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Dr. Eaton Doesn't Believe Bomb Theory of the Explosion.


Gaskill Gives Evidence; Ex-plosive Expert Heard; Adjourns.

After an afternoon and evening session, the Nelson coroner's jury yesterday adjourned until this morning to hear further evidence. Several witnesses were heard, including G. H. Gaskill of Spokane, one of the injured in the explosion.

Whether the explosion was caused by dynamite or gas has yet to be settled, and the jury members are leaving nothing unturned. The gas theory is being carefully gone into. Witnesses yesterday declared that following the explosion the gas from the tank was seen to burn in a jetting flame. Another thing which interested the jury was the fact that the fire was stated by witnesses to have burned dull-like, and to have smoldered in several places throughout the car.

Evidence from Drs. Eaton and Bennett, who conducted the autopsy on bodies in the morgue, practically threw out the theory that a bomb was exploded in the car. No signs of shrapnel had been found in the victims, and Dr. Eaton stated that he did not think that it was a bomb which had done the damage. All four of the dead here died from fractures of the skull, it was found.

Witnesses will no doubt be summoned from Vancouver and Kelowna. Two boys who were uninjured may be summoned from the coast, while a witness in Kelowna has expressed a willingness to come here and testify in regard to the explosion. The case goes on this morning.


"I judge that I went to sleep about 11:30 o'clock, before we reached Farron. What happened I don't know. When I came to, the fire was burning about 10 feet away. I had a hard time to come to. I saw the fire, and I knew that I would have to wake up or be caught." So stated G. H. Gaskill of Spokane, in telling his story to the jury. Gaskill is one of the witnesses of the tragedy who escaped death in the car explosion.

While in the wreck he saw the brakeman and called to them. They got him out the south side of the car.

"I came to in the middle of the car. My chest was over something, and I seemed as if I was looking into a canyon 1000 feet deep. I knew if something went that 'd be killed. It was a nightmare," he said. Witness stated that he could tell nothing of the explosion. He was chuckfull of gas and had suffered from three hemorrhages on the way in. He felt like he was burning up. He had several bruises, and was burned about the head, ear and neck. He did not know what caused the burns.

Witness stated that he had no powder marks, but that he was awfully dirty. His watch had been blown clear off his chain. He did not know much of the affair. What he attributed to the saving of his life was the fact that he was curled up in his seat.

He had not noticed a Hindu behaving in any odd manner.

Dr. J. H. Bennett of Bennett & Eaton, who conducted the postmortem on four bodies in the local morgue and who attended Harry Bishop, the last victim to die here, stated that Bishop had died from a fracture at the base of the skull. He never regained consciousness. He suffered from hemorrhages from the left ear, the nose and the tissues of the eyes. He was almost pulseless when the doctor first saw him. Death was caused from pressure on the brain. The wound on the top of his head looked as though it had been caused by a blunt instrument, or as if he had been thrown against something hard. There was no penetration of the skull and little signs of burns. His legs were not damaged, although his clothes had been torn off.

Dr. F. S. Eaton, who conducted the autopsies on the bodies, stated that Mary Strelaeff, the first body examined, had died from a fracture of the skull. She had a fracture of the middle of the thigh. Bruises were present on the right and left legs. A bruise also was present over the left eye and forehead. Under the forehead was found a fracture which caused death.

Neil Murray of Grand Forks had no fractures of the limbs. He had a slight bruise on the left knee. A fractured skull with underlying clots had caused his death.

W. J. Armstrong of Vancouver had also died from a fracture of the skull, although his other injuries would have caused his death ultimately. He suffered from a fracture of the legs, ends of the bones protruding at two places. He had a wound above the knee about three inches, It was six inches in width and penetrated to the bone. Burns of the first degree were in evidence from the ankles to the thigh. He suffered a fracture over the left eye with blood clots which caused death. He had a compound fracture of the thight. There was a hole above the knee, a foreign body having evidently passed through it. No foreign bodies could be found in any of the dead persons.

Dr. Eaton did not examine the lungs of the victims and there were no deep wounds in the region of the chest. The lungs would, he stated, be congested.

All four persons died from fracture of the skull. Bums could be caused by fire in the coach. The skin was reddened, but there were no marks of powder.

Clothing on the bodies were torn to shreds. There would have to be more than intense heat to cause the state in which the bodies were in.

Dr. Eaton had met the relief train at Castlegar. Three were dead then. Bishop never was conscious.

