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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Above Ground

Mine locker and miner's gear, Crowsnest Museum.The mine manager controlled all aspects of a mining operation, and in most of the larger operations a Mine Foreman assisted him. Thereafter, the organization of most mines followed the division between the above ground and the underground work. In the above ground operation the Master Mechanic reported to the Foreman or the Mine Manager, and was responsible for the proper functioning of all equipment.

Some of the mine structures on the surface housed the machinery that was used to produce power, to repair damaged equipment and to process coal. Coal-fired boilers fed steam to the engine that produced either electricity or compressed air to power the mine's machinery.

Exhibit of safety equipment in the Crowsnest Museum.The miners, to prepare for their daily work, used other surface structures. Each underground miner began his workday with a stop at the wash-house where he changed from his 'home' clothes into his 'pit' clothes. From there, he went to the lamp house for a lamp, his single most important piece of equipment. Carrying his lunch box, pick, blasting powder and any other supplies that he had brought from home, he then proceeded into the mine.

At one point the miners had the option of using either the old-style open flame lamp or available versions of the experimental safety lamps. The open flame lamp was simply an oil lamp with an unprotected flame. Safety lamps were modified open flame lamps in which the flame was surrounded by wire gauze. Many miners in the Pass used a variation of the safety lamp that had been developed by Sir Humphrey Davy early in the nineteenth century. Davy had discovered that an open flame would not pass through a perforated screen if the depth of the holes were greater than their diameter. He was then able to demonstrate that the same was true for Fine wire gauze, which could be used in a lantern while still providing a good light source. A number of other modifications were made in the safety lamp throughout the 1800s, with each new lamp being given the name of its creator: but the Davy Safety Lamp seemed to be a favorite among the miners in the Crowsnest.

The mine company was responsible for keeping the lamps in safe working order. After every shift, attendants cleaned each lamp, refilled it with oil, and made any necessary repairs. While safety lamps provided the miner with a safer working environment, they also offered less light than the open flame lamps.

Deep in the mine, of course, the dim light from the safety lamp was also a hazard and many miners protested its introduction. By 1918, however, many mines had adopted the new Edison electric lamp. Despite the problems associated with early battery technology, these new lamps provided increased illumination and greatly reduced the possibility of gas explosions.

At the end of each shift, the miner returned his lamp to the lamp house. As each miner was issued the same lamp each day, it was easy to tell if all the miners had returned from a shift-a missing lamp triggered an immediate search for its user.


See Also: Miner's Roles and Responsibilities.


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