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18.

 

    Herbert Wiggins finally returned to work from his convalescence three months after his injury. He was restored to his previous position as Foreman while Isador, his temporary replacement, was appointed Assistant Foreman. But it was only a matter of time, everyone recognized, until Isador would be promoted to a more senior position. Even Wiggins was willing to concede the point. Isador, in his opinion, was the finest miner he had ever encountered.

    Frank announced other changes; he wanted to bring the mine's organization into compliance with other mining companies throughout the region. Steven Reynolds was appointed Face Boss, the miner who directly supervised work on the active face; and Maurice Cheek was named Mine Fire Boss, one of the most powerful positions in the mine. Maurice was responsible for insuring that adequate standards of safety were maintained within the mine. He had the authority to stop work and evacuate the mine whenever he thought conditions endangered the workers. Regardless of Bevens's assurances that accidents were unavoidable, Frank was determined to prevent them in the future, at least to the extent humanly possible.

   

    On the fifty-eighth day of drilling from the summit, the rig paused in its relentless pounding: an unusual quiet spread over the valley below. Inside the headframe building, men crowded onto the scaffolding supporting the machinery, waiting.

    Within the mine itself, Steve Reynolds was urging his section forward; two hours earlier, they had passed the twenty-six hundred foot mark. As the men alternated the swinging of their picks, he raised his arm signaling a halt; a moment before, a strange ring had resounded from the crumbling wall of coal.

    He turned to one of his men, "Get Wiggins." And to the others, "Everyone else stand down."  

    Ten minutes later, they came running: Frank, Cameron, Wiggins, Isador, Maurice, and even Quo Chung, who had been busy preparing dinner. Reynolds explained the reason for the pause. All the men looked at each other. Then Frank said to the miner at the wall. "Go ahead."

    With two more strokes of the pick, he had punched an opening into a narrow cavity beyond the face. He looked questioningly over his shoulder at Frank.

    "Widen it," he said. The men stepped forward and began enlarging the opening with their chisels and picks. A shaft of light within a hollow circular column became visible, perhaps ten or twelve inches wide. It extended upward, apparently to the surface. Then everyone began to laugh; for a basket was tangling from a length of rope lowered from above. It contained a bottle of Irish whiskey, a small cake, and a piece of wood on which was lettered:

 

WELCOME TO THE CENTRAL SHAFT, COURTESY OF THE SUMMIT CREW

 

    Frank reached in and untied the basket. He jangled the rope several times causing the men in the headframe above to begin cheering and hugging one another. All assembled at the face took a drink and a bite of the cake, exchanging congratulations. They had broken through. The entryway had met the central elevator shaft.

 

    It was a memorable occasion, indeed, and that night Frank, Cameron, Bevens, and Rebecca gathered for a celebratory dinner at the Montague home. After Christopher and his sister Faith were carefully and tenderly tucked into bed, Rebecca returned to the table. Cameron uncorked a bottle of champagne and asked Hopkins to pour everyone a glass.

    Then Cameron addressed the group: "Gentlemen, and Rebecca of course, this is truly a momentous day. This afternoon, after many months of hard work, we connected our two tunnels, an achievement that will give us access to the railroad and provide a means of transporting our coal to market. And although the mine has existed for more then three years, it was only today that it will be officially born. He reached down into his satchel, which he had stored beneath the table surreptitiously before dinner, and removed a long scroll bearing the Great Seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

    "Cameron, what is this document you have here?" Bevens asked.

    "Why Henry, this is an official charter from the state, the articles of incorporation for the mine. I wanted to wait for an appropriate moment. I believe that has arrived this evening," Cameron explained.

    "Everyone has to sign at the allocated place," he continued, "Frank as President, Henry as Vice-President, myself as Treasurer, and last but not least and certainly first in everyone's heart," he beamed, "Rebecca as Secretary."

    "You mean I'm an officer, too? Why, Cameron, I'm just a simple wife and mother," Rebecca smiled, clearly pleased that she had been asked to participate in the formation of the company. Everyone laughed and shook hands as the officious document was passed around the table for their signatures.

    Once all the officers had signed, Cameron explained that two witnesses who were literate and personally familiar with all of the signatories would also have to execute the document. Frank thought for a moment and then called Hopkins and Martha into the room and explained that they would have to certify that the articles of incorporation had been properly executed. Both of them did as requested, performing their role in the proceeding with great solemnity, as though they had been personally honored.

    Then Cameron signaled for attention and raised his glass. "Gentlemen and Rebecca. A toast, if you please. "I give you the Montague Mining Company, and long may she endure!"

    "The Montague Mining Company," they all repeated, "and long may she endure!"

    It was October 15, 1858.

 

    The celebration was much deserved but short lived, for much work remained to be accomplished. On the summit, Bevens began the work of widening the shaft to a  circumference of thirty feet as planned. Giant auger bits were imported from Lexington for this purpose. They were more expensive and slower than the narrower, chisel bits used to sink the initial shaft, but they removed much more material.

    "We'll eventually have to return to the chisel bits," he explained, "because the shaft will have to be extended much lower as we follow the seam. But for now, the priority is widen the shaft to accommodate the hoist. Then we can begin hauling coal to the surface and down to the railroad."

    Constantly moving and positioning the auger was demanding work; a slip or moment of carelessness could ruin the entire project. For structural integrity, it was essential that the shaft be uniformly reinforced throughout its length; this required that the shaft be perfectly cylindrical in shape. Any surface irregularities would result in voids behind the reinforcement, a weakness that could eventually lead to a general collapse, a cave-in that would bury the mine under thousands of tons of earth and rock.

