somerset County.

The 2 victims were in the bottom of the airshaft -- about 550 feet down. The shaft is 6 feet in diameter.

They had filled the bucket with mud and dirt, and it was being hauled to the surface.

Cable Snaps

The three-quarter-inch thick steel cable on the bucket snapped as the bucket was on or near the surface, sending the bucket plummeting down the shaft on top of the men below. The bucket weighed approximately 1 1/2 tons.

Somerset County Coroner Robert H. Halverson said the men were killed instantly.

The men were working for Zeni, McKinney & Williamson, a subsidiary of Dravo Corp. of Pittsburgh. They were not employed by Bird Coal and, Coroner Halverson pointed out, the fatalities are listed as industrial accidental deaths, not mine fatalities.

Father of 11

Viola, father of 11 children, was the superintendent on the project. James Holbert, about 50. of Morgantown, W. Va., was operating the crane.

Observers said there was no way for the men to avoid being struck when the cable snapped. It was learned that the cable was installed Dec. 5.

After the accident, Holbert went to the Bird Coal Co. mine for help. Volunteers performed heroic deeds in recovering the bodies from the deep pit.

One man -- Edward Barr of Windber -- made 5 trips into the shaft.

Operates Crane Through Ordeal

Holbert, after getting assistance, returned to operate the crane throughout the 6-hour ordeal of recovering the bodies.

Viola's body was brought up at 5 o'clock. He was taken to Memorial Hospital after being pronounced dead at the scene by Dr. Reginald Davis, Bird Coal Co. physician.

Frank Hillman, chief deputy coroner of Cambria County, said Viola died of extreme multiple crush injuries of the head and body.

May's body was brought to the surface at 9:09 o'clock.

Coroner Halverson said May died of multiple fractures and extreme crush injuries of the head and body.

Mine Inspectors at Scene

Efforts to recover the bodies began right after the accident. State and federal mine inspectors joined Coroner Halverson and Somerset County Sheriff Norman Walker at the scene.

With Holbert on the crane, Barr -- chief electrician of Bird Coal's Mine 3 -- and another volunteer whose identify was not learned, were lowered into the shaft on a second bucket which was attached to the crane.

Barr and his buddy put Viola's body in the bucket and returned to the surface. Krings Volunteer Fire Company's ambulance took the body to Memorial Hospital.

A second trip into the shaft was made at 5:18 o'clock. Jack Barber of Davidsville was identified as one of the 2 men making that trip. They were unable to remove the body, however, and returned to the surface.

Barr and George Steele, identified as a mine foreman for Bird Coal's Mine 3, went down and attached a chain to the bucket in the bottom of the shaft.

Chain Breaks

They were on their way up -- at approximately the 300-foot level -- when the chain snapped and the bucket dropped into the hole again. Barr and Steele were thrown against the sides of the airshaft, but were not injured.

In subsequent efforts, the bucket was brought to the surface and May's body was recovered. The Salvation Army's mobile canteen from Johnstown was there to provide food and hot coffee for the volunteers.

The men going down in the shaft had 2-way radio equipment with them to send instructions to Holbert on the crane.

Construction on the airshaft was started Aug. 14. The job was to be completed in another week.

At 555-Foot Level

Viola and May were at the 548-foot level Monday. It was estimated that they had reached the 555-foot mark Tuesday before they were killed. The airshaft would have been finished in another 35 or 40 feet.

May, a bachelor, lived along Moonshine Road, across from the field where the airshaft was being bored.

Halverson was told that Viola considered May an outstanding worker, and was trying to convince him to continue on the job at the site in Kentucky when the Tire Hill project was done.

An investigation into the fatalities has been scheduled thentatively for 9:30 a.m. today. Mine inspectors noted that the investigation will fall under the supervision of the State Department of Labor and Industry.

Aids in Recovery Work

Among the volunteers joining in the recovery work was William Davis of the Pittsburgh area, who had just finished work on an airshaft for the Zeni, McKinney & Williamson firm in Bobtown, Greene County. Davis made at least one trip into the shaft during the recovery operation.

Mine inspectors at the scene included Stephen A. Andrejko, Jr., William Demkowicz, Samuel Slatcoff, E. H. Pauley, Lawrence Jones and J. B. McCarty.

Glenn Hoffman of Benscreek, a crane operator, was called to the scene to give Holbert a rest, but Holbert stayed at the controls until the end.

May and Viola were sending up their last load for the day when the cable snapped and the bucket fell on them.

* * * * * * * * * *


By Dennis M. Casey

A small group was gathered around the entrance to an air shaft in the Moonshine Hollow section, near Tire Hill.

Most of the men were miners, but some obviously were white-collar workers whose jobs had sent them to the spot where a loaded 1 1/2-ton bucket has crashed down the shaft and pinned 2 men beneath it, killing both.

The mangled body of Reno Viola had just been brought from the bottom of the shaft by 2 miners, serving as rescue workers. But they knew there was no one to rescue.

Curses were spoken in a reverent tone as the body was placed on a wodden stretcher and was carried through the muck and placed inside the waiting Krings Volunteer Fire Company ambulance.

