Sunday was our 45th Wedding Anniversary. Linda is to be commended on her patience and her understanding for putting up with me for so long. I am a very lucky man. To celebrate we had lunch with several friends after church then Linda and I took a drive up to Redstone and Marble just to look around. The oakbrush and aspen are beginning to turn and the weather was perfect. There is nothing like being in the mountains in the fall of the year. Nature seems to relax then, everything is peaceful and quiet, the earth seems to be taking a much needed break between the season of action and the season of solitude.
Marble and Redstone have not changed much in the last forty years, they are still small quiet mountain villages with an ecclectic mix of inhabitants, mostly artisians and those who have not bought into the mainstream idea of materialism. There are several new houses of course but not many new businesses. Tourism is the only business in these two towns. It seems odd but the inhabitants seem to act like they would prefer you didn’t come, even in the businesses. Maybe that explains why they have grown so little over the years. It does take a special kind of person to live there year round. Many of the “residents” are there only during the summer months and then lock up their properties over the winter.
The “Coke Ovens” at Redstone were used to produce “coke”, carbonized coal, for smelting purposes. Coke burns much hotter than coal so was used to process iron and other items that required high temperatures. There was a very large underground coal seems just a few miles north of here for many years. The seam was eight feet thick with hard clean coal. It was in high demand at the time.
Notice the dirt that has baked onto the outside of the ovens. It was used as additional insulation while the coal was being converted.
The mine itself started near the top of a ridge and ran at about a thirty degree angle down. When the mine closed there were miles of tunnels underground. Three main shafts than ran about three miles long each with off-chute tunnels on each side. The mining was done originally in a “room and pillar” style where they would carve out large “rooms” and leave pillars of coal between them to hold up the roof. The roof had to be bolted with long steel rods drilled up into the rock formation above so that it ceiling would not fall down and crush the miners. The ceiling, floor and walls all had to be coated with powered limestone to keep the coal dust down as it is very explosive when mixed in air. There is a large amount of methane in the coal so the mine had to be constantly ventilated to keep the ratio down to a save level and to provide air for breathing. The coal was mined by machine and transfered to electric cars and taken to the surface.
There were several explosions during the history of the mine. The worst was in the 1970’s when several miners, including a couple of men we knew, we killed. The methane had built up in one of the shafts and a spark ignited it. Other times there would be what was called a “bump”, like a very small earthquake almost, where the mountain would “shrug its shoulders”. During those episodes the ceiling and floor would sometimes meet or a portion of the ceiling would pop loose. Not just a few rocks but several tons of material would fall filling the room.
In the later part of the mine the company that ran it converted to “long-wall” mining. A large machine that always reminded me of a badger was brought in. On its head was a boom that could be manouvered back and forth and up and down. It had a multi headed bit that spun and chewed up the coal which was dropped into an auger which moved the coal behind the machine and onto a continous belt that went all the way out of the mine. This much increased the safety for the miners. As the miner moved forward the ceiling was allowed to collapse behind so all the coal could be recovered instead of only half. Now there was no danger from falling ceiling except in the shafts that the belts ran in and the crew used to travel back and forth.
At the surface the coal was screened to remove any rocks, sent through a crusher to get it to the desired size and the through a washer to remove any dirt. Then it was loaded on semi-trucks and hauled twenty miles down the winding mountain road along the Crystal River to the town of Carbondale where it was loaded on rail cars for shipment. A train a day was mined and sold to power plants all over the west. Today the mine is closed, the plant torn down, the land reclaimed and even the rail line is gone, covered now with a bike path.
I have written before about the drought the west has been experiencing. The Crystal River is one of the premier trout fishing waters in Colorado. Its waters run clear and cold, there is abundant food and the trout are large and wary. Along its course there are many ranches which draw out water for irrigation. The following picture is just after the last ditch diversion and is just a mile or so south of Carbondale. Normally there would be water from bank to bank in this stretch of river.
The Colorado River just north of Palisade is in almost as bad shape. There the flow is about what the Crystal River carries in a normal year. The Colorado is many times larger than the Crystal normally. Thankfully we had a good monsoon season and the rains helped with the crops so the ranches didn’t have to rely on the river water as much. Downstream, California and Nevada, if the lakes had not been nearly filled from last years runoff would have been in terrible straights. Imagine Los Angles with water only two days a week. If we continue to expand in the arid west we will be running into those kinds of problems.
Sorry this is so long. Just got started on the mine and didn’t know where to quit. I did forget to mention that the mine was one of Dad’s biggest accounts when he was a salesman. See you again in a few days. Moving on Friday.