Friday, September 9, 2011
In the Mine Part 2
The "fire boss" was responsible for checking the methane levels--in early days, the fire boss would run through the mine with a candle! I don't think that job would be worth the extra pay.
Most people have also heard about the use of canaries in mines to test for methane. If the bird quit singing, the miners got out.
This is the teapot lamp I mentioned yesterday. A wick would be put into the spout, and the teapot filled with lard, cooking grease or kerosene to provide illumination. The hook by which I am holding it would hook into a metal holder on the front of the miner's cap. In those days, miners wore cloth caps which did not offer much protection in a roof fall.
I caught this shot as Sonny was showing us how a miner might work at the coal face. Here he's swinging a pick; there was also a breast auger there that you can't see in my photo. I will have to post some pics of one of those later.
I was standing up in the trolley car when I took this. You can see that the rock ceiling was lower where Sonny was--the mine was cut out higher to allow for the tourists to be more comfortable when the project was developed. Even so, I'm only 5'2" and my head was bumping the ceiling when I stood up in the car.
The ceiling is almost always wet, and water drips regularly. You can see the dampness in this photo. In some places in this mine moss was growing; I don't know if that's typical. Rats also inhabit deep mines, and many miners consider them friends because the rats will know of danger from a roof fall and vamoose. If miners see the rats leaving, they leave too!
This is just one of many side tunnels that branched off the main tour. We did not go down these but I was intrigued at the way they curved off into the darkness. How far did they go? Are there more tunnels branching off? How many tunnels are under the town of Beckley anyway?
If you should ever have the opportunity, this tour is fascinating. It's not claustrophobic, oddly; perhaps because it's well-lit and the tunnels are wide. I'd like to go again--there is so much to see and think about.
Still to come: the buildings we toured after returning from the mine.