December 9, 1938 John Brown died of a heart attack at his home in Oklahoma City.
That was all the information I knew about my great grandfather’s death until one day I found the article entitled “Damage Asked on Death of Husband”. According to the article John’s widow, Ella, filed a suit that alleged that John died due to an explosion of an acetylene generator.
My aunt and my mother didn’t recall ever hearing that information. We knew that my grandfather, Claude Brown, had worked for Singer Pipe and Supply for 35 years but I didn’t realize that my great, grandfather also worked for them. I wondered about the outcome so I visited the courthouse and read his probate records as well as the court records about the suit.
Singer Pipe and Supply Company was in the business of selling used pipe, oil field equipment and junk metal. If you’re like me you may not know what an acetylene generator is. It is “a device which produces a steady supply of acetylene gas for use in welding works, repair, or construction shops where acetylene is constantly required. The device, which has two basic types, works by exposing calcium carbide to water which produces acetylene gas. …Installation, use, and maintenance of an acetylene generator are, however, subject to strict safety measures because acetylene is an extremely dangerous gas which readily explodes at a wide range of gas to air concentrations.” — Wise Geek
According to the suit court records the explosion took place at 10:30 in the morning of December 8, 1938. John was turning the valve on the bottom of the acetylene generator to remove carbide slag. Ella’s suit said that the valve connection at the base of the generator gave way and caused the explosion. It knocked John to the ground, the acetylene gas and carbide slag filled his lungs and covered his face and body and burned his face, additionally his body and right arm were bruised. It says he suffered serious nervous shock and sustained serious injuries from which, 15 hours later at 1:30 the next morning, he died. Ella claimed that John worked on faulty and unsafe equipment and in an unsafe work place and that Singer had known about all of this but had not repaired the equipment or provided safe working conditions. Singer claimed that John was a welder on the generator, was a mature and experienced man, whose primary responsibility was the repair of that equipment. They claimed that any repair needed was his responsibility and that he knew the dangers of the job. Ella claimed that the company hired someone else to do repairs on the acetylene generator and were aware of the need for it to be inspected for nine months prior to the accident involving John. Ella asked for $35,600 in damages and the document indicates that John earned $1,700 a year.
There was a jury trial in which several people were subpenaed for the plaintiff including my grandfather, Claude Brown, who was also employed by Singer Pipe and Supply Company, and a great aunt. The jury found in favor of the defendant, Singer Pipe and Supply Company, and no damages were awarded.
I imagine it must have been especially difficult for my grandpa to be called as a witness in the suit against Singer in the wrongful death claim of his father. At the time of his father’s death and the suit, my grandpa lived on the Singer premises and worked for them in a supervisory role. After the verdict he continued working for Singer for many years.