Saturday, August 23, 2014

Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine Tour

Like many other parents who have child care issues when their school aged children are home in the summer, my oldest daughter has her eight year old twins, Brianna and Tori, needing child sitting.  To help out, I watch the girls usually a day or two each week.

And each summer, those girls and I have had some mighty fine adventures.

One adventure I debated about taking them on involved riding in a coal car down into a coal mine.  Some of my ancestors were heavily involved in the coal mining industry in our local area, and in fact, my one great grandfather was killed in a horrific mining accident.  I wondered if this sort of a live history lesson would hold any appeal for two eight year olds, but we decided to go anyway.

We drove to Ashland, Pennsylvania, bought our tickets, and headed to the waiting area near the mouth of the tunnel to wait for our tour.

The Pioneer Tunnel is a horizontal drift mine, with its level tunnel running 1800 feet straight into the side of the Mahanoy Mountain.

Outside of the mine and near the waiting area was a quaint little display of miners' hats and boots.  The girls explored a bit while we were waiting, and tried to convince me they could see some REAL gold nuggets in the dirt behind the boots.

It appeared to be foggy at the entrance of the mine shaft, where the 52 degree mine temperature met with the 85 degree outside humid air.  We had prepared and bundled up in warm sweatshirts.

We descended deep into the mine in an open mine car pulled by a battery-operated mine motor.  The tour guide assured us that the mine is inspected daily for safety by the mine's foreman and also periodically by state mine inspectors.  He must've been reading my thoughts at that moment.

The girls seemed truly interested and fascinated seeing this working world of another era.  Along the ride into the mine, the car stopped to show us an old phone used during emergencies and accidents within the mine.

Once we arrived at the end of the track deep within the mine, we exited the cars and walked in the mine with our guide to learn about the mining operation.  He described the various configurations of passageways and the day to day chores of the miners.  The strong reliance on donkeys for transportation was indicated by a model of a donkey and its tender.

This scene depicts a miner who had the very dangerous job of being a "car break."  It would be his chore throughout his shift to use a large stick to stop the coal car at the end of the track, deep within the mine.  The stick had to be jammed in at just the right angle between the wheels of the car.  In the pitch dark and with a swiftly moving car, apparently lots of hands and arms were severed.

After our 45 minute tour, we took some time and explored various storyboards and displays on the grounds outside of the tunnel.  This creepy miner was in the upstairs window of one of the outbuildings.  The girls kept a close eye on him, then decided after a few checks that he was just a slacker.

Nearby they found this large piece of anthracite.

They learned about mine canaries being the indicators of bad gasses in the mines, and about the tragedy of Black Lung disease.  We talked about how frightening it must've been to work deep down in a mine that could collapse at any moment.  They agreed with me that the alternate vertical escape route hadn't looked all that reassuring.

It was vividly clear to us that the work of the miners was dangerous and hard.  As we left, they quietly told me they were so glad their daddy didn't have to go to work in a mine.

So.  How did we end our grand adventure?

We went and ate some ice cream, of course.


  1. Pennsylvania and West Virginia coal mines supplied a lot of coal to our country and a lot of death to the miners. Even the ones who were not involved in a mining accident, may die of black lung. There were a lot of limestone mines in the part of PA where I grew up. Been in a couple.

  2. You are making great memories for you grandchildren!

  3. How do you keep finding these great tour sites? I'm betting the grandkids loved it.