On this date in 1918, manager T. J. Ahearn from the Jamestown Gas Company was surely licking some very real wounds he received on the job. It all started with the gas in the Northern Pacific depot lunch room. It had been turned off, but a leak was still apparent. He discovered that a plug in a one-inch gas pipe had been removed, with gas flowing into the basement.
Ahearn put a new plug in the pipe, waited almost an hour, and went into the basement to check on the fumes. They were still strong, so he decided to tighten the plug. He climbed up his ladder to the main, but needed to shed a little light on the subject. So…he struck a match.
Ahearn was blown off the ladder, and suffered severe burns on his neck, shoulders and hands. But he soon returned to work, thoroughly bandaged.
The incident occurred during World War I. Tensions were running high, and Northern Pacific detectives investigated. The Jamestown Daily Alert reported that the event was believed to be “a deliberate attempt to either asphyxiate employees of the Northern Pacific or blow up the new $500,000 passenger depot,” and asserted “it is expected that the officials will have some interesting facts to reveal within the next 48 hours.”
The following day, the details did come out, though it certainly wasn’t what anyone expected. F. Ingalls, supervisor of the Northern Pacific Railroad, wrote this “confession:”
“I regret very much to spoil the effects of the sensational article in yesterday’s issue about the attempt to blow up the Northern Pacific depot. That the public may be at ease, I wish to state that it was all due to carelessness.”
It seemed that the water for watering the lawn west of the depot had been shut off; to do so, they had to close a valve in the basement and remove a plug in the water pipeline. The man doing the work accidentally removed the plug in the gas line instead.
Ingalls went on to say, “This should convince even the most skeptical that everything that happens is not due to German propaganda, and that a sure way of locating a leak in a gas main is to light a match.”
Dakota Datebook written by Sarah Walker
Jamestown Daily Alert, Wed. Oct. 16, 1918
Daily Alert, Thurs. Oct. 17, 1918