DEAD OR MISSING
Explosion on Steamer Parker Has Dire Results
NOT ALL TOGETHER CLEAR
Fireman Is Literally
Blown to Pieces and Two
Are Supposed To Be Drowned
WHITE DECK HANDS; BODIES NOT YET FOUND
Boat and the John A. Patten Were Making Way Down River at High Rate of Speed
When Accident Occurred – Eye-Witnesses Thought the Steamers Were Racing.
(Bunk) Kelly, Negro fireman, blown to pieces.
Sibley*, deck hand, blown into water and supposed to have drowned.
Bass, deck hand, missing and supposed to have been blown into the water and
drowned. Body not recovered.
Jim Thompson, captain and pilot of the boat, severely cut about the face, lips
split, deep gash in left hand and side scaled.
Allison, engineer, blown into the water, with burns over the eyes.
Mrs. Jesse Allison, wife of the engineer, nervous shock and badly shaken up.
As a result of the explosion of the boilers on the steamer
Parker, owned and operated by the Dale Sand company, yesterday morning, three
members if the crew are dead or missing and most of the others are more or less
seriously wounded and shaken up.
It was about 11:50 when the accident happened. The
explosion came without a minute's warning and when it occurred the steamer was
immediately opposite Williams Island, some nine miles south of this city.
The Parker left the city wharf about 11 o'clock
under command of Capt. Jim Thompson, just a few minutes before the John A
Patten, belonging to the Tennessee River Navigation company, backed into the
river for its regular trip to Decatur, the Parker being on the way to the sand
mines of the Dale Sand company at the Suck.
Both boats went down the river together, at no time
being over 100 yards apart, the Parker getting that start of the Patten by
leaving the wharf first. Eye witnesses to the accident say that just before the
two boats got to the upper end of Williams Island, that apparently they were
racing to see which would get into the channel around the island first.
BLOWN INTO BITS
The force of the explosion was such as to blow the
cabin, deck and the pilot house entirely away from the hull of the boat, besides
blowing one of the boilers, which did not explode over onto the island, and the
head of the boiler that did explode, onto the barge which it was carrying down
the river to the sand mines.
Capt. Jim Thompson was in the pilothouse at the
time of the explosion, together with Will D. Sibley*, who is his brother-in-law,
both of them being blown out of the pilothouse into the river.
INJURED ARE PICKED UP
A skiff under command of Captain W. S. McKee was
immediately put out by the Patten and picked up those that could be found in the
water. Milo Thompson, who is an uncle of Capt. Jim Thompson, and who was the
other pilot on the boat, together with Mrs. Allison, Joe Williford, the boat
watchman and the Negro cook, Willie Kelly, took refuge on the barge, cutting
loose from the Parker. From this place they were rescued by the boat from the
Engineer Allison had just been to the boilers to
examine them, and turning, had started out when the explosion came. He was blown
into the water and swam nearly a quarter of a mile to the island, being taken on
board the Patten and brought back to this city. Mrs. Allison was on the lower
deck between the boiler room and the engine room, and while the force of the
explosion carried the entire upper decks from over her head, she escaped unhurt,
with the exception of a severe shock, and made her way to the barge, with the
remainder of those who had not been blown into the water.
BROUGHT BACK BY THE PATTEN
All that could be found were immediately taken on
board the Patten, which turned around and came back to this city.
The wounded ones were attended to at once, Capt.
Jim Thompson's injuries being so severe as to necessitate carrying him to his
home in Hill City, where his wounds were dressed by Dr. Raymond Wallace.
CAPT. THOMPSON'S REPORT
In speaking of the accident, Capt. Thompson stated
to a representative of The Times:
"I have no idea how the accident happened. I
was in the pilot house with my brother-in-law, Wm. D. Sibley*, when the
explosion came, and the next thing I knew I was out in the river hanging onto a
piece of wreckage. It happened so suddenly that I did not know there was an
explosion until I came to in the water, I was there only a few moments when the
boat from the Patten came and picked me up."
FARMERS TELL THEIR STORY
Dan Edwards and J. J. Matthews, farmers living on
the river bank opposite where the explosion occurred, brought the news of the
explosion to the city, reaching here sometime before the Patten. When seen by a
representative of The Times Mr. Edwards said:
"I was out in my barn, which is only a little
way from the river bank, when I heard the two boats coming down the river. While
they were still some distance off I called my wife's attention to them, saying
that I believe they were racing. My notice was first attracted to them by the
shouting and yelling that was going on among the deck hands on both
WERE THEY RACING?