W. M. Myers — If there was shrapnel flying would it be possible to find some in the bodies?

Dr. Eaton — It would be possible and probable. It was unlikely that the men were killed by a bomb. If so some parts of it would have been found in the bodies.

Burns had not only affected the lower extremities but were present on the heads. No clothing was burned, but had been torn to shreds.

Francis E. Leach, Inspector of explosives in the mines for the Do- minion government, stated that it was his duty to investigate all explosions in Canada if they were within his reach.

When he reached the scene of the accident the car had been moved about a mile to Farron. A great deal of evidence had thus been destroyed in moving the car. He had made a careful examination of the site of the explosion. There was no damage to the tracks to indicate that a torpedo had caused the accident. The two tanks which had contained pinch gas had been removed from the car in order to take it away from the main line. The tanks were, however, intact. The safety fuses with which the tank was equipped had been puntured correctly. The fuses were filled with lead. In case the tanks became heated the lead melted. The gasses then escaped. These were spaced all through the tank. The line carrying the gas from the tanks to the lights in the car appeared to be in perfect order. The pipes were bent, but showed no breaks what- ever. There were no visible places where gas could escape. He had found the roof and sides of the car badly splintered.

The track was littered with splinters, indicating probably a hole in the floor of the car. If the explosion occurred inside the car one would expect a hole in the floor.

He was of the opinion that a high explosive of some kind was detonated about the level of the car floor and toward the center of the car, and to support this he produced a portion of a heating pipe disconnected near where the explosion occurred. It was an ordinary steam pipe and was severely indented in one place, where something hard had struck it with some force. The pipe had been about 28 inches above the floor. This gave the idea that the explosion was a heavy one.

Chief Gammon — When the fuses burn out, it lets the gas out of the tanks. The gas then feeds the fire?

Witness — Probably. I'll have to leave that question to a railway man. I expect that the gas would escape and feed the flames.

The tanks, stated the witness, had been removed to get the car from the track. He was not able to tell whether the connection had been taken off before or after the explosion. It was most likely that the explosion was caused by dynamite, as it was more easily procurable of explosives. Had it been nitroglycerin it would have to be set off by a detonator.

D. StDenis — Would it be possible for dynamite to explode and leave no trace on the railway bed?

Witness — I should think there would be some trace. I found a slight splintering on one tie. Another tie had been removed and replaced before I saw it.

Assuming that the explosion was caused by dynamite, what would be the possibilities of the dynamite going off? asked W. M. Myers.

It was possible for it to go off alone, but highly improbable, stated the witness who also stated that the heat from a steam pipe would not set it off. Friction on the floor was possible, but remote, and witness had never heard of such a thing.

D. St Denis — If there was a dry cap and fuse would excessive heat explode it?

Witness — I don't think so. It takes a flash and the heat of an electric-wire by electricity.

Witness stated that black powder was a slow explosive. When it exploded the gases of combustion struck downward, following the line of least resistance. It would take a half case, or a little more dyna- mite, to cause the damage done in the coach. It was impossible to state if the accident was caused by dynamite, whether it was the 40 per cent or the 60 per cent sticks. He believed that if dynamite were used that there would be no traces of it left. There was a possibility of detecting something through the odor of the gas.

Liquid nitro-glycerin, stated the witness, could be extracted from the solidified nitro-glycerin. This was a dangerous practice, but had been done. It could be extracted from dynamite by heating it in water. Assuming that the nitro-glycerin was used, heat would have no more effect on it than on dynamite. It was more dangerous to carry liquid nitro-glycerin than dynamite.

Witness had examined the steam pipes, but found no break, they were bent badly in several places. The pipes were probably bent by the fire in the car.

If it were a dynamite explosion it would be accompanied by intense heat in the vicinity of the explosion, the effect would be simul taneous. The explosion would have to be quite close to set clothing on fire. Dynamite had different lengths of flame. Whatever fire followed would be on the woodwork or clothing. It could not be gas, as it had already been consumed. Assuming the car had been blown up by dynamite, witness was asked how he ac- counted for evidence of burns on the bodies of the victims? His reply was that it could have been a long flame explosion, such as stumping powder. Clothing would take fire within three feet of the explosion if it were caused by dynamite. A half case of dynamite would be a good-sized grip full and would weigh about 25 pounds.

Coroner MacKenzie pointed out the fact that the woman had her skirt. blown off at the waist. The trousers had been blown off the men. The tail of a coat was ragged, pockets in the trousers were exposed. In one case a hip pocket had been blown off. In the case of Murray he had his underwear on. Armstrong's underwear was blown away. The flesh on Armstrong's body was mutilated. If these men were within the vicinity of the explosion they would have to be very close to have the flesh burned at the same time. Murray had no mutilation of the body. The Douk hobor girl had a fractured leg. Would dynamite have that effect, seeing that all four dead had not been congregated together?

Witness — I shouldn't think so. Explosives are strange. The explosion was more apt to have been caused by stumping powder than by dynamite.

Witness stated that the piping was intact aside from where it had been broken off at the roof and taken off to get the gas tanks away from the car. Shredded clothing exhibited were thought by the witness to have come from near the seat of the explosion.

Any high explosive might have caused the accident because of the extreme shattering of the debris. A disintegrating explosive had a lifting effect, he stated.


D. W. McNabb, Inspector for the bureau of explosives, of Vancouver, was the next witness called. He, too, had visited the scene of the accident. After he had viewed the remains of the car and the demolition of the superstructure, and the havoc wrought, he had come to the conclusion that the trouble was caused by one of the higher explosives placed in the car with intent or with utter uninteliligence of danger by the consignees.

Nitro-glycerin was a forbidden explosive in transportation. The strongest dynamite permissible for transportation by rail was the 60 per cent type. There was a wide range of powerful explosives other than dynamite. There was T.N.T. and other explosives.

In the tanks under the coach was stored Pinch gas. This gas was classed by the board of railway commissioners as inflammable compound. The cylinder containing it had safety devices so that if the tanks were overheated or overcharged it would not explode. Pinch gas was not as dangerous as acetylene gas. He could not say whether or not pinch gas was heavier than air.


The result of pinch gas escaping into a room and then being lit would depend on the gravity of the air and gas. He stated that he would not care to enter a room in which pinch gas had been escaping for any length of time. He had seen Pinch gas puff when lit by a match, but had seen no explosion big enough to break a mantle.

If the whole container of gas under the car escaped into the coach it could not, in his opinion, have caused the explosion of Wednesday. It wouldn't do the damage that this explosion had. It might break the windows but would not do anything like what had occurred. The gas used was not classed as dangerous. He had never seen any experiments conducted with it. He had seen acetylene gas take out the walls of a roundhouse. It was always considered more dangerous than pinch gas. Pinch gas was easily detected if it escaped for a time. If it leaked out for two or three minutes it could be detected. He could not say if it was heavier or lighter than air.

Pinch gas had poisonous effects which were sometimes fatal. Its effects came in with a headache. It was not a fragrant smell. The pipe line carrying the gas to the lamps had been examined by Mr. McNabb. It entered the coach through the men's toilet. The line was intact as far as he could see. Dynamite, he stated, did not explode twice in the same manner. He had cases where a case dropped a few feet and had not exploded, while in another instance it had exploded when dropped but a few inches. Dynamite followed the lines of least resistance. He could not tell the length of a dynamite flame.


Joseph Turner, conductor on the death train, told the jury that he left Nelson at 9:05 o'clock on Tuesday night. He was going west, and his crew consisted of J. Brennan, baggage man, and Wilfred Marquis, as trainman. He identified a diagram of the car as presented. At the time of the accident there were 22 persons on the car, as far as could be ascertained. Three got on at Brilliant-Peter Verigin; his attendant Mary Streloeff, and another gentleman. Bishop and Armstrong got on at Castlegar, as did Murray. Three ex-employees of the company got on at Tunnel. He then showed on the diagram just how the passengers were seated. No one got on the train at Farron. The cafe car was taken on there.

The train stopped at Farron to take water, and the conductor went for his orders. He hurried back to the train to leave someone in charge of the rear portion. One man was in charge, and the conductor relieved him, taking charge until the cafe car was coupled on. The steam and air connections were made and the brakes tested. The signal to proceed was given by Turner on the apparatus for that purpose. This signal was given from the forward end of the day coach. As the train moved off he went through to the rear end to see that the steam was working through. He was there but a short time when he was joined by Marquis. the trainman.


Both then walked through the train to the baggage car. The conductor entered first, and was followed by Marquis, who asked something about passengers for Paulson.

At this instant a terrible explosion occurred. The door of the baggage car was driven in, showering the two with glass.

All the train crew were in the baggage car at the time.

"Looking around, I saw through the aisle of the day coach. I saw flames in the car," said the witness.

The conductor ordered someone to get into the coach with an extinguisher. The express messenger broke a glass, and the conductor paid no further attention. Marquis and he then tried to get into the coach. They saw people crawling in the car, and could hear them.


