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Folklore in Southwestern Pennsylvania
Bituminous Coal Mining

Aaron Marcavitch, Introduction to American Folklore

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Types of Folklore

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Mining Illustrations



Bituminous coal - A middle rank coal (between sub bituminous and anthracite) formed by additional pressure and heat on lignite. Usually has a high BTU value and may be referred to as "soft coal."

Black damp - A term generally applied to carbon dioxide. Strictly speaking, it is a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen. It is also applied to an atmosphere depleted of oxygen, rather than having an excess of carbon dioxide.

Bug dust - The fine particles of coal or other material resulting form the boring or cutting of the coal face by drill or machine.

Cage - In a mine shaft, the device, similar to an elevator car, that is used for hoisting personnel and materials.

Coal - A solid, brittle, more or less distinctly stratified combustible carbonaceous rock, formed by partial to complete decomposition of vegetation; varies in color from dark brown to black; not fusible without decomposition and very insoluble.

Coal mine - An area of land and all structures, facilities, machinery, tools, equipment, shafts, slopes, tunnels, excavations, and other property, real or personal, placed upon, under, or above the surface of such land by any person, used in extracting coal from its natural deposits in the earth by any means or method, and the work of preparing the coal so extracted, including coal preparation facilities. British term is "colliery".

Coke - A hard, dry carbon substance produced by heating coal to a very high temperature in the absence of air.

Continuous miner - A machine that constantly extracts coal while it loads it. This is to be distinguished from a conventional, or cyclic, unit which must stop the extraction process in order for loading to commence.

Face - The exposed area of a coal bed from which coal is being extracted.

Fall - A mass of roof rock or coal which has fallen in any part of a mine.

Fire boss - Member of the managerial ranks directly in charge of mine safety inspection, particularly with reference to gas detection. Originally the fire boss was the man sent underground to burn out the methane gas before the rest of the men came into the mine.

Gob - That part of a mine from which the coal has been removed and the space then more or less filled. When all of the coal is removed, the mined out area caves in. When this cave-in occurs, the area is said to have fallen, and the part is then referred to as the gob.

Lamp - The electric cap lamp worn for visibility. Also, the flame safety lamp used in coal mines to detect methane gas concentrations and oxygen deficiency.

Longwall Mining - One of three major underground coal mining methods currently in use. Employs a steal plow, or rotation drum, which is pulled mechanically back and forth across a face of coal that is usually several hundred feet long. The loosened coal falls onto a conveyor for removal from the mine.

Man trip - Train of mine cars used to transport men into the mine in the hand loading era. Man trips today are either specially constructed cars pulled by a locomotive, or self-propelled personnel carriers specially constructed for transporting workmen.

Patch - Name given to a mining town in most areas of Pennsylvania. This town is usually made up of rows of nearly identical single or double houses, a company store, a church, a school and the mine.

Red dog - Non-volatile product derived from the oxidation of coal or coal refuse. It is a product of uncontrolled burning of coal or coal refuse. It is red in color and was used very successfully for road building and the topping of unpaved roads. If the red dog used was too fine, however, the road turned to a sea of red mud when it was exposed to freezing, thawing, spring rains, etc.

Scab - Miner who works when others are on strike. A highly derogatory name.

Shaft - A primary vertical or non-vertical opening through mine strata used for ventilation or drainage and/or for hoisting of personnel or materials; connects the surface with underground workings.

Tipple - Originally the place where the mine cars were tipped and emptied of their coal, and still used in that same sense, although now more generally applied to the surface structures of a mine, including the preparation plant and loading tracks.

White damp - Carbon monoxide, CO. A gas that may be present in the after damp of a gas- or coal-dust explosion, or in the gases given off by a mine fire; also one of the constituents of the gases produced by blasting. Rarely found in mines under other circumstances. It is absorbed by the hemoglobin of the blood to the exclusion of oxygen. One-tenth of 1% (.001) may be fatal in 10 minutes.

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Mining Illustrations

Drift mines have horizontal entries into the coal seam from a hillside. Slope mines, which usually are not very deep, are inclined from the surface to the coal seam. Shaft mines, generally the deepest mines, have vertical access to the coal seam via elevators that carry workers and equipment into the mine.


--Taken from UMWA web site

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This drawing depicts the room and pillar method of underground mining. Most underground coal is mined by the room and pillar method, whereby rooms are cut into the coal bed leaving a series of pillars, or columns of coal, to help support the mine roof and control the flow of air. Generally, rooms are 20-30 feet wide and the pillars up to 100 feet wide. As mining advances, a grid-like pattern of rooms and pillars is formed. When mining advances to the end of a panel or the property line, retreat mining begins. In retreat mining, the workers mine as much coal as possible from the remaining pillars until the roof falls in. When retreat mining is completed, the mined area is abandoned.

There are two types of room and pillar mining--conventional mining and continuous mining. Conventional mining is the oldest method and accounts for only about 12% of underground coal output. In conventional mining, the coal seam is cut, drilled, blasted and then loaded into cars. Continuous mining is the most prevalent form of underground mining, accounting for 56% of total underground production. In continuous mining, a machine known as a continuous miner cuts the coal from the mining face, obviating the need for drilling and blasting.

--Taken from UMWA web site

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