"When the boats passed the head of the island
it looked as if they were neck and neck, but as they came on down towards me the
Parker got ahead, and at the time the explosion occurred it must have been at
least 100 yards in the lead. I felt the ground tremble, and then I saw a great
cloud of steam and smoke, and I knew something had happened. When I found out
just what happened Mr. Matthews and I came to the city to let them know. I
believe the boats were racing." In this Mr. Matthews concurred.
J. H. Black, general manager of the Dale Sand
company, when seen by a reporter for the Chattanooga Times yesterday, denied the
rumor that the Parker and the John A. Patten were racing at the time the former
boat blew up. "The boats were simply going down the river together,"
said Mr. Black, "as they often do. There is no reason why they should have
been racing today."
CAUSE OF ACCIDENT
When asked what had caused the explosion of the
boilers, Mr. Black was unable to give an explanation. "It is just one of
those peculiar happenings," he said. "The boilers were inspected by
government inspectors three months ago. When the boat left the wharf this
morning, so far as known, the boilers were in good condition. The exact cause
will probably be brought out in the investigation of the government
Capt. W. C. Wilkey, general manager of the Tennessee River Navigation
company, also denied that the boats were racing when the explosion came,
"but," he added with a smile, "you know that when two boats get
out on the river that the fastest one will always get in front."
ENGINEER ALLISON TALKS
Jesse Allison, the engineer of the ill-fated Parker, in speaking of the
explosion, said that he was in the door of the boiler room when the boilers blew
up. "The first thing I knew I was out in the water some distance from the
boat. As soon as I got my bearings and got the water out of my mouth I started
to swim to the island. I saw Thompson struggling in the water, and started to
help him, but I saw my strength was about to give out, and I then started toward
the island. I saw my wife on the deck of the boat, and I called to her to remain
aboard until assistance came. When I reached the island a yawl, which had been
put out by the Patten, picked me up and took me over to the boat, which brought
me, in company with the others, to Chattanooga."
"I know that the boilers had water in
them," said Mr. Allison, "as I inspected the water gauge just a few
seconds before the explosion. I walked over to the gauge and found that there
was water in the boilers, and then walked over to the door of the boiler room,
when the explosion occurred."
VERY BADLY SHAKEN UP
Mr. Allison showed signs of being badly shaken up,
besides a number of bruises about the face. He was also scalded in a few places
on the body. Yesterday afternoon he was not fully recovered from the excitement
and for a few minutes was not able to say at first what time the accident
occurred. "I am not certain whether I ate dinner or not, but I am inclined
to think that I did not." After thinking for a moment he said he was
certain that he had not had dinner, as the bell for dinner on the Patten rang
about five minutes after the survivors had been placed on board, which was about
12:30 o'clock. It is therefore estimated that the explosion occurred about noon.
INSPECTED THREE MONTHS SINCE
Just what caused the explosion will probably never
be known, for all machinery was supposed to have been in good condition, the
government inspectors having gone over it about three months ago, and pronounced
the boat all right.
The Parker had been engaged in towing sand barges
to and from the sand mines at the suck for some months, having been purchased by
the Dale Sand company about nine months ago in Memphis. It was 120 feet in
length and 22 feet wide, had an 18 foot wheel with a five foot stroke, and was
valued at about $10,000, with $3,000 insurance. While no one in this city knew
when the boat was built, it was apparently about six years old, thought the
engine gave indications of being considerably older than this. It was reported
on the streets after the explosion yesterday that these boilers have given
trouble on more than one occasion lately, but this could not be confirmed at the
offices of the sand company, where it was stated they were in good condition as
far as known.
An inspection will be made at once by the government inspectors for this district, George Green and J. H. St. John of Nashville. It is expected that they will be in this city at an early date, and it is not probable that any definite information as to the cause of the explosion will be had until then.
Chattanooga Times, Wednesday, February 6, 1907
* Actual name was William D. Sivley. He married Ida Thompson August 18, 1887 in Hamilton County. Ida was the sister of Capt. Jim (James Norris) Thompson. Family information provided by Anne Templeton Wilson.
by Anne Templeton Wilson