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    Presently, the crowded elevator arrived at the surface and disembarked its nervously chattering passengers, who seemed more relieved that the short trip had ended, more grateful that they had arrived safely at the top of the shaft; far more so, in fact, than they were impressed with their very first, and very likely last, journey upward from the bowels of the earth in a mine elevator.

    As Rebecca exited the headframe building, she turned and squeezed Frank's arm. "Darling, your dark mine was so exciting. Thank you for inviting me," she murmured,  her smile wide and her eyes twinkling with mirth.

    "Becky, please don't tease me in front of the men," Frank laughed, in spite of himself.

    A line of carriages were waiting for the departing guests on the section of road between the hoist building and the processing plant. Rebecca and Frank strolled over to her carriage, hand in hand, arms linked together; Kitlins, their black driver, stood waiting, holding the door open.

    "I'll see you tonight, Dear. Please don't be too late. For the children, of course.

    "And for me," she added softly. "I know you'll have a busy day after we leave, but I'm so looking forward to us dining together."

    They stood facing each other for a moment without speaking; then they kissed, lightly but affectionately, before Frank helped her into the carriage.

    Cameron watched from a discreet distance. Now, there's a married couple still very much in love, he mused. If he ever found someone so beautiful, someone who was so deeply devoted to her husband and family, why, he would marry her in an instant. Thus far, he had not been successful; the only love he had experienced was temporary and came at a price in Morgantown.

    Frank waved as the carriages began moving in a downhill procession, each disappearing in its turn beneath the wooded horizon. Then he turned and joined his waiting partners, Bevens and Cameron, by the headframe entrance.

    "Well, I'm glad that's over with," Bevens remarked. "I hope you boys are ready for a real demonstration."

    They reentered the elevator and descended to the valley floor level where the other mining bosses and supervisors were waiting. Hershel Wade exchanged places with the three men and raised the elevator until the skip platform was aligned with the entryway tracks.

    "All right, men, stand aside and watch," Bevens urged, motioning everyone back with his extended arms while a miner pushed a skip loaded with fresh yield down the entryway track and onto the elevator platform. Two more miners carrying shovels boarded the platform and began moving the yield from the skip to the bins on either side. When the skip was emptied, it was pushed off the platform and replaced by another loaded car. This cycle was repeated until the bins were filled; then three more skips, all loaded with yield, were pushed onto the platform and their wheels locked in place for the ride to the surface.

    "We can fit more skips on the platform," Isador explained to the group. "This is just for demonstration purposes."
    The miners with shovels remained aboard while Wade, at a signal from Bevens, lowered the cage to its previous level, so that the others could enter and ride up with the load.

    When the elevator reached the headframe, the men left the cage and climbed a ladder to a narrow walkway around the interior perimeter walls. From this vantage point, they could watch the rest of the procedure.

    The elevator rose until the skip platform was level with the mouth of the chute leading down to the coal processing plant. The two miners began shoveling the yield from both bins and skips, rotating the platform when convenient, into the chute where it slid noisily down toward the plant.

    "Okay. Let's go and see what happens to our coal," Bevens announced, leading the group from the headframe down to the processing plant.

    Inside the plant, two independent ovals of track extended end to end through the length of the building. On the first oval, a rolling, connected chain of large wooden vats containing steaming hot water looped continuously around the tracks; the second oval was similar in appearance to the first.

    As the first chain of vats passed beneath the spout of the chute from the headframe, workers raised the hinged door and yield spilled into the moving containers. Other workers walked along the line of moving vats, stirring the mixture with long wooden spoons.

    At the far end of the first loop, a narrow walkway led between the two ovals. This was the point where coal would be transferred between the two moving chains. By the time the first loaded vats approached this section, the coal had separated from the aggregate and was floating on the surface. Two workers standing on the walkway scooped away the coal and shoveled it into a vat on the second oval.

    The vats on the first oval, now emptied of coal but still containing separated aggregate resting on the bottom, turned away from the transfer point and began looping back toward the spout to receive another load of unprocessed yield. A second group of workers followed along, moving aggregate from the vats into large, heavy canvas sacks. Periodically, the sacks were carried outside the plant and stacked on the hillside.

    It was a fascinating demonstration, really, to a group of miners who spent most of their daylight hours in dark tunnels beneath the earth. Once Bevens had finished explaining the process unfolding before them, he began leading the tour toward the second oval.

    "This way, gentlemen, if you please."

    "Just a minute, Mr. Bevens, if you don't mind," Wiggins interrupted.

    "Yes, Herb, certainly."

    "What happens to the aggregate afterward?"

    "That's an excellent question, Herb. Obviously, we can't leave it piled against the hillside indefinitely. In time, the sacks would disintegrate, and the loose stone would tumble down the slope, causing all manner of mischief. For example, it could block traffic on our road.

    "So far, we've found two possible uses. We're thinking of selling it to concrete mixing companies. Concrete, as you may know, is a mixture of water, crushed aggregate, sand, and mortar. The second possibility might offend someone with a delicate sensibility, so I'm glad the ladies have left," he continued, chuckling along with the men.

    "Local communities can use the aggregate for sanitary landfills. All of this is still being looking into, you understand. We haven't quite decided."

    "I assume that in either case the processing plant would have to be expanded. Additional loading platforms would be needed for wagons and freight cars. Areas for packaging, labeling, and so on," Isador remarked.

    "That's absolutely correct," Bevens answered. "But all things in their time. First we want to market coal.

    "Well, if there are no further questions, come this way. I'd like to show you the final steps in the process," Bevens said, leading the group along the second oval of moving vats.

