Hanna Mine Disaster
In 1889, Union Pacific Railroad needed a reliable fuel source to run its massive coal-fired engines. After the coal mines in Carbon, Wyoming ran out, it hastily formed the Union Pacific Coal Company and opened a mine at "Chimney Springs," according to research by Nancy Anderson, director of Hanna Basin Museum.
Chimney Springs was renamed Hanna in honor of Markus A. Hanna, a member of Union Pacific Company management and a Wyoming United States Senator. Hanna, Wyoming was founded and built by the Union Pacific Coal Company for its workers and their families, and the Union Pacific owned everything in it, including the boarding house, the general store and the miners' houses that were rented to them by the month. Hanna was a major hub of the emerging transportation industry of the day with the Union Pacific Railroad and the Overland Trail passing through.
In those days, coal was mined by dynamite and the backs of men loading it into donkey-drawn carts. Men worked long hours in the dark, faces covered in black dust.
The disaster at the Union Pacific Coal Company Hanna mine #1 occurred on June 30, 1903. Coal mine gas (methane) was ignited in Mine No. 1 causing a violent explosion and a mine cave-in, killing 169 miners, while 46 survivors narrowly escaped this disaster. This tragedy is the greatest loss of life in any Wyoming mining disaster. The mine's bosses blamed the accident on a careless miner and, because of a coal strike in Colorado, Union Pacific Coal Company reopened mine #1 a few months later.
On March 28, 1908 the Hanna Mine #1 exploded again, trapping 18 miners. As the state mine inspector and 40 rescuers enter the mine, a second explosion occurred and killed all 59 inside. Recovery teams eventually removed 27 bodies, but another 32 were left in the mountain. With the 1903 blast leaving 169 men dead in the mine, 201 men are still buried there today.
After the 1908 blast, the Wyoming state inspector blamed Union Pacific Coal Company's method of mining for the disaster. It was called gouging, a system in which coal is mined immediately after the mine is opened, because it yields coal more quickly at the start of the operation.
Flooding the chambers
Gouging allows methane gas to gather in rooms already mined while miners are digging for coal deeper in the mountain. Had Union Pacific dug deep into the mountain first and mined the coal on their way back toward the surface, they would have been able to flood mined rooms with water. This would have prevented the build up of methane gas, and saved many lives.
The 1908 double explosions left 31 widows and orphaned 103 children. In settlements with Union Pacific Coal Company, each widow who lived in Hanna got $800 plus $50 for each child. Widows who returned to their homelands abroad got $350. The settlement barred any future claims against the company.
In the five-year period from 1903 through 1908, 228 had died in these two mine disasters in mine #1 before the creation of safety teams, safety laws or even the implementation of safety inspections. Just weeks before each blast, company mine inspectors gave Mine #1 glowing safety reviews.
Closing of the mines
After the 1908 mine disaster the Union Pacific Coal Company permanently closed Mine #1. The Union Pacific Coal Company opened new mines in Hanna, hiring new miners.
All of the Hanna mines closed in 1954 due to the Union Pacific Railroad's switching over to Diesel locomotives using Diesel fuel. Green grass now covers most of the hill that was once the entrance to Mine #1. This mine is now but a tomb marked with a now rusty ribbon of an abandoned railroad line.