Mining and the miner.
In these cold and nipping days, when the good people of Richmond
put their toes on the fender and poke their coal fires into blaze, they rarely think where that coal comes from, or of the labor, the courage, the patience and the skill required to bring its cheerfulness and glow to their hearth-stones.
The coal measure of Chesterfield
are worked at two print rest points.
One near Coalfield station, on the Danville
road, and the other at Clover Hill
At the latter place the works are quite extensive.
The strata of coal outcrop there and dip to the westward, descending at about the angle of twenty-three degrees.
These seams or layers of coal — alternating with layers of stone like the cake and jelly of jelly-cake — differ much in thickness.
The richest is about twenty-seven feet through.
Some are so thin that the working of them would not be productive.--The mines are of two kinds.
One kind begin at the outcrop, where the coal comes to the surface, and follows down the bed with a long shaft, called an "incline, " sometimes steep and sometimes nearly horizontal, according to the inclination of the stratum.
Thus a shaft fifteen hundred feet long becomes at the lower end about six or seven hundred feet below the surface.
Up this shaft runs a double railroad track, each traversed by a small car, drawn by a rope or chain passing over a drum at the mouth of the shaft.
Thus one car depends as the other rises.
A steam engine above ground, at the top of the shaft, does this work, as well as the pumping and ventilating of the mine.-- Running at right angles with this shaft are long galleries called levels.
These keep very nearly horizontal by winding and turning as the dip of the seam changes in inclination.--These have also railroads running through them, the cars of which are drawn by mules — poor animals that never see the blessed sunlight, nor ever munch a mouthful of fresh herbage from one year's end to another.
No wonder that they get a little obstinate sometimes, or bray out a note of complaint to a fellow-sufferer in an adjoining drift — but this is pathetic.
These levels are nearly parallel, and about a hundred feet apart, all coming into the main shaft, of course, at lower points as the shaft descends.
These in their turn are intersected by another set of drifts about forty feet apart, running at right angles with them, and of course parallel with the main shaft or "incline." Thus the whole bed of coal is cut through with passages crossing one another, leaving large masses of coal, called "pillars," to support the roof.
When the whole seam is thus explored, and the drifts have struck rock all around, then commences the work of "robbing"--cutting away the pillars of coal — of course beginning at that part of the mine farthest away from the shaft, for the roof tumbles in as they are cut, one by one, away.
Dangerous work this.
The other mine sinks a perpendicular shaft eight or nine hundred feet deep, and of course a long distance off from the out-crop.
The levels strike off from the foot of this, and the mining is carried on in the same manner, except that the first is carried downward
from the surface, and this is carried from the bottom of the shaft upward
toward the out-crop.
The foot of the shaft is the deepest part of the mine.
Of course these levels cannot always be parallel, or equidistant, or the intersecting drifts straight and at right angles.
The varying dip of the strata, the disappearance of some veins, the discovery of others, and, most of all, the masses of rock, called "troubles," all tend to change the regularity of the mine.
A high grade of science and experience are called into play to circumvent these troubles, or to tell where and how to cut through them, and to follow the vein of coal through all its faults and turnings.
The draining of the mines is frequently a problem of great difficulty, as enormous veins of water often burst out, sometimes flooding a whole mine.
The ventilation, too, is most important, as the lives of all in the pit depend upon its perfection.
The system of sending fresh pure air through all the labyrinth of passages is too complicated to be explained here.
It is sufficient to say that a strong current is created by a large fan revolving with great rapidity, which expels the foul gases and brings the wholesome air down from the open world.
One can easily see that this is hard work — and dangerous too. Dangers exist, hard to anticipate, and difficult, if not impossible, to provide against.
The ceiling of brittle coal-slate sometimes crushes through all its props, and its black lumps are made red with the blood of the mangled miner.
A blast might open communication with some vast reservoir of water, and the narrow drifts and galleries fill so fast that escape would become impossible.
Sometimes the gas — the same gas that, tamed and civilized, lights our houses — accumulates here his natural savage strength, and gathering too rapidly for the ventilator to purify, explodes with a force compared with which gun
powder is a trifle.
Everything is slivered and splintered by its fury.
Then fellows the "black damp" --air from which all the life-sustaining principle is burnt out — and if any escape unhurt from the concussion, they are drowned
in the lifeless air. And this work, with all its severe labor and danger, begets a class of men who take in it a strange delight.
spoke of men "leaner than fleshliness misery, who waste their lives in far down darksome mines," he surely never could have seen the Welsh, Cornish
mines are worked chiefly by these men, and a sturdy set of fellows they are. They prefer the pit to any other work, and have the same kind of scorn of surface men that sailors have of land "lubbers," or that trappers have of civilized folks.
They feel that high qualities, that energy, courage and patience are called into play here, and that they are spending strength on strength in the stern labor of cutting their way through living rock.
They love the solid darkness of the mine, its perilous descents, the intricate mazes of its drifts and galleries, often steep and slippery, and its utter isolation from the rest of the world.
The sailor and the trapper have been told of often enough.
alone has said quite enough of both; but no one has ever taken the pitman, in his grimy dress, hard-handed, swart, and smutted, and made a hero of him. But perhaps his turn may yet come.
An English writer, speaking of the dignity of labor, said that when the epic poem of our day is written, it will not be "Arms and the Man." "Tools and the Man" will be our epic, and then will the Pitman be sung.