Sunday, July 5, 2009

Beautiful Day, part 1

Sometimes you just have a really, really good day. You know the day i mean - you take the day off from work, no one calls from work with anything on fire, the weather is gorgeous, you get to spend time with one of your favorite people, your planned adventure turns out to be even cooler than advertised and the unplanned adventures rock. I had that day last week. My friend Matt is on the East Coast for a bit of time this summer and he had a day free from plans on a day i had no shows. Adventure time! We met at the rest stop in DE on I-95 as i was coming from Baltimore and he was coming from Dover. It was a great day for a drive so we headed up 95 to I-476 towards Scranton. Yep, we went on an adventure to Scranton, PA. First we went to the Lackawanna Coal Mine. Located in the Poconos it was a working coal mine until 1960. After lying abandoned for awhile it has been turned into an educational tour. There is so much information about the how and why coal was mined as well as the men and boys who did the back breaking work. After a quick look around we paid for the $10 ticket to go down into the mine and went outside to queue up for the next tour. We passed this amazing chunk of coal I told Matt to jump into frame for size reference, but i don't think he realized that he should have smiled as well. and then we walked up to the hoist house to wait for the car that takes you underground After a bit of a wait (where there was plenty of time to contemplate the meaning and/or use for this) the car slowly emerged from the opening of Slope 190 This is no Disney tram, people. It is tiny and cramped and filled with injury warnings in the languages of the immigrant miners You descend slowly, backwards into the darkness with only naked bulbs hanging from the ceiling of the slope for light. It is a cool sensation as your eyes adjust to light and you can hear the groundwater trickling down the walls as you go deeper. Then temperature falls rapidly to about 50 degrees and after a 4 minute journey you are almost 300 feet underground. This is Tony our guide showing us the geology of the coal beds (bottom) and the layout of the mine tunnels and ventilation (top). After the basic explanation we start walking the mine If you have never been (and it is a fair bet most of you have never been) you should go. They have done an amazing job preserving a lot of what was just left at the end of the operation and adding exhibit pieces. To get the coal out of the bed, the miner would manually use this body drill to make 10 six-foot deep holes, fill them with dynamite and blow them. Then he and his assistant -who could be as young as 13- would shovel the chunks into the waiting cart which would be hauled to the surface. Here is a locomotor that would have pulled the carts of coal after 1903 and the earlier 10-year-old-boy-with-a-mule method. Check out the sharp stick coming out of his sleeve. The carts didn't have brakes so to stop them he would leave the mule, run back to the wheel, jam the stick into the spokes and hope for the best. Needless to say, sometimes there were incidents with this braking method, not to mention the hazard of being in close quarters with a mule. (Tony shared that his grandfather's brother died from a single kick by a mule in the mine - share that story with your kids if the whine about taking out the trash) The coal beds are different sizes and sometimes you would have to work in a monkey tunnel with a clearance of about 3 or 4 feet. Imagine crawling up that slope dragging all of your tools with you and spending the entire shift scraping and shoveling without being able to even sit up all of the way. The safety boss had his own office but even his day wasn't that cushy since it would take him 8 hours just to walk the entire mine making sure everything was okay. The youngest workers were called nippers. Their job was to sit into the double-doored airlock (mostly in the dark) and then open the doors when the carts came. Nippers were 7-9 years old. It was cool to see the giant air intakes and hear that there used to be a capsule inside where 2-3 people could be hauled straight to the surface. I would definitely have paid extra to be allowed to try that, but apparently they don't have a working capsule anymore. Here is the very end of the mine. There was still plenty of coal, but lack of demand closed the operation on November 10, 1960. One of the best parts of the tour came here at the end when Tony turned off all of the lights. True darkness is amazing. Then he turned on his headlamp and shone it on the coal face to show why anthracite -or hard coal- is called black diamonds. It was breathtaking. This hard coal is only found in the Poconos and the mining of it shaped not only the local economy, but the entire industrial revolution in America. You really should visit this mine. After a quick stop in the giftshop for a carved-coal refrigerator magnet, Matt and I were on our way to explore the wonders of Downtown Scranton

No comments: