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Pittsburg Fulminite Powder Plant Explosion

Few people today have heard about the Powder Plant explosion in Blacklick Township. Recently, on the Cambria County genealogy webpage there was a query about the powder plant explosion and a few weeks later while removing belongings from my parent's home I discovered some old high school Blacklick Township history notes concerning a powder plant explosion. My response elicited some additional info about the name of the person, Peter Overman, who was supposedly killed in the explosion. A check of the obituary index for the Johnstown Tribune revealed that a Peter Overman obituary was published on May 24, 1909. A trip to the Johnstown library and a review of the Tribune newspaper provided the following information about the explosion:

POWDER FATALITY NEAR TO BELSANO
Peter Overman Fatally Burned in Let-Go of 500 Pounds of Explosive
SET OFF BY FRICTION SPARK
Special to the Tribune

Belsano, May 24 - Peter Overman , fifty-three years old, was so badly burned last Friday morning in the canning department of the plant of the Pittsburg Fulminite Company, one mile below town, that he died about 6 o'clock Saturday evening. Overman, it is said, was stirring powder in a can and when the piece of steel he used came in contact with the side of the can a spark resulted, setting off the powder.

The flames communicated to about 500 pounds of loose powder, which went up in smoke. Mr. Overman was caught in the fire and the clothing was burned from his body. At the time, no one was in the canning department, which is situated some distance from the other buildings, and Mr. Overman was the only employee who suffered. The flames did not communicate to the other structures and only the canning department was damaged, the force of the explosion blowing out one end of the building. All of the houses are constructed of steel, so that they were not burned to the ground, as was reported.

Peter Overman was a widower and well-known in Belsano and vicinity. He has four daughters and two sons living. His remains were taken to Spruce Church in Indiana County, where burial, was made this morning.

The Pittsburg Fulminite Powder Company is controlled by Pittsburg people. The plant is located along the Blacklick & Yellowcreek Railroad running between Vintondale and Belsano.

Source: The Tribune, Johnstown, Pa., Monday Evening May 24, 1909.


An internet search for the Pittsburg Fulminite Powder Company turned up nothing with the closest match being an article about the UMWA Proceedings of Joint Conference of Coal Operators and Coal Miners, held in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 8-29, 1910. At this conference a Mr. McCullough provided testimony as excerpted, " When I was sent to the Charleroi mine I found the miners on strike against the use of the new explosive. The company was attempting to introduce a new explosive known as fulminite. I learned that fulminite had not passed the test at the government testing station. With Mr. Johnson, a committee of the miners, some representatives of the International organization, I went to the testing station and conducted a test of the fulminite, the black powder and carbonite. We found by the test made at the government testing station that the fulminite was more dangerous than black powder. That phase of the question was eliminated by Mr. Johnson agreeing to withdraw his demands for the introduction of fulminite."

It is not known if the plant was producing black powder or fulminite. It is believed that the powder plant was producing powder largely for local consumption in the growing coal mining industry in the Blacklick Township area and by farmers for removing tree stumps. The powder plant didn't operate every day, only when they had orders to fill, and employed only 2 or 3 men. The plant experienced several smaller ignitions but the explosion in 1909 totally destroyed the plant and it never operated again.


Approximate Location of the Pittsburg Fulminite Powder Plant


All that remains of the powder plant today are a few large rocks from the foundation. The location of the powder plant was near the intersection of Vic Miller road and the old Cambria & Indiana Railroad (C&I RR) right-of-way near White Mill. The location is on the north side of the railroad right-of-way between Vic Miller Road and the railroad bridge that crosses Elk Creek. At the time of the explosion, the remnants of the Blacklick & Yellowcreek Railroad (B&Y RR) later the C&I RR, passed through White Mill and continued to Stiles Station, just west of the Indiana-Cambria county border in Pine Township, Indiana County. The B&Y RR was locally known as the "Dinky Line" and was used to haul lumber to the Vinton Lumber Company in Vintondale, Pa. The C&I RR toward Colver was constructed on portions of the old B&Y RR roadbed in 1911.

The Peter Overman family is reported to have had a home near Adams Crossing near the intersection of Vic Miller Road and Adams Crossing Road. However, Peter Overman [1857-1909] his wife Adeline (Miller) Overman [1857-1894] and daughter Ella May Overman [1894-1894] all have headstones in the Spruce Grove Wesleyan Methodist Church Cemetery in Cherryhill Township, Indiana County, Pa.


Peter Overman's Headstone


Peter Overman was the son of Joseph Overman and Margaret (Offenheater) Hoffman, who were both German immigrants. Peter's sister, Mary Overman, married Solomon Paul. Peter and Adeline (Miller) Overman had six children. In the 1900 census of Blacklick Township the Peter Overman household consisted of Peter Overman, 43, farmer; two sons, John, 18, and William A., 8; and two daughters, Maggie, 14 and Nellie V., 12. A daughter Bertha Rosella [1883-1965] married Emerson Stephens in 1903. Peter's wife Adeline and daughter, Ella May, died during childbirth in 1894.

 

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