    At a casual glance, the second stage closely resembled the first: a chain of connected vats moved in a continuous loop on tracks around an oval. As in the first stage,  workers followed along, stirring the liquid mixture with wooden spoons. But there were important differences: Coal was the only solid material in the vats, and the frothy solution was darker and emitted a peculiar odor. 

    "Henry, what's this liquid in the second chain of vats?" Cameron asked.

    "It's an acidic mixture used to clean and purify the coal. We add additional concentrate every hour. The vats are emptied and washed out with water at the end of the day. We're still experimenting with the process."    

    "That would explain the putrid smell, I suppose. But tell me, how are you going to dispose of the waste? What do you do with the solution when you're done for the day?"

    "Yes, it is a nasty problem, I'm afraid. At present, we're loading the vats onto wagons, moving them downhill, and dumping them into a wide, excavated depression near the railroad right-of-way. We can't dump them up here, you see; we might contaminate the underground spring that feeds the stream."

    "That's wise," Cameron continued, "but dumping the stuff off site is almost certainly illegal. It's on someone else's property, and that's just the beginning of the matter."

    "Quite so, Cameron. I appreciate your opinion, as always. All I can say for the moment is that we're working on a better method.

    "This way, men. We're almost done."


    At the far end of the oval, a large, stationary wooden vat, filled only with heated water, stood next to an opening in the rear wall, which contained the mouth of a spout and a sharply inclined chute leading to the railroad tracks below. Two workers with shovels took positions on either side of the spout.

    As the vats filled with the acidic mixture and the purified coal reached the end of the loop at the rear wall, one worker shoveled the coal from the moving vats into the stationary one in order to rinse off any residue from the mixture. The second worker, carefully timing his motions to the first, shoveled the rinsed coal into the spout from whence it exited the building.


    "That's about the end of it. The coal your men dug from the mine below has just left our facility. Well, almost. Come outside, I have one last surprise," Bevens said, leading the group out of the processing plant and around to the back by the railroad siding.

    Hershel Wade, without benefit of a locomotive, had managed to haul an empty hopper car up the hill and moved it under the processing plant chute. Coal was scattered about the bottom of the car, the result of the preceding demonstration Bevens had conducted inside the building. Once the group had been assembled by the car, he raised his shovel and tapped several times on the chute. A moment later, coal came tumbling down the chute into the hopper car. Not a great deal of coal but enough to convince everyone that the procedure worked. All they needed now was a new industrial switcher to move loaded hoppers down to the right-of-way.

    As the group began walking back uphill toward the elevator, Frank asked the question that must have been on everyone's mind. "Henry, how are you moving those ovals?"

    "Oh, I'm sorry, Frank. That got kind of lost in the middle of the coal processing demonstration.

    "Men, wait just a minute. I have one last item to discuss. Follow me around to the other side of the plant," Henry said, turning back to the processing building and turning the corner.

    Bevens and Wade had devised an ingenious system of gears and cogs to drive the chain of moving vats. But the vats themselves never actually moved at all; they were  stationary, firmly attached to the tracks. It was the loop of rail itself that moved.

   Under the building, in the crawl space, two large, independent gears had been installed against the floor above. A third, smaller gear engaged the other two, so that it was only necessary to rotate the smaller one in order to move the rest: the two large gears and the loops of track above it.

    A shallow pit, with ramps leading to the surface, had been excavated a short distance away from the building. At the bottom, a large circumference wooden wheel, centered on a stout, steel column, was rotated continuously by a team of four draft horses. One of the metal reels used for the hoist cable had been attached to the top of the column where it extended beyond the surface. A rotary piston arm was bolted to the reel on one end and to the bottom of the smaller gear under the building on the other end.   

    Thus, as the horses turned the wheel and column, the piston arm mounted on the reel drove the small gear under the house which, in turn, set the rails above in motion. It was not necessary to achieve any appreciable speed; it fact, speed was detrimental to the process, for the workers within the building needed time to stir and shovel. It was only necessary to set the system in motion and maintain a steady pace.

    "How long can these horses turn that wheel?" Maurice asked.

    "We change teams every thirty minutes," Bevens replied. "It's not strenuous work, really, and the rest stops keep them fresh. Every three hours a section of men relieve the animals, also for thirty minutes. Everyone contributes up here, you see."

    "Henry, it's a very clever design, no doubt, but it is cumbersome," said Cameron.

    "As a matter of fact, my good fellow, I happen to agree with you," Bevens replied. "So it is, but it will fill a temporary need rather nicely, I think. A firm in Chicago is developing a steam engine for factory applications. It would drive our machinery as well. The very same turbine could also be used to drive large ventilating fans. We could finally get rid of those bellows. Rumor has it that the engine will reach the market in six months. We should get on the waiting list now."


    Light was fading from the sky as the men entered the elevator for the trip back to the mine. Everyone spoke enthusiastically about the new skip hoist and processing plant. At last, after all these years of hard work, the transportation problem had been solved, or at least was about to be solved pending the delivery of a new industrial switcher. Frank glanced at his watch: 5:30 PM. If he left for home immediately, he would arrive just in time for dinner with Rebecca and the children.

    He climbed aboard his favorite horse Pickles outside the mine office building and turned onto the road toward the Monongahela. As he passed the twinkling lights from Montague Village, the coal camp on his right, he heard snatches of a popular tune of the day  wafting on a gentle breeze across the valley. He recognized the melody as "Canaan's Happy Shore," a spiritual written by William Steffe. A few years later, Julia Ward Howe added her own lyrics to the tune and changed the name. It became widely known as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

January 2012

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