The Dangers of Grain Elevator Work02/18
There are many types of accidents that can occur at a grain elevator terminal that the employees have to be aware of and watch out for. The biggest danger is combustible grain dust that is constantly present and is highly explosive. Over the years techniques have been developed and implemented to cut down on this ever present threat. The biggest one, making all electrical connections spark proof.
At one time Thunder Bay was divided into two smaller cities called Port Arthur and Fort William and grain elevators lined the banks of both cities. These elevators employed more than 1500 people and the grain industry was booming. Between United Grain Growers "a" house and Richardson Elevators in Port Arthur, were two Saskatchewan Grain Elevators, Pool 4 and Pool 5. Both these elevators have suffered huge explosions, Pool 5 in 1945 and Pool 4a in 1952. The 1952 explosion took 4 lives and injured a dozen or more workers but the '45 explosion at Pool 5 was far worse.
It was August 7, 1945 and most of the elevator's 55 employees on the shift were heading back to work after morning coffee break when the explosion occurred. It was so powerful that large slabs of concrete from the side of the building were hurled over 100-feet into the air. The noise was so loud that it was heard for some 10 miles around and brought worried and curious onlookers by the thousands from around the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur.
The tops of three bins beside the elevator had their tops blown clear off and the top half of the 180-foot high elevator workhouse had all the walls blown out. All that stood was the mangled metal steel skeleton. Railway Box Cars that were sitting below, were squashed as tons of debris rained down from above. It was truly a horrific scene.
Far worse than the destruction of the building, were the cries of the wounded and the frantic search among the wreckage for survivors. As fire, police and even army personnel arrived, workers were already digging and searching for lost friends. About 32 workers were injured, some seriously and at least 20 were missing. Dazed and confused workers were seen wandering around inside the destroyed building and a survivor later told of what he saw while working in the upper level of the building.
He said that all of a sudden there was an enormous wind that came up from floors below and then a deafening boom at which point the area in front of him collapsed downward. Somehow he managed to escape with only an injured hand. Others weren't so lucky. Police cars and public vehicles were used for make-shift ambulances to take the injured to the hospitals as the search among the rubble continued. A very experienced diver was brought in to search the slip near the Elevator for bodies. It was E.J. (Doc) Fowler, who later in 1947 dove the "Emperor" shipwreck in search of bodies after it sank on June 4, 1947.
In the days that followed, three of the seriously injured would die bringing the total to 23 dead, the worst elevator blast in the history of Thunder Bay.
Pool 5 was rebuilt and renamed Pool 4b. The pool 4a and b complex is now abandoned and stripped of its machinery. Since the disastrous blasts of Pool 4 and 5, safety precautions have made the Elevator workplace a much safer environment, but the threat still lurks in the shadows.
Next time you see a large freighter being loaded beside one of these huge structures, give some thought to the workers inside who are there making an honest living to support their families.
One can only imagine what it was like to be there and below are photos of the accident taken a short while after the terrifying explosion. These photos have been graciously supplied by Stan Klemecky of Roblin, Manitoba. They show the magnitude and devastation of the blast.
Unfortunately as late as June 8, 1998 Elevator explosions continue to happen, one in Haysville, Kansas killed 7 workers and injured 10 more and all from a overheated seized bearing on a conveyor. Let’s hope this never happens again.
The Mid-section of the Workhouse.
A Policeman walks thru debris.
A Policeman with a look of disbelief .
Squashed rail cars.
Survivor transferred from top of workhouse by bosun chair.
Damage to top of workhouse.
Workers clear debris.
Workers search for survivors.
Another view of the workhouse.
Another view of the crushed rail cars.
The 1952 Explosion 7 years later at Pool 4.
Sask Pools 4 & 5 as they are today.
Reported by: Rob Farrow