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Alberta Online Encyclopedia
When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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Surface Technology

By William N.T. Wylie

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Mohawk Tipple - Bob OwenIn both mountain and plains mines, the preparation plant usually consisted of an elevated building, sometimes called a tipple, located at the junction of transportation systems coming from the mine entrance and the outside world. The rail spur, used to ship the coal to market, frequently ran under the building to facilitate loading. Coal was carried along the tracks from the mine entry in coal cars, pulled by mechanized rope equipment, or by compressed air or electric locomotives in the mountains. By the 1930s, covered conveyors were also used to connect the entries and tipple at some sites, such as the Atlas mine in the Drumheller Valley.1

Boisjoli: Coal car and abandoned cable - Pat McCloskeyIn the plant, the coal went through several stages. It was first weighed and dumped. Moving along conveyors, it was then screened by size, as it traveled over metal plates or bars with openings of various dimensions. The coal was carried across the screens by means of gravity if the metal plates were inclined, or by means of the oscillating action of the screens themselves. First developed in the United States, vibrating or oscillating screens, powered by electricity, had become quite common by the 1920s. Regardless of the screen types, the larger coal pieces moved on, while the smaller ones dropped through to another level. Depending on the sizes desired, the coal might proceed across several screens with progressively smaller openings.2

Cleaning took place before, during, or after screening. Until the 1930s, the most common process was manual cleaning. The coal was dumped on a picking table, which might be stationary, a moving conveyor, or an inclined surface. The impurities, such as rock, were removed by hand. The picking process tended to be closely associated with screening, and there often was a table adjacent to each size of screen. Manual cleaning was used at smaller mines in the region until at least the 1950s.3

William N.T. Wylie, "Coal-Mining Landscapes: Commemorating Coal Mining in Alberta and Southeastern British Columbia," a report prepared for the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Parks Canada Agency, 2001.

See Also: The Coal Industry—Overview, Rapid Expansion, Domestic and Steam Coalfields, 1914-1947: The Struggling Industry, Collapse and Rebirth, Settlement of the West, Issues and Challenges—Overview, Entrepreneurship, Technology, Underground Techniques, Surface Technology, Surface Mining, Social Impacts, Unions, 1882-1913: Unionization and Early Gains, 1914-1920: Revolutionary Movement, 1921-1950s: Labour Unrest and Setbacks, Mining Companies, People of the Coal Mines, The Middle Class, Miners and Local Government, Politics and Economics , Environmental Impacts, Health and Safety—Overview, The State and Labour Relations, The State and Development after 1918

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