Chuck Mack: Mining out the memories
November 29, 2008
Editor’s note: Remembering The Old Redwing Mine: Part 1 of a 5-part series
I was working at the Haybro Mine near Oak Creek in 1950. My wife, Alberta, and I were married Dec. 11 of that year.
When the mine closed down in the spring of 1951, it was never to reopen again.
In the fall of 1951, when the mines started hiring miners for their winter run, we moved to Axial, Colo., and I went to work for the old ColoWyo Coal Co., in their Redwing Mine. These mines are in Northwest Colorado.
I worked at the Redwing Mine until May of 1974, at which time the mine was abandoned. The machinery and rails had been removed in previous months. The mine property had been sold to the W.R. Grace Co. in 1973, and they ceased underground production. Eventually, they started surface mining operations.
However, as of the writing of this story, in 1992, the surface mine was not mining the vein that had been mined underground.
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There are several veins of coal separated by various thicknesses of rock. The seam the Redwing mine was in is one of the lower seams. It will take a lot of stripping to uncover it.
A lot of people mistakenly called the old Colowyo Mine, “Streeter,” or “Mount Streeter.” I guess this was because it was located at the old Mount Streeter town site. In the 1920s, Mount Streeter was a rip-snortin’ coal mining town with a full array of businesses: grocery store, hotel, bank, beer joint, post office, etc. There even was a railroad. At least the track was there. The railroad was supposed to run north to Craig and tie into the Denver & Salt Lake Railroad and then continue north into Wyoming and hook up with the Union Pacific. However, this was a short-lived dream, as the tracks never even made it as far north as Axial, which was only three of four miles away.
The town of Mount Streeter was short-lived, but the Mount Streeter Mine stayed in operation until 1949, at which time it had a massive cave-in, which buried all the mining machinery. The mine was abandoned, as the machinery was unrecoverable. The cave-in had occurred in the wee hours of the morning, fortunately, so no miners were inside at the time.
The mine tunnel openings for ColoWyo’s Redwing Mine and Mount Streeter Mine were very close together, being some 400 or 500 yards apart, at most. One tunnel of the Mount Streeter Mine almost reached to the portal of ColoWyo’s mine. This entry caved in, leaving an opening all the way to the surface. This was several years after the mine had been abandoned.
I was the fire boss for Colowyo at that time, so after the state mine inspector arrived on the scene, it was decided that I should go down into the opening to investigate things. I was lowered down 20 feet or so with a rope. From there, I made my way back into the tunnel. I had my safety lamp, which hopefully, would warn me of any bad air I might encounter. Surprisingly, the air was breathable, (not fresh, but breathable). I went into the tunnel about 150 feet, where I found a stopping (a seal made of cement blocks and plaster).
This is what we were hoping to find, as we now knew this tunnel was sealed off from the rest of the Streeter Mine. It ended before connecting with ColoWyo’s tunnels.
My investigation revealed that the tunnel had been used as an underground stable for horses. I still have a keepsake I found that day: an old Schlitz beer can with a screw on lid. The can had been used as a carbide container. (The date on the bottom of the can is 9-10-20.)
A bulldozer was used to fill in the caved-in opening. Today, everything is buried under the huge fill that the new Colowyo surface mine placed across the draw, (but my memories live on).
Next week: More memories from Old Redwing Mine.