Maryland Consolidation Coal Company Ocean Number 7 Coal Mine Pictures and Historical Operations
Consolidation Coal Company’s pride and joy in the nineteenth century was probably its Ocean No. 7 mine in the George’s Creek Coal Field. It forms only a small part of the huge coal field called the