Chuck Mack: Old-time mining wasn’t easy | CraigDailyPress.com

Chuck Mack: Old-time mining wasn’t easy

Remembering The Old Redwing Mine: Part 2 of a 5-part series

When I started work at the Redwing Mine, I found it was in a period of transition, still using some antiquated mining machinery, while quietly bringing in the new. They had an old wooden tipple directly in front of the mine portal. The old wooden coal cars were hoisted up one at a time. The cars were front dump and would dump the coal directly into the storage bin.

Some of the coal was processed through the antiquated old tipple. This coal was sold at the mine and there was a steady stream of trucks getting lump, nut and stoker. They hauled it as far as Grand Junction, over 100 miles away.

The rest was hauled to Craig in trucks, where it was processed over still another antiquated tipple and loaded on rail cars, to be shipped to Denver and points east on the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad, which had taken over the Denver & Salt Lake line by this time.

(Denver & Salt Lake was misleading though. It was another railroad dream that never came true. David Moffat had hoped to connect Denver, Colorado and Salt Lake City, Utah, with his rail line, but he spent his fortune getting the rails over the Continental Divide. His railroad reached an altitude of more than 11,000 feet, with grades of more than 4 percent. The rails finally reached Craig and here they ended, not quite halfway to Salt Lake City.)

Shortly after I went to work, a second tunnel was dug into the coal mine. This tunnel ran parallel to the old tunnel. A belt line was installed in the second tunnel and a modern, for the time, tipple was built. The new tipple had large capacity steel storage bins. This enabled the mine to vastly increase production.

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The old wooden coal cars were replaced with steel ones that had over twice the load capacity. The old mine rails proved too small for this increased load and soon were replaced. The rails that replaced them came from the streets of Denver (the old city streetcar rails).

The mining machinery in use at this time was old and outdated. They had a very small Joy-loader and two very small shuttle cars (buggies). Also, they were still using shaker pan lines and duckbills. The shaker unit was the power source. It worked with an oscillating motion. The pan line consisted of a series of steel pans, about 3 feet wide, 10 feet long, with 6-inch high sides. The duckbill was much like one of the regular pans, except it swiveled from side to side and was flattened out on the front end, much like the lower half of a duck’s bill (hence, the name).

The pan line was hung from mine props, or timbers, with chain. This allowed the back and forth motion needed to slide the coal along to the loader head, where it was dumped into the mine cars. The duckbill was at the front of the pan line and it would pick up the coal by sliding in and out under the pile of coal at the face.

After one pile of coal had been loaded out with the pan line, an old-time cutting machine would be drug to the face. This was accomplished by placing a jack pipe at an angle between the floor and roof and attaching a winch to it.

The cutting machine would undercut the coal. This was a man-killing job, as the helper had to stand at the rear of the machine to shovel the cuttings (bugs, dust). Even though water was used in the cutting process, the dust in the air would still get so thick you could hardly see, let alone breathe. My brothers, Stanley and Willard, were machine operators, and at times I would be the helper.

The machine pulled back from the face and several holes would be drilled into the coalface. This was done with a hand held drill. This job required two or more strong-armed miners. The holes would be loaded with blasting powder, dynamite or Cardox. A new pile of coal would be shot from the face, another pan would be added to the line, and the loading process resumed.

Whew! Just thinking about how much work was involved makes me shudder!

Next week: More from Old Redwing Mine