Canary In A Coal Mine

Canary In A Coal Mine

I’m sort of a disaster this weekend. I know this because I had three different things scheduled for today, and none of them were very complementary, time-wise, to each other. Something had to go, and unfortunately that something was a pretty big 15 in ’15 event. I’m still trying to make it happen this coming week, but if the past two weeks are any indication, my plans will be turned upside down at some point before then.

I did, however, manage to cross a different 15 in ’15 task off of my list today – Tour-Ed Mine in Tarentum! Since it’s so close to Pittsburgh, it was much easier to fit into today’s schedule. 🙂

If you’ve never heard of the Tour-Ed Mine before, you’re not alone – I didn’t know it existed until I saw it on the 101 Achievements blog a couple years ago. The Tour-Ed Mine is an old coal mine that has since been repurposed to allow tours. Considering I knew absolutely nothing about coal mining before I arrived, I was ready for an educational day.

I arrived at around 10:30 and met Jack, the guy who takes the money and runs the antiques store/gift shop. He seemed like a pretty sociable guy, and he told me that Rich would be the tour guide on our journey. Rich came to gather our small group, and led us into a sort of museum/holding area where he relayed some history about coal-mining and mixed in some personal anecdotes from his time working in the mine. He let us wander around for a few minutes, and then we were instructed on how to put on and adjust our hardhats. Yes, this 15 in ’15 entry includes helmet hair. 🙂

We All Live In A Yellow Subterrain

Once we all had our hardhats on, we were led to this beast, which made me sing “We all live in a yellow subterrain” in my head the entire time. (I feel like Rich would approve, he seemed pretty cool.) Keeping our hands/feet/heads/butts in the cart, we slowly made our way down into the mine. The ride down, aside from thinking of a bad Beatles re-make, I couldn’t help but think how this ride was like the creepiest Kennywood ride ever, and that you could kill someone and throw them off to the side and it’s so dark in there that no one would find them. My mind goes to some dark places. Like coal mines. Har har har har har!

Once we got down to the touring area, there was some dim light. Our eyes adjusted quickly, and Rich gave us a really good feel of what life was like for miners back in the late 1800s/early 1900s. As the tour progressed, though, the equipment got more modern and we were able to see what some more modern mining equipment looks like. As Rich told a 10-year-old boy in our group, the kid would love working in a mine now, because the machinery works via remote controls. This was after he told the kid that if this were the early 1900s, he’d have already been out of school for a year, working in the mine with his father. The kid was less thrilled with that news. 😉

Just going through the tour and listening to Rich, I got a greater appreciation for what our forefathers went through just to provide for their families. There was so much danger involved in coal mining, and if a man died while at work, the company took his wife and kids and dragged them out of the company housing and into the street as soon as it was clear he was dead. Plus, while they were working, the men weren’t paid in money; their earnings went towards their housing and whatever they bought at the company store, and whatever was left over from their wages was put into scripts. Guess where scripts could be cashed in? Only at the company store. Hmmmmm, sounds a little fishy to me… But that was just the reality of life back then, and the miners had to do what they could to provide for their families.

Even walking through the cleared section of the mine, my mind was blown. I’m just over 5′ 2 “, and I was barely able to stand without hitting my head. In a few areas, I even had to duck a little. But then Rich told us that when they cleared the mine to make it tour-worthy, they added about a foot of head space. So when men were actively working in the mine, men who were likely taller than me, they were stopped over the entire time. Add to that the loud machinery, and mining in the early 1900s just sounds awful.

I feel like I learned so much from taking this tour, and it was all due to Rich and his storytelling and anecdotes. Not only do I better appreciate what life was like in the early 1900s, but I also better appreciate how much work it takes to get coal out of the ground. Energy comes at a price, and in the early 1900s, it came at the price of a lot of lives. Luckily, the advances in technology mean that mining is much safer now than back then, but it still boggles my mind how much work is involved.

The Tour-Ed Mine was a very successful 15 in ’15 outing, and I can only hope that the rest of the items on the list are half as educational.

If you’d like to plan your own visit to the mine, admission is $12 for adults and $11 for kids 12 and under. If you’re wondering if it’s worth the price, IT IS. They’re open until 4pm Sundays through Mondays (closed Tuesdays), and their last tour is at 2:30pm. The website says that the tours are only available Memorial Day through Labor Day, though, so hurry up!

About Lindsay

I'm a Burgher who loves trying new foods and activities. I also seem to love getting myself into trouble. Basically, I'm a trainwreck waiting to happen. :)
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