2 Go Down Again

When the ambulance left, the men stood around talking softly. Then, 2 volunteers went down into the shaft again by means of a bucket suspended by cable from a crane -- the same crane whose cable had snapped and sent a bucket plummeting toward the 2 victims.

As the bucket went into the opening, the man pressed toward the hole, looking at the volunteers. The bucket quickly disappeared into the earth.

In the work shack, blackened miners stood, their eyes seeming to glare through the dirt on their faces. Some were smoking and talking, others just looking through a small window toward the shaft opening.

"This is the third accident I've seen since I've been working in Pennsylvania," a miner with a definite Southern drawl said. "I feel like going back to West Virginia!" Some of the men smiled, a smaile that told of their fatigue.

In Radio Contact

In the work shack was a small radio receiver, from which came the voices of the men who were in the rescue bucket. One of the rescuers below the ground had a walkie-talkie, and he conversed with a coordinator for the crane above.

"Can't get him out. Bring us up." The voice came from the receiver.

Some hurried outside, but it was a while before the bucket reached the surface.

The rescuers reported that the other man was trapped beneath the first bucket and it would have to have holes burned in it so that a chain could be fastened and it could be lifted.

A mine inspector balked. "What about gas?"

"We'll run a test," a miner replied.


George Steele and Edward Barr volunteered to go down in the shaft to test, and, if possible, burn the hole. Steele is mine foreman of Bird Coal Co.'s Mine 3 and Barr is the mine's chief electrician.

The men entered the hole for the test and subsequent burning at 6:14 p.m. The rugged smileof Ed Barr glistened in the light from the crane that was lowering them. Then, the men were out of sight. And the crowd again was talking softly.

"I wouldn't go down in there for anything," a miner said.

Another nodded. "Be different if he was alive."

Back in the shack, the miners were talking softly so they wouldn't drown out the voice coming through the radio receiver.

Suddenly, the receiver crackled. "Going to cut."

A few moments later, the set crackled again. "Hooked (the chain had been fastened). Bring up up slow."

The men walked from the work shack back to the opeing. The only sound was that of an air compressor and the deep roar of the crane.

Then, there was a dull, deep, boom, and the ground shook. Everyone ran from the opening. "Explosion!" one yelled.

There had been no explosion; the bucket that had been attached to the rescue bucket had snapped the chair and fell back down the shaft from the 300-foot level.

The crane brought Barr and Steele up quickly. Steele reported that the chain had snapped. "Have to get a heavier one. That place has about 3 feet of water in it now."

Body Recovered

They got a heavier one, and Francis May's body was brought up later that evening.

One of the miners who had been standing at the site remarked: "Ya know, he (one of the dead miners" was down at the bowling alley last night. He was always laughing and joking around."

And some of the other smiled as they remembered. but some didn't. They would have to go to work in the mines the next day.

7 April 1965
Pg. 58
Submitted by Lynne Canterbury

HOYECKI -- Stiney, 71, Cairnbrook, died April 5, 1965, at Windber Hospital. Preceded in death by wife, former Mary Chicager. Survived by these children: Mrs. Genevieve Sabanos, Brooklyn, N.Y.; David and Stanley, both of State of California, and Mrs. Irene Mauro and Victor, both of New York City; also 12 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren and brother, Chester, Pittsburgh. Friends received after 7 p.m. Wednesday at Robert P. Mulcahy Funeral Home, Central City. Service there at 8:30 a.m. Friday, followed by Mass of Requiem at 9 a.m. at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the Rev. I. M. Pilz officiating. Interment church cemetery. Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Thursday at funeral home.

MARCHOK -- Mrs. Catherine, 59, 159 Iron Street, died at 1:45 p.m. April 5, 1965, at Lee Hospital. Born Nov. 5, 1905, in Johnstown, daughter of Frank and Mary (Swetz) Sandak. Preceded in death by parents. Survived by husband, Paul, and these sons: Robert, Married to former Catherine Healy, Levitown, Pa.; Edward, married to former Jean Marie Casolo, 114 Wyoming Street, and John, Temp, Arix.; also 4 grandchildren. Sister of Anna and Charles Sandak, both of 158 Connelly Avenue, and John Sandak, 202 Iron Street. Member of Rosary Altar Society. Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Mary's Greek Catholic Church, the Rev. William Sabo. Interment, church cemetery. Friends received at Frank J. Pentrack Funeral Home, 710 Broad Street, where evening service will be held at 8:15 o'clock Wednesday, and Rosary will be recited at 8:45 p.m. Wednesday by St. Mary's Parent-Teacher Guild and Cana Sodality.

PETTY -- Mrs. Sophia, 54, Chicago, Ill., formerly of Carrolltown, died April 4, 1965. Family will receive friends from 2 to 5 and 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday at Fred J. Stevens Funeral Home, Carrolltown. Funeral Mass at 9 a.m. Thursday at St. Benedict's Catholic Church. Interment, church cemetery.

PORADA -- Mrs. Anna, 76, 122 1/2 I Street, died at 6:40 p.m. April 4, 1965, at home. Funeral Mass at 9 a.m. Thursday at St. Casimir's Catholic Church, the Rev. Casimir Ossowski. Interment, church cemetery. Friends received at Frank J. Pentrack Funeral Home, 710 Broad Street, where Holy Name Society will meet at 8:30 p.m. Wednesday to recite Rosary.


