Mine Tour
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Somewhat to the south of where the Buck Mountain vein has its outcrop is Nesquehoning's Tunnel No.1. From this point a tunnel about eleven feet wide and seven and one-half feet high has been dug at right angles across the coal beds. This tunnel is about 3,600 feet long and here we will enter. We might perhaps have been allowed to ride on the "lokie" some years ago as it entered here and followed the tunnel southward for a train of loaded cars; but, since a great majority of miners walk, we will walk with them. We will have plenty of company, for many men pass to their work this way every morning. After we have entered several rods the opening of the tunnel is no longer visible and the only light we have to guide us comes from the miners' lamps. We trudge along, now and then stepping into black slush perhaps several inches deep, then stumbling over the sills of railroad tracks on which the cars are moved. We have never known such a mixture of dampness, coolness, and darkness before, unless we have previously visited a mine.

Strange sounds meet our ears. The noise of moving cars we hear, we catch the shouts of drivers or the crack of their whips, and we see the twinkling of lights as they are moved to give signals.

We pass on meeting an electric motor drawing a train of about nineteen cars which were loaded the day before, and as we pass the place where the tunnel crosses one of the veins there is a track to the east and west that extends possibly, for miles, through a hole that has been cut out of the vein which is called a gangway. We pass the gangways of many veins until we come to the Mammoth vein and here we enter the gangway that extends through a solid vein of the best kind of coal in the world that is fifty feet thick. After we have gone about one-half mile we get to the place where our guide is working and we stop to listen to his directions.

An empty car is standing on the track and right above its side there is extending what the miner calls a chute, through which the coal, that has been loosened, slides into the car. We crawl upon the side of the car, go up this chute for about twenty-one feet and wait for our miner guide to follow us. As we sit in the bottom of the chute we can lean with our backs against a wooden partition called a check battery. This check battery is securely fastened by placing stout pieces of wood into the holes made into the rock, for as the slope is steep it must help to support all the loosened coal above it.

The miner now opens the trap and we enter the chamber. The space is about twenty-four feet from side to side and we go up at the right-hand side for about twenty-four feet when we meet the second or main battery. As we pass this we feel a slight current of air to our right, and on crossing we find a hole possibly five feet high and three feet wide called a counter gangway or airway. At the side of the chamber in which we are, directly in front of the airway, the miners have placed posts and nailed against them planks six feet long so as to leave a place at the side for a manway. We ascend the manway on the right side of the breast for about forty feet to its end.

Our guide's " butty "is already in his place. They sit down to talk for several minutes. We listen to their conversation and look around the cavern as well as we can by the dim light which their lamps are making. At the feet of our guide is a drill probably 5 1/2  feet long. His "butty" is taking up another probably a foot longer. Both have three prongs at the sharpened end. Each miner takes a drill and starts drilling a hole on his side of the breast. The holes in this case are dug about four feet deep and then preparation is made to charge them. The guide wishes to show us how black powder is used. He takes us back to the counter where they have a small supply of explosives, takes up a round stick about two feet long, called a cartridge pin, and makes a round case about a foot long by rolling a piece of yellow paper, one side having been cut diagonally around the cartridge pin. He slides the paper about two inches over the end of the pin, folds it over somewhat as a storekeeper folds over the end of a package he is tying, hits the end on a flat piece of coal, then slides the whole from the end of the pin. The case is then partly filled with powder and the other end is folded somewhat like the first. With a sharpened iron he makes a hole through this homemade cartridge; into this hole the fuse is placed, and both are carefully pushed to the bottom of the bole that has just been drilled. Upon the powder he places several dirt cartridges which he made just like the powder cartridge, and the bole is tamped by using the blunt end of his drill as a ramrod. The fuse projects from the hole, ready to receive the match.

His "butty" instead of using a cartridge made of black powder uses one ready prepared that is filled with what miners call "jersey mud," twelve per cent. of which is dynamite.

Our guide takes us back to the counter where we cross over to the next breast to see other miners, while the " butty " remains to light the fuse and then follows us. When the guide thinks the smoke of the powder has cleared away, we return to see that the amount of loosened coal has been very much increased. We remain until several more charges are fired and then descend by the manway on the opposite side of the breast to that which we ascended. Here we feel slight puffs of air descending to the bottom of the manway where it enters the counter or airway and goes to the next breast, there to ascend the one manway, cross the breast where the men are working, descend in the other manway, and so on indefinitely.

When we get back to the main battery we find there a blaster. The miners above have loosened lumps of coal so large that they will not pass through the trap of the battery, and with a blast of dynamite he is reducing it to pieces not much larger than about eighteen inches by two feet.

After the blaster has finished his work, the loader comes along, opens the trap and lets, enough coal slide down the chute to fill the car. We descend into the car. It is soon attached to a train of cars which are pulled out of the tunnel to the breaker by an electric motor. We will remain upon the car and next visit the breaker.

What has taken place in the breast we visited takes place in many breasts. The miners keep going up with the breast until they get to the surface. Usually at the point where a seam has its outcrop, it is covered with ground, stones, or clay from five to ten feet thick. This is removed by stripping the vein before the breasts are dug to the surface, so that this ground will not go down into the mines with the coal.

When the two adjoining breasts are driven to the surface another pair of miners come along to rob or remove the pillars. Pillars are the coal left between two breasts to support the rock above the seam. lt is usually about 24 feet wide, depending upon the depth of the seam below the surface. The usual plan of doing this is for the miners to drive a small breast up through the pillar and then begin at the top and take out all the coal as they descend, leaving the rock to fall after the coal is out, if it will. This is called robbing pillars and is the most dangerous work in the mines. Those who do this are usually the most reliable and most experienced men working the mines.

 

 

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