The plant for a shaft mine costs a pretty sum of money. There are seven or eight shafts in the Connellsville region. The cost of sinking these has averaged $50,000 each, and some of them have cost treble as much. The coal here lies deepest, and the shafts at the Trotter and Leisenring works, near Connellsville cost the most money, the former being 265 and the latter 300 feet deep. It is conceded they are in the basin of the coke vein. The hoisting and pumping machinery have to be of the most ponderous, and consequently of the most expensive character. Nearly all the shafts are troubled more or less with fire-damp and in order to avoid danger, have to provide an adequate system of ventilations. Fans of the largest and latest patterns are used. The fatal explosion at West Leisenring shaft 18 months ago awoke mine owners to a sense of the dangers in this direction and a great deal of money has been expended since to prevent the recurrence of such accidents. Experiments have recently been made with a view of lighting the shaft mines by electricity, there being plenty of motive power to operate dynamos at the shaft mines. An experimental plant was put in at Trotter some days ago, but no practical results have been realized.
The larry travels along a track over the top of the long double row of ovens, and drops its load into each through the circular hole in the roof. The shovel never touches the coal from the time it is loaded into the wagon down in the bowels of the earth until it is raked out of the oven in the form of coke, hot and smoking. A larry-load fills an oven. Then the opening in front, about two feet square, is bricked up and plastered with clay, leaving a space for sufficient air to get in. The heat in the oven from the last burning fires the coal, and there is nothing to do but let it sizzle, regulating the heat that it may not roast too slow or burn too fast, by enlarging or daubing up the space left for draught. Here the coke-maker’s trained eye and judgment comes in play, as he notes and governs the progress of the process according to the tints of the delicate, shimmering flame that dances over the glowing mass. When it gets the proper color, and is done, the “drawer” turns the hose on it and chills it so that it can be handled with his long, heavy single-toothed iron rake.
There is nothing more to do but fork the light steel-grey product into a car and it is ready for shipment. The greater part of the coke now being made is of the quality what is called “72 hour coke”—taking 72 hours to burn, but in the flush times, when the demand ran high, 48-hour coke was made, and some in 36 hours. Almost all work connected with coke making is “by the piece.” Coal is dug by the wagon and the coke-drawer is paid so much an oven. Wages are low and the work is heavy and hard. Almost all the miners and drawers live in “company houses” and buy at the “company store,” which they would be better off without, as I shall undertake to demonstrate some time. Each coke works has quite a little village of miners’ houses about it.
The houses are built much as a bag is made, to hold in rather than to look pretty. They are square, bare, cheerless looking frame structures for the most part, hideously painted and guiltless of ornamentation. They stand in long, stiff rows, without a line of beauty, and if it were not for the multitude of plump, rosy children perpetually tumbling about the streets of a mining village would be about the least picturesque thing on earth.
The recent rapid development in coke making and the commanding lead of this State and region in the industry are shown by the following figures, which I have by the courtesy of Mr. Jos. D. Weeks from advance proofs of his forthcoming supplemental report to the Census Bureau: In 1850 there were but 4 coke works in the united States; in 1860, 21; in 1870, 25; in 1880, 149. Since 1880 the number of establishments has increased to 250 at the close of 1884, of which 145 are in Pennsylvania. The total number of ovens has increased in 4 years from 12,372 to 19,557, of which 14,285 are in Pennsylvania and 10,543 in the Connellsville region. The Connellsville ovens used 4,829,054 tons of coal, producing 66.3 per cent of coke, or 3,192,105 tons of the total 4,873,805 tons produced. In other words this little strip of black country made two-thirds of all the coke manufactured in the United States in 1884.