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Memories of McComas, West Virginia

Home | McComas Disaster June 1924

McComas Disaster June 1924

This picture and article appeared in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. It was taken looking up the mountainside where the explosion and slide occurred. Several of Gina's photos that will follow were taken from the mountain itself looking back down towards the creek and railroads tracks. The Bluefield Daily Telegraph has granted permission for reuse of their photos for my personal but not commercial use on this website.

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The following are excerpts taken from an article written by Ken Bowen in 1992 titled: Mining Pinnacle...and Crane Creek

Ken Bowen has graciously permitted reuse of his article for this website.

Ken's story line and the photos will show the unfolding devistation that occurred at McComas more than 75 years ago.


On June 10, 1924 a tragedy without parallel occurred near the Pinnacle tipple where thousands of tons of burning ash, slate and rock were hurled down the mountainside by several explosions.

Brammer Jones was an eyewitness to the disaster. He stated that for two days had been a deluge in that section of Mercer County, making Crane Creek a raging river.


(note from Pat) this photo is a little blurry but I'm sure you can tell its the train depot area under water.

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McComas Flooding - train tracks under water - creek banks overflowing

McComas flooding showing the Sagamore/Crane Creek water run off

Loaded coal cars were pushed off the tracks by walls of water at Sagamore and Crane Creek. The old grist mill at Thornhill was washed away and houses at Crystal, Godfrey, Cephas, and Montcalm were seen floating down the Bluestone River. As the hollow behind the smoldering slate dump filled with water it seeped into the hot ash and slate producing a tremendous explosion when the hydrogen gases from the water mixed with the hot coal gases.


Coal Cars washed from track at Crane Creek

Hillside and Pinnacle Creek flooding occurring at McComas, WV June 1924

Foot bridge at Pinnacle being washed away.

The first explosion sent thousands of tons of hot ash and slate down on the home of Mrs Shellman C. Vest pushing the house down the hill about 100 feet and leaving only part of the roof exposed. Superintendent H.D. Smith of Pinnacle and Luke Graham, Mine Foreman at Thomas quickly organized a rescue party. Amelio Primiveno, John Vest, Pete Double, John Cockran, Amelio Massaroni and other Italians ran toward the house to rescue anyone who may have been left alive.


The second explosion came about fifteen minutes after the first. Three members of the rescue party had cut a hole in the roof with an ax and lowered themselves inside the house when the dump exploded like a volcano throwing half the mountain on the house crusing the people inside. All the rescuers ran for their lives receiving severe burns as they fled and narrowly escaped the avalanche of hot debris.



Rescue efforts underway at Pinnacle Slatedump Explosion area.

A third explosion occurred only minutes later. It brought down ton after ton of refuse completely filling in the hollow, choking off the creek and buried the railroad tracks to a depth of fifteen to twenty feet.

Rescue effort underway at Pinnacle Slatedump Explosion Site on Pinnacle Creek, McComas, WV

(note from Pat) In the photo below your looking up Pinnacle Creek towards Thomas. "Tally Hill" to the left - Thomas Coal & Coke Company Store in the background is barely visible. Notice the tram tracks have not yet been built across the roadway at the entrance to Pinnacle Hollow also in the background.

Ongoing rescue effort at Pinnacle Coal & Coke Company Slatedump explosion at McComas WV June 1924

The victims of the explosion were Mrs Shellman C. Vest and her five year old son, Mr. and Mrs. Fletcher Dewese, Mrs Toy Dewese, and her two daughters, Amelio Primiveno, Amelio Massaroni, and an unidentified Italian stone mason. Their charred bodies were recovered two weeks later.

(note from Pat) to the right of the following picture you can see the depth of the dirt that has been dug away to uncover the railroad. Also my aunt Elsie Bailey's house is in the bottom left portion of the photo. She lives there today. The newer Pinnacle Elementary School was later built to the left of her house. The older Pinnacle School was later built to the right of her house on ground that has been buried in this photo.

Looking down upon the destruction that from atop the slatedump that exploded at Pinnacle Coal & Coke Company at  McComas, WV in June 1924