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Tools, Equipment and Mechanization


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The earliest mines were usually worked largely by hand; the miners using picks and shovels to dig the coal. "Pit ponies" provided the power to move the coal cars in the mines. In some mines, boys or the miners themselves pushed the coal cars to the shafts. These techniques were inefficient and by the 1900s, mechanization was becoming common in coal mining although in some mines, for safety reasons to reduce chances of sparks and explosions, hand mining continued for many years. Underground railways were built from the main shafts, some of which led directly from the surface, to the workings. These were often powered by small locomotives which operated on compressed air. Steam locomotives could not be used underground because of the danger of their fires starting an explosion. In most of the larger Crowsnest mines, compressed air driven locomotives were used underground because they were spark free and powerful. Electric locomotives were seldom used underground and only in areas that were completely free of explosive gases.

A miner's equipment was simple. The mines were usually cold, damp and often very wet. Miners needed warm cloths heavy boots and a cap. In the early days, there was little protective clothing or safety equipment but after the Second World War, hard hats and steel-toed boots were used by the miners. Picks and short-handled shovels were used extensively underground for digging and loading the coal. Hand augurs, or drills, were used to make holes for the charges of explosives used to blast out the tunnels or waste rock and to loosen the coal from the face of the workings. However, in many areas blasting was used sparingly because it broke up the coal and produced large quantities of coal dust. By the early 1900s, compressed air drills and coal cutting machines were increasingly important in the underground mines and in later years conveyors and underground loaders were used in the larger mines. These machines were usually compressed air powered.

Lighting in the mines was always a problem for the miners. Early oil burning lamps were messy, gave weak light and the open flame could be dangerous in areas were methane gas or accumulations of coal dust were present. Carbide lamps gave better illumination but they too relied on an open flame. Safety lamps, developed in the 1800s enclosed the flame but produced less light. They were also used for detecting gas in the mines. Battery powered lamps at first were unreliable because of problems with the batteries but eventually these became the main type of lamps used by the miners in underground workings.


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