The first one he remembered coming to was Mrs. Russo, who was not so badly hurt. She was moved to the baggage car. A man sitting with her was carried back into the baggage car. The newsie was next taken out. The car was in flames in the rear portion, and it was smouldering in different spots. A man was pinned down on the side of the car. The debris was rolled from him. Two other persons directly opposite were gotten out.

Marquis and Turner worked together and at about this time were choking with gas, and had to leave the car. There were no further signs of life at this time.

Being afraid there was someone else in the car, he went up the bank and looked in. He then entered the west end of the car, and in trying to dig away the debris there he saw Mr. Gaskill, whom he tried to release. A puff of gas then seized him, and he left the car after getting Gaskill out.

The car was then separated from the sleeper was pulled down a car length, where it was cut away from the baggage car.

The conductor then attended to those thrown out of the car. Mr. MacKie, the first found, was dead. Across him was lying Mr. Murray, apparently very badly hurt but able to walk. Verigin was dead, and a lady, still conscious and breathing, was next to him. He next found Mr. Armstrong sitting up. He was conscious, and bleeding badly. He asked for assistance. Bishop was lying back in the snow, and was breathing freely, though uncon scious. By this time the sleeper passengers were assisting, and the conductor started for Farron for assistance.

On his way to Farron he met two men on a speeder and sent them to the scene to assist. The pusher crew was summoned and the engine took the sleeper with the injured back to Nelson. The usual train went on to Grand Forks with injured in the baggage car,

Verigin had got on the train at Brilliant, and had bought a ticket to Castlegar. He then got another from Castlegar to Grand Forks.

Questioned, he stated that the fire in the coach was to the rear and south side of the coach. He did not remember any smoke. There was a blue flame issuing from somewhere under the car. It appeared near the ground and was issuing at an angle toward the head of the train. The center of the car was broken up, the seats were gone, the roof of the whole car was gone.

He was in the baggage car but 30 or 40 seconds, and had noticed no smell of gas. The blue flame he attributed to escaping gas from the tank. It was not a pleasant smell, and was a choking kind of gas. The train had stopped in two car lengths.

When he released Gaskill he saw the car smouldering. He could not remember when it broke out into flames. A number of people had left the car at Castlegar but none at Robson.

When going to Farron he had seen two foot marks in the snow. They were pointing in the direction of Farron, and were quite fresh. He had previously smelled the odor of pinch gas, and was of the opinion that the gas he smelled in the coach following the explosion was pinch gas.


Verigin always had attendants take his grip on the car. He remembered three persons getting on at Brilliant, and more getting on or off. He did not remember Verigin carrying a grip. He judged that there was between 13 and 14 pounds of steam in the heating pipes at the time of the explosion.

Some men in the car had escaped. Two had gone to Vancouver, and one to Kelowna. They must have been thrown from the car.

He had not formed any conclusion as to the cause of the accident.

The train was traveling at about 20 miles per hour, and it was possible for anyone to jump off it at that rate. They would no doubt fall. Three lights in the car were burning at the time of the explosion. Two were turned off by the valve in the side of the light.


Wilfred Marquis, trainman on the Kettle Valley train, told of three persons getting on the train at Brilliant. They were Peter Verigin, a lady and a man. A Doukhobor rushed on ahead of Verigin and put down a grip. The grip was a wicker one, about 18 inches deep. 18 inches wide and 20 inches long. He put the grip down and got off again. The three Doukhobors who got on at Tunnel had baggage bundled like blankets. It was put in the baggage car. He had noticed no one getting on at Farron. There was a possibility of persons getting on and off there without being noticed.

Marquis assisting with the switching. The heat had been on going up the Farron hill. On leaving Farron he started through the train to shut the steam off at the cafe car. Turner was there when he arrived. They stood waiting for the steam to come through, and then Marquis shut it off. He then looked to see if the wheels were working all right, and proceeded through the train.


When he went through the day coach the passengers were sleeping. Witness looked at the ventilators; they were open. He then shut off the steam valves on the coach side. They were in the evaporating heat system. The valves shut off were within 2 feet of Verigin and were near the center seat. Verigin was sitting close to the aisle. The girl was sitting in next to the window. Apparently both were asleep. The seat behind Verigin was vacant. Behind it was a double seat occupied by Bishop and Armstrong. They were asleep, with their feet up on the seat in front. Behind them were some Doukhobors, but sitting on the opposite side of the coach. On the last two seats were some Hindus. There were three of them on the train. Two seemed asleep and a third was restless. He had wandered about a great deal all evening, but never far up the coach.

