New River Park in Beckley, West Virginia is home to the Exhibition Coal Mine and coal camp buildings. On a rainy, soggy day visitors were scarce but that was a plus for us since we could look at everything with few interruptions and talk as long as we liked with the park staff and guides.
The park houses a coal mining museum on the second floor of the Rahall "Company Store"--this is not a real company store in that it does not stock the kinds of things that might be found in a typical coal company owned store in a coal camp (housewares, tires, groceries, clothing--a real general store) but rather contains souvenirs, books, food and travel information, and the museum. We toured the museum first as we waited for our tour to begin.
I was interested in the mining paraphernalia on display, and in particular in the "teapot" lantern used by miners before the carbide lantern became the standard (later battery powered lights came along and are still in use today). This is one I do not yet have in my collection.
Can you imagine--a miner would fuel these lamps with kerosene, lard or cooking oil. The open flame was a constant danger as methane gas was not detectable and could cause an explosion at any time.
Kettle bottoms were another danger.
The kettle bottoms, also called widowmakers, are petrified tree trunks that can break loose from a mine ceiling. Many miners lost their lives to the kettle bottoms. After touring the museum, we gathered at the tour site to meet our guide, Sonny.
He explained much of what we would see and do during the tour and then we were off.
We loaded onto cars similar to the mantrip used in the mines to take miners to the mine's face. There are different kinds of these shuttles--some have the miners in an almost horizontal position because the seam of coal they are mining is very low. In this old mine (last mined in 1910) the seam was only 16 inches so you can imagine how difficult movement was!
According to our guide Sonny, this coal was metallurgical coal, used for making steel and so forth and is in high demand so it brings a good price and such a low seam would be worth mining. The miners crawled to their workplaces. Some coal seams, like that at the Pocahontas Exhibition Mine, is over 12 feet high and must be glorious to work! Sonny told us that he would rather work 30-inch coal than 40-inch coal because the 40-inch coal required a constantly bent back; with the shorter coal a miner could crawl, duckwalk or use a "miner's scooter" (a long narrow board with wheels, similar to a skateboard but the wheels are shaped to fit a rail track). A retired miner on our tour agreed with Sonny on this. I tried to imagine being all day on my stomach, back or knees. It's not something I'd want to do.
Sonny told us the history of the various forms of lights used by miners, demonstrating the carbide lamp and the safety lamp used to test for carbide. He also gave us an idea of how dark it would be for the miner working with just a carbide lamp when he shut off the electric lights.
More photos tomorrow! Tonight it's time for bed before tomorrow catches me. See you then.