    So Bevens, understandably, was unwilling to leave the summit until the crew was experienced and skillful enough to continue without his personal supervision. To that end, he chose only the very best workers, and found the best supervisor available, Hershel Wade, whom he appointed Foreman of Summit Operations.

    With the drilling in capable hands, Bevens returned to the expansion of the mine. Once the horizontal tunnel and vertical shaft had been connected, it was time to change the direction of the entryway and begin the transition from a straight, level tunnel to the great downward spiral that would eventually reach the mine's deepest and richest deposits. For this exacting work, precise measurements were required; Bevens's presence was critical.

   

    First, they extended the entryway tracks to a point fifteen feet from the edge of the ever widening shaft. Eventually, the tracks and the shaft would meet at that point. A  hoist elevator divided into upper and lower compartments would travel vertically through the shaft. The upper compartment or platform would consist of a circular cage, a conveyance for passengers enclosed by metal mesh sides and a sliding iron gate door. The lower platform would be reserved for bringing materials into the mine and lifting coal to the surface. It would also be circular in shape and operate much like a railroad turntable, capable of rotating around its center. A single length of track would extend across its diameter, flanked on either side by oval shaped coal bins.

    As the elevator stopped at each floor of the mine, workers would enter the cage. Once everyone had boarded, the elevator would move upward a few feet so that the freight platform was level with the tracks leading from the interior of the mine. Operators would rotate the platform until both sets of rails were in perfect alignment. Then skips, small coal rail cars designed especially for elevator service, would be pushed onto the elevator platform, emptied by workmen into the bins, and returned to the mine. Once the bins were full, more loaded skips would be pushed aboard, stored along the platform track, and transported to the surface for unloading. The empty cars would return on the elevator's next descent. Admittedly, the procedure was rather complicated, but the rationale was to maximize the amount of coal that could be hauled to the summit with each trip. It was really an ingenious device.

 

    Bevens made two more critical measurements. For the first, he retreated forty feet backward toward the entrance from the future edge of the shaft. Here, he inscribed a deep mark on the left hand coal rib. Next, he retreated another thirty feet backward from the first mark, also toward the entrance, and inscribed a second mark on the left hand rib. These two marks would correspond to the walls or ribs of the new entry. It would turn left, perpendicular to the existing original entry, and begin the long downward sweep around the shaft.

    As the excavation progressed in each direction, the shaft increasing in diameter and the spiral entry turning about its circumference, Bevens began digging his horizontal laterals, each perpendicular to the spiral, like the spokes of a wheel radiating outward from its center. On the first floor, only slightly below valley level, he planned on excavating four separate laterals, positioned evenly apart. Everything was to a be numbered for identification in the most obvious way: the first floor was designated Level One; similarly, the first lateral after the original entry was designated Lateral One, and so on, in consecutive order.

 

    In another twelve months, the mine had been transformed. The tents on the grassy plateau were all gone, replaced by a permanent community, the flourishing Montague Village, a coal camp providing shelter for eight hundred people, growing in population every week. A small commercial center had arisen amongst the attractive miner homes: several stores, dentist and doctor offices, two churches, a community center and several schools for different grades. More enterprises were in the planning stage. There was enough room on the plateau for twice the population, but Frank could not build homes fast enough for all who wanted them. He had once been questioned about the rent. Well, not surprisingly, he had never gotten around to arriving at a suitable figure, and the miners, from the beginning, lived in the homes he built for them free of cost.

    A smooth, wide road had been carved from the rough valley floor, leading from the mine entrance to the Monongahela River, with a side road looping through the coal camp and back. A series of four bridges now crossed the valley stream, which was monitored carefully for pollution from the mine and the nearby community. It was, after all, the only source of drinking water before the River four miles away.

    Another community had been established about a mile downstream, closer to Morgantown, to service the miner families and accommodate the overflowing population attracted to an expanding industrial center; for several other mines had been opened within a ten mile radius of the Montague Mine, and all clamored for merchants and services

    The new town was incorporated as Montague, Virginia, and although it bore the company name, all of the property was privately held. It had grown even faster than Frank's coal camp. It had a volunteer fire department, a public high school, and a small police constabulary. Its population now numbered twelve hundred people and was expected to rapidly expand. Henry Bevens was renting a house there and was considering running for mayor.

 

    But with progress, new problems arose and old problems worsened. Ventilation within the mine had steadily deteriorated as the entryway grew longer and reached greater depths underground. Two years earlier, Frank had positioned two huge bellows by the entrance and hired workers to blow fresh air into the mine, but instead of improving the ventilation, it disturbed the dust and debris along the mine floor, creating an unhealthy cloud of sooty air. And it was dangerous, too, as Bevens explained. Coal dust is potentially explosive and should be prevented from circulating freely; it must be kept packed down wherever it settled. Before you can move fresh air artificially into a mine, the intake, you must also provide an avenue for stale air to leave, the outtake. The desired system was a replica, therefore, of human ventilation, inhaling or breathing accompanied by exhalation.

    So Frank removed the bellows and brought lengths of hose running from the stream into the mine to sprinkle the dust periodically. But now, Bevens declared,the mine geometry had changed. The open shaft to the surface would provide an avenue of circulation for the fresh air introduced from the entrance. So Frank returned the bellows and their operators to their previous routines, opening and closing the contraptions from early morning until the last miners left for the day. To be fair, the ventilation was still primitive, still wanting improvement, but it was noticeably better than before. Bevens had something else in mind, a plan for a far more effective ventilatory system, but there were so many projects lying before him and so few hours during which they could be completed. Sometimes he felt simply overwhelmed. A mine could not, he reluctantly admitted, be completed in a day, or even, for that matter, during the first four years of its existence.

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