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
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.
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.