11.  Tales of Destruction...Deadly Duds

McLaurin wrote of the eighth victim of an explosion that occurred in the oil regions of Pennsylvania, "William A. Thompson, of Franklin, left home on Tuesday morning, August thirteenth, 1870 carrying in his buggy a torpedo to be exploded in a well on the Foster farm.  John Quinn rode with him.  At the farm he received two old torpedoes, which had been there five or six weeks, having failed to explode, to return to the factory.  Quinn came up the river by rail.  Thompson stopped at Samuel Grahams's Bully Hill, got an apple and lighted a cigar.  On leaving he said: 'Good-bye, Sam, perhaps you'll never see me again!'  Five minutes later an explosion was heard on the Bully-Hill road, a mile from where Dr. Fowler had met his doom.  Graham and others hurried to the spot.  The Body of Thompson, horribly mutilated, was lying fifty feet from the road, the left arm severed above the elbow and missing.  The horse and the fore-wheels of the buggy were found a hundred yards off, the wounded animal struggling that distance before he fell.  The body and hind-wheels of the vehicle were in splinters. One tire hung on a tree and a boot on another.  The main charge of the torpedo had entered the victims left side above the hip and the face was scarcely disfigured.  Mr. Thompson was widely known and esteemed for his social qualities and high character.  He was born in Cearfield county, came to Franklin in 1853, married in 1855 and met his shocking fate at the age of thirty-nine.  His widow and a daughter live at Franklin."

The Titusville Morning Herald had the following to say about the death of  Thompson:  "From a gentlemen residing in Franklin, we have learned the following particulars of the death of Mr. Thompson, of which we made mention yesterday.  It appears the deceased left home in a buggy at an early hour on Tuesday morning, carrying with him a torpedo to be exploded in a well a few miles below the town.  Arriving there he found two old torpedoes which had failed to explode, and were to be returned to the Roberts factory a short distance above Franklin.  Taking these instruments of death in his buggy, Mr. Thompson started on his return homeward, and the catastrophe occurred about a mile and a half outside of the city.

"The body was thrown about fifty feet from where the torpedoes exploded, and was lying terribly mutilated at the side of the road, the left arm above the elbow dissevered from the body and missing.  The horse and the fore-wheels of the buggy were found about one hundred yards away, which distance the horse had run before he fell.  The scene around showed the terrible power of nitroglycerine.  The after part of the buggy was reduced to mere chips, and a large part of the axle was not found.  One of the tires was hanging in a tree, about twenty feet high, and one of the unfortunate victims boots was hanging on another.

"The main charge of the torpedo had entered the left breast just above the hip, and death must have come like a flash and without physical suffering.  The head and face were not much disfigured, showing
only slight abrasions, caused doubtlessly by the fall of the body on the ground.

"The funeral of Mr. Thompson was attended on Wednesday by the members of Venango Lodge, I.O.O.F. and Myrtle Lodge, A.Y.M., of both of which he was a member, and by a large concourse of his fellow citizens.  A large delegation of Odd Fellows from Oil City also assisted in the last sad rites."

Unfortunately, this will not be the last time dud torpedo's take a life.  Such accidents will become all to commonplace in the oil regions of Pennsylvania.  Why these dud torpedoes were shipped back in an armed state is beyond comprehension, considering today's safety standards and practices.

Most people would rather die than think:  many do.--Bertrand Russell

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