Fam­ily marks cen­ten­nial of grand­fa­ther’s mine res­cue

The Drumheller Mail - - FRONT PAGE - Pa­trick Ko­lafa

A cen­tury ago, a young miner near Cham­pion named Harry Tren­tham was won­der­ing whether he was breath­ing his last breath.

To­day, there are 107 de­scen­dants of Harry, and many gath­ered last week­end at the very site where, for 87 hours, he tapped with a rock to al­low res­cuers to know where he was and to not lose hope.

Bob Grenville brought The Mail col­lec­tion of news­pa­per clip­pings and re­ports re­count­ing the more than three days that his grand­fa­ther was trapped. It tells a story of pres­ence of mind, per­se­ver­ance, and in­ge­nu­ity.

At 8:30 a.m. on April 9, 1917, Harry Tren­tham went to work. He had set­tled in Three Hills by then, but learned of work in the Cham­pion area. It was his first day, and he went to work at a small mine about seven miles north and a mile and half east of Cham­pion, Al­berta.

He was work­ing in Room # 9, when at about 10:30 a.m. with­out warn­ing it caved in. He was lit­er­ally cut off from the out­side world. In a Cal­gary Herald story 21 years later, Harry talked about the in­ci­dent. At the time of the cavein, he was mov­ing a car of coal to the out­let of the shaft. He pushed the car back, keep­ing ahead of the fall­ing de­bris un- til he came to a dead end. He piled rock, sand and any­thing else he could get his hand on to hold up the roof at the en­try. He pro­tected about a three square foot area at the end of the car. It al­lowed him a small air space, but he could hardly move. There he stayed for 87 hours. About four hours after the cave-in, mine in­spec­tors Moses John­son, and Dun­can McDon­ald, who later went on to man­age the Mur­ray Col­liery in East Coulee, were called to the scene. They ar­rived at 6:30 p.m. that evening. The min­ers on scene worked in earnest, but in the eight hours since the cave in, they were only able to pen­e­trate about three feet. The In­spec­tors took con­trol of the op­er­a­tions. Room 9 was about 180-190 feet from the en­try­way. Nei­ther of the ad­ja­cent rooms were use­ful to ac­cess Tren­tham.

They con­tin­ued to work try­ing to pen­e­trate through the cave-in by driv­ing piles ahead, and then putting in tim­bers when space was made.

This too, was a slow process and 30 hours after the cavein they had only man­aged to move about 30 feet.

While it seemed hope­less, it was about that time, they re­ceived con­fir­ma­tion that Tren­tham was still alive. While they were dig­ging, pe­ri­od­i­cally they would tap on the pil­lar of coal in hopes of get­ting a re­sponse. At 4:30 p.m., on April 11, Tren­tham knocked back. This was the first sign that he was alive.

It was more than a knock. From this knock­ing, they were able to dis­cern that he was us­ing some­thing very heavy to make the noise and that he was ap­prox­i­mately 50 -60 feet away from the res­cue party.

They de­cided to change their tack and sink a shaft from the sur­face to reach the miner.

They were in luck. Mr. Kidd, a sur­veyor from Drumheller was in the area at an­other mine. By work­ing with the over­man they pin­pointed where to dig, and by 9:30 that night shov­els

were in the ground. While they were dig­ging above, they left min­ers work­ing on the cavein un­der­ground so Tren­tham would hear work and not give up hope. When they reached 14 feet, they ceased dig­ging in the cave-in, but left two min­ers down to push a mine car back and forth to force air to the en­tombed miner.

They con­tin­ued to dig man­u­ally as us­ing an ex­plo­sive would have been too risky. The shaft con­nected to room #9 at 3 a.m. on April 13. At 5 a.m., they be­gan to drive a tun­nel to­wards Tren­tham.

Even­tu­ally they made a con­nec­tion to the miner with an auger. A 1-inch pipe was in­serted in the drill hole. They poured a mix­ture of wa­ter and brandy through the pipe. This was the first drink Tren­tham had in more than 85 hours.

They were able to talk to Tren­tham and he told them that every­thing around him was caved, so they had to pro­ceed care­fully. They re­duced the size of the hole a to point that the small­est of the res­cue party was able to reach through and grasp Tren­tham’s hand.

The tun­nels from where they broke into the room, un­til they reached Tren­tham, was 36 feet and took 17 hours to con­struct. In talk­ing to Tren­tham after the res­cue, he said he only lost hope once, where it sounded like the work­ers were dig­ging in the wrong di­rec­tion.

It is not known how much longer he con­tin­ued to work in Cham­pion, how­ever, he re­mained a miner. He dis­cov­ered a seam of coal in a coulee in the Orkney area and there he built a life for his fam­ily. He had one daugh­ter and five sons.

While he was within hours of death dur­ing those three days un­der­ground, it was Ty­phoid that struck him and one of his sons down in 1938.

His fam­ily en­dured and last week at the cel­e­bra­tion there were more than 60 gath­ered in­clud­ing 15 of his grand­chil­dren, Harry’s daugh­ter Mar­jorie Grenville, 92, and his youngest son Bob Tren­tham, 89. The fam­ily even in­vented a new drink. Brandy and wa­ter is now known to the fam­ily as a “Harry Shot.”

Harry Tren­tham with the very rock he tapped on the wall of the mine to send a sig­nal to res­cuers that he was alive.

Submitted

The de­scen­dents of Harry Tren­tham gath­ered at this while min­ing in the Cham­pion area. site, where 100 years ago he was buried for 87 hours

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