The Descent into the Mine: A Journey into the Depths of the Earth
Have you ever wondered what it was like to be a miner in the 19th century? To work deep underground, far from the sun and fresh air? It was not for the faint of heart.
The miners weighed the dangers of the job against the rewards, knowing that while the pay was good, the work was grueling and perilous. The descent into the mine was a calculated risk, where the promise of financial stability outweighed the threats of the dangerous environment. Despite the inherent hazards, the miners persevered, driven by the desire to provide for their families and secure their future.
One of the most important components of an underground mine was the Skippy or cage, an elevator used to transport miners and material up and down the shaft. The first “level” or “station” is about 90 feet down, with another level placed every 100 to 200 feet after that. The miners descend to their workstations, which are located at depths ranging from 90 to 2,731 feet beneath the surface. The cages could hold up to seven miners at a time, but on their way out at the end of the shift, they would cram in as many as ten skinny men. These cages served not only as a means of transportation for the miners but also as a way to hoist ore and waste rock to the surface.
The alarm bell rings, signaling the start of another shift. The miners, dressed in dirty overalls and carrying lanterns, file into the elevator cage. With a jolt, the cage begins its rapid descent into the darkness. For some miners, the sensation of falling into the earth was like being on a roller coaster ride. In was eerily quiet, the only sounds were the muffled clanks of metal and the sinking feeling in the pit of their stomachs. It was tight quarters and not a place for claustrophobics.
A Hazardous Journey into the Mines
In the late 19th century, hoisting accidents made up a staggering 33% of mining fatalities. In 1889, new laws were enacted to improve the safety of these elevator cages, requiring the installation of iron roofs to protect miners from falling debris and safety gates to prevent them from accidentally plummeting down the shaft. They were slow to be implemented and despite these advancements, hoist accidents still accounted for 5% of mine fatalities in 1916.
Early Mining Practices
At the dawn of mining, miners carried only the essentials, tools, candles to light their way and tin dinner buckets to carry their food. The journey into the mine was treacherous, with danger lurking at every turn. The double drum steam hoist and flat cable system in the shaft were the only means of hoisting ore, waste rock, and miners to the surface.
There is a debt of gratitude we all owe to the miners of the 19th century who braved the dangers of the mines to provide us with the resources we use in our daily lives.