South Fork -- John D. Peel has been promoted to private first class at Ft. Leavenworth, Kan., where he is a member of the 205th Military Police Company. The soldier, a traffic controller in the company, is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Robert E. Peel, South Fork R. D. 1.

18 May 1965
Submitted by Lynne Canterbury

BROWN -- Earl J., 65, 2403 Chestnut Avenue, Barnesboro, died May 16, 1965, at home. Born March 25, 1900, in Barnesboro, son of Robert E. and Jane (Dawson) Brown. Preceded in death by brother, George, and sister, Elizabeth. Survived by widow, former Ellen Toth, and these children: Betty Brown, Berkley, Mich.; Mrs. Dorothy Harris, Altoona; Mrs. Shirley Flanagan, Blythe, Calif., and Jack, Barnesboro. Also 10 grandchildren. Brother of Edward, Bernard, and Mrs. Mary Wilson, all of Akron, Ohio, and Mrs. Ellen Wagner and Chay, both of Barnesboro. Member of Bakerton Local, UMWA. Friends received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at James J. Long Funeral Home, Barnesboro. Funeral service at 2 p.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, the Rev. Raymond Kramer. Interment, North Barnesboro Cemetery.

FAVATELLA -- Paul, 27, 1047 Church Avenue, died May 16, 1965, at Lee Hospital. Member of St. Anthony's Catholic Church where Solemn Mass of Requiem will be sung at 9 a.m. Thursday. Interment, church cemetery. Friends received at Cammarata-Duca Funeral Home where Rosary will be recited at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

HOLTZ -- Mrs. Anna C., 79, St. Boniface, died May 16, 1965, at Miners Hospital, Spangler. Born April 6, 1886, in St. Boniface, daughter of Frank and Christina (Felding) Kline. Preceded in death by husband, Henry. Survived by these children: Mrs. Gertrude Houck, Hastings; Mrs. Henrietta Walters, Patton; Eugene, Akron, Ohio; Jerome, St. Boniface, and Regis, Patton R. D.; also 36 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. Sister of Mrs. A. J. Houck and Mrs. Mary Weakland, both of Hastings. Member of St. Boniface's Rosary Society. Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Thursday at St. Boniface's Catholic Church, the Rev. Cyril Vlossak, OSB. Burial, church cemetery. Friends received after 2 p.m. Tuesday at Easly & Easly Funeral Home, Hastings.

SHARP -- Harry Ralph, 73, Loretto R.D., died at 4:45 a.m. May 17, 1965, at Mercy Hospital, Altoona. Born in Allegheny Township March 4, 1892, con of late Joseph and Elizabeth (Fagle) Sharp. Survived by these brothers and sisters: Mrs. Ella Belswenger, Gallitzin R. D.; Mrs. Mary Sill, Mrs. Olive Jones, Richard and Mrs. Cyril Illig, all of Cresson; Mrs. Techia Peters and Mrs. Zita Nagle, both of Akron, Ohio; Frank, Joseph, and Leo, all of Loretto. Body may be viewed at Casher-Kennedy Funeral Home from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday. Rosary will be recited at 9 p.m. Tuesday at funeral home by the Very Rev. Msgr. Paul A. Lenz. Funeral Mass at 10 a.m. Wednesday at St. Michael's Catholic Church, Loretto. Interment, St. Michael's Cemetery.

WEST -- Oliver H., 74, 824 Harlan Avenue, died at 11:45 a.m., May 17, 1965, at Lee Hospital. Born July 3, 1890, in Bolivar, son of Jacob and Matilda (Henderson) West. Survived by widow, former Nettie Staley and daughter, Mrs. Janet Wendel, 754 Farragut Street; also 3 grandchildren, 3 great-grandchild and 3 sisters -- Mrs. Carrie Dovey, Geistown; Mrs. Edna Britcher, Chandler Avenue; and Mrs. Lena Trimble, New Florence. Preceded in death by 3 brothers -- Forrest, Elmer and Walter, and sister, Mrs. Lillie Campbell. Member of First Lutheran Church, Bethlehem Supervisors Club, Ferndale Sportsmen's Club, Ferndale Volunteer Fire Company and Johnstown Post 155 VFW. World War I veteran. Retired Bethlehem Steel Corp. employee. Friends received after 2 p.m. Tuesday at John Henderson Funeral Home, 215 Central Avenue, where service will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, the Rev. Walden M. Holl, D. D. Interment, Grandview Cemetery.


DABROTA -- Mrs. Bertha Mae, 10 a.m., Frank J. Pentrack Funeral Home, 710 Broad Street.

KERCH -- Daniel, 10 a.m., Trinity Lutheran Church, South Fork. Arrangements: Charles O. Dimond Funeral Home, South Fork.

REED -- Alvie H., 2 p.m., Berkebile Funeral Home, Hooversville.

STUFFT -- Kenneth, 2 p.m., Edward Blackburn Funeral Home; Pleasantville.

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