Leaving the day coach, Marquis entered the baggage car, asking Conductor Turner if he had any shorts for the hill. As he reached the center of the baggage car there was an awful explosion. It blew him against the side of the baggage car. Glass showered in through the baggage car door. A light of some description was seen through the wreckage. Turner, Brennan and Marquis rushed to the door. They moved debris away and got inside the car. Brennan went outside the car. A lady, a man and the newsie were helped out to the baggage car. The two, Turner and Marquis, then went in further. They saw two gentlemen. One was all right and went out; the second was caught and assisted out.

There was a huge pile of debris in the end of the car. In attempting to remove it, the gas fumes became too great. and they got out.


The train was then cut, and Mar quis was informed by the porter that his sleeper was on fire. Marquis got on the sleeper with a fire extinguisher and put the fire out. It was a piece of burning pantleg which had caused the fire. He remained on top of the car for about 15 minutes putting out sparks and other flying material.

When questioned, he stated that after the accident had occurred he saw a dull fire in the coach. It was on the south side and beyond the center. The floor was covered with debris. and he failed to see any hole in it. He imagined that the gas upon which he and Turner had choked was from the gas tanks. He imagined there was a leak in the pipes. caused from the explosion and that the gas was from this. The fire extinguisher did not seem to have much effect upon the fire.

On the way up the hill a Doukhobor had asked him where Verigin was going. He had been informed that it was Grand Forks. The Doukhobor was also going to Grand Forks, and had requested that his baggage be dropped at the West station. Marquis stated that the Doukhobor was in the accident and had got on at Castlegar. He would know him again. He was red-headed. He thought that the restless Hindu had been killed. He didn't know Campbell. There had been a man sitting opposite to Verigin. He didn't know what had become of him.


Joe Brennan, baggage man on the train, stated to the jury that he heard a terrible explosion and saw smoke. He rushed from the car and helped get the injured out. Gaskill and another man had been helped from a window. The coach was pretty well afire. He, too, saw a blue flame from under the car. The signal lights used by the trainmen were electrically fed by special French dry cell batteries.

A piece of a dry cell battery, badly smashed up and black, was exhibited by Chief Gammon, and was not the same as used by the railway men according to witness.


E. Y. Brake, car foreman, at the Canadian Pacific railway shops, told of looking over the remains of the car at the scene of the explosion. All the woodwork had been practically burned off. He examined the gas tanks. They had dropped from their original position on the car but the iron bands around the tanks were still holding to the supports. He could see nothing wrong with the tanks except that the pipes were broken off. He followed the gas pipe which fed the lamps. It was intact. The main valve in the men's toilet was intact. The brake pipe on the car was broken off, and in the opinion of the witness the feed pipes from the tanks had broken off at the same time.

On account of the tanks being in the way in moving the car, they were removed and left to the side of the track. The car was still at Farron. The steam pipes on either side of the car had been bent by the heat from the fire. The floor of the car was composed of a top inch board, a filling of some 6 inches of sawdust and then three-quarter deafening floor. If the explosion was in the car, it could not go through without touching the tanks.


He had received no instructions, and he believed that there were no instructions issued in regard to the testing of the tanks on the train. They were tested when shipped out of the factory. Instruction were that cars should not be charged with more than 10 atmospheres of gas. On October 28 it had been charged with 8 atmospheres of gas which would be about 120 pounds pressure. He could safely say that the tanks were tested to five or six times that pressure before being installed on the cars. The regulating valve to the lamps had been set to 15 pounds pressure. Between 20 and 24 fuse plugs had been blown out.

He could not say whether or not Pinch gas was heavier or lighter than air. It was not standard equipment on coaches. There were gas, electricity and coal oil used. The majority of the main line cars were electrically equipped.


Mr. McNabb was recalled for fur- ther questioning and he stated that the car could not be ignited by the flame from a dynamite explosion itself. He stated that gas or dynamite was not the only substance that would cause such an explosion. In Lacombe, Alta., he had seen the result of an explosion caused by a mixture of photographer's supplies -metallic magnesia and potassium chlorate. Nearly as extensive damage had been done in this case. With the recent case and the presence of fire at the same time as the explosion, witness declared that it could be caused by some additional means. He suggested a contraption which would spread fire at the time of explosion. He had never heard that Pinch gas was dangerous and if it had been prohibited by any government he would have received instructions.

Source: "All Four Deaths From Fractured Skulls," Nelson Daily News, November 4, 1924.

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