starts a little
camping trip . . .
years ago much
over the ages
to form black diamonds.
The Anthracite Region of Pennsylvania offers
the visitor a wealth of enlightening and entertaining history. Start your
journey at Pioneer Tunnel with an intimate introduction to the natural resource
that fired the Industrial Revolution.
Necho Allen's campfire, which ignited a hard coal outcropping not far
from Ashland, blazed a whole new way of life for central Pennsylvania. By
1828 bustling coal towns filled with opportunists, adventures and fortune
hunters were rising overnight. Prospectors scarred the mountains with pits
and trial shafts. When these filled with water at 30 to 40 feet, they'd
dig others. Soon, operators discovered that they could dig much farther
by tunneling straight into the mountain from a ravine or the foot of a hill:
horizontal mining.The original Pioneer Colliery was operated in Mahanoy
Mountain at Ashland in the late 19th century and gave its name to the Pioneer
Tunnel, which was owned and operated by the Philadelphia and Reading Coal
and Iron Company from 1911 to 1931. It echoed the grunts
of gritty-faced miners, the crunch of pick against coal, the screech of
overloaded iron wheels. Water dripped from the dank, heavy timbering overhead
to mix with the sweat of straining mules. Oil torches, and later, carbide
lamps flickered in the darkness, pointing bright fingers at the glistening
rock. And when the day was over, scores of tired, dirty eyes came out and
squinted in the fading light.
Electricity sparked the Anthracite industry to its peak and greatly improved
the miner's lot in life. Electric mine motors pulled the ore cars and huge
motors pumped away the water. Brilliant lights brought day to the dark.
A trip through Pioneer Tunnel today brings back some of the early miner's
lore - his way of life. You'll ride 1800 feet into Mahanoy Mountain darkness
on a mine motor to see glistening seams of coal as he did; feel the drops
of water falling on your brow. A miner guide will tell you how early miners
worked, how they erected heavy timbering, how they got out the coal. Later,
you'll emerge from the darkness, having seeing history unfold in front of
And there is more . . . All Aboooard!...Chug chug...whheeee! With the rattle
of brightly painted cars, a blast of steam and belching black smoke, the
Henry Clay heads around the mountain just as its predecessor did 50 years
ago. At that time digging was just beginning on one of the engineering wonders
of its day: the Mammoth Stripping. Behind Mahanoy Mountain an unusually
thick seam of coal call Mammoth Vein bent up to the surface of the earth.
Monstrous steam shovels of the Panama Canal type were moved in to mine it.
They rumble over the coal bed on giant railroad wheel assemblies, their
iron teeth ripping huge mouthful of black rock to send crashing into strings
of empty cars. Where the shovels went, they left a 250 foot high wall of
solid rock extending as far westward as the eye can see. Millions of tons
of coal were pulled out by the narrow gauge predecessors of the Henry Clay...a
lot of it on the same trackbed. These powerful little 0-4-0 type steam lokies
were only 23 feet long, 8 feet wide, 12 feet at the top of the stack and
equipped with 33 inch drivers, well-sized for their duties in the strip
mines. Today the Henry Clay is one of the last of this breed in existence.
As you are hauled up the mountain in an unsprung, rebuilt coal car, history
unfolds on all sides. The pits and mounds are everywhere, in some places
looking like landscape from another world. There are tow stops where you
can look down into the gaping trenches man has left and almost hear the
rumbling shovels, clanking chains and crashing coal of yesteryear. And you'll
get a bird's-eye-view of a typical coal town with its wooden row houses,
tall-spired churches, and more, in Ashland, Pennsylvania.