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  8.

 

    "First of all, it won't be necessary to drill that far down from the summit. The center of the mine will be about a half mile inby the mountain headwall. That central interior point should correspond to a location on the surface almost equally distant from the peak, somewhere on the down slope toward the railroad, the way we rode in yesterday.

    "So, let's see. You'll lose a hundred feet almost immediately because of the drop at the western cliff. Then it becomes a question of distance and the degree of slope, but I'd guess you might lose, oh, perhaps another two hundred feet in elevation from the summit until you had to start drilling. That would leave a shaft of about five hundred feet in depth before it reached valley level. How far it would have to continue below ground is anyone's guess. Another five hundred feet or thereabouts doesn't seem unreasonable. So, we're talking about sinking an elevator shaft about a thousand feet deep. That's pretty far down, but it's no record. There are dozens of deeper mines in the Appalachian Mountains."

    "And the tools?"

    "That's the least of it. Lone Star Tool Company in Dallas, Texas, makes an oil rig drill that can penetrate depths beyond two thousand feet; the Comet Mining Company in Lexington makes a similar contraption for deep ore mining. Either one would do the job. They are expensive, but you can lease the equipment, as my present employer, Brewster Mining, did. That's where I got the idea, incidentally."

    "How are they powered?"

    "Ah! Steam powered, burning bituminous fuel."

    "So we burn coal to find coal."

    "Yes. That's the right way to think, Frank."

    "What kind of an elevator would we need?"

    "It's called a skip hoist. A large drum turns the metal cable. Of course, the deeper the shaft, the longer the cable has to be. That's usually less of a brother than you would think. The real problem is maintaining the integrity of the shaft, preventing water damage, and any number of other calamities, the worse of which would be a general collapse within the shaft. Lose the shaft, and you'll most likely lose the mine. A five hundred foot shaft contains a lot of material. You don't want it falling down on your workers.

    "A building called a headframe or a winding tower will have to be built over the shaft to house the cable drum and the hoist engine. That should offer some shelter from the weather and protect the machinery, keep rust to a minimum.

    "At the same time, you might as well build a processing plant a little way down hill from the headframe. Here's the procedure I have in mind: your miners extract coal from the advancing laterals and entries. The coal is loaded in ore cars, pushed by rail to the central shaft, and hoisted to the surface. It's unloaded from the skip cars and shoveled into a coal chute that runs on an incline from headframe to processing plant. There the aggregate is removed by floatation and the coal cleaned.

    "At that point, you've got a prime product ready for sale. And that, Frank, is about as far as I can help. You'll still have to find a way to get the coal to your customers."

    Frank stared at the fire. He could hear the men singing and laughing in the direction of the mine portal. Work had ended for the day, and it would be dark in another fifteen minutes.

    He turned to Bevens. "How difficult would it be to lay track from the processing plant down to the right-of-way?"

    "About a mile of track up a fairly gentle slope? Not too bad. Of course, you would also need a few rail turnouts and a couple of sidings. But it's nothing the railroad can't handle."

    "What if I had to pay for the materials and do the work on my own?"

    "Ah, that would be a different matter. I can see that your relationship with the Baltimore and Ohio is more complex than usual. Now, you're going to have to learn how to lay rail in the mine anyway. But it makes more sense to me that you hire someone or pay the railroad to do the work than attempt it yourself. Taking time away from the mine is not in your best interest."

 

    A moment later the mine crew arrived in camp and the long, thoughtful conversation between Frank and Bevens had ended. Additional fires were soon ablaze amongst the rows of tents and loud boisterous voices were raised in song and laughter. Frank had yet to consult with Cameron; there were important legal issues to be considered. The lawyer had listened carefully to the information Bevens provided, but he offered no comments himself; for he knew very little, really, about either mining or coal. By day's end, however, he wanted to know more. Frank and Cameron would talk in the morning.

    Frank and the others had decided to stay in camp for the night rather than attempt an hour's ride in the dark. He and Bevens had often slept outdoors at mining encampments, but even though the experience was a new one for the plantation bred Cameron Healey, he seemed to be enjoying the companionship of his friends and the rollicking miners.

    The three men were soon shaken out of their quiet contemplation of the busy day's events when a miner carrying a shovelful of fresh coal walked over to the fire pit and deposited his load on the smothering ashes. An instant later, a few dying embers had been transformed into a roaring conflagration. As the blaze grew and the flames soared, a column of sparks rose blinking their way upward toward a sliver of moon that had recently peeked over Montague Mountain. The renewed fire was also a signal, apparently, for the camp cook, a Chinese laborer named Quo Chung, who entered the circle of tired workers and visitors and distributed heaping plates of beans, sweet potatoes, and pork roast to everyone.

    After dinner, a jug appeared and was passed from man to man. Before long a circle of miners began to dance about the fire pit, laughing and inviting everyone to join them. Then everyone paused in his merriment, for in the background a fiddle and guitar began to play, and a sweet tenor voice began to sing the Stephen Foster song, "Hard Times Come Again No More."

    A miner does have a hard life, Frank reflected, but he felt contented. He was in love with a beautiful woman who had given him a fine son, and today he had spent a productive day with good companions and learned much. It had been a memorable day,  and whatever the future brought, no one could say that he had not done his best. As the singer began "Old Kentucky Home" from somewhere off in the darkness, Frank entered his tent and immediately fell asleep.

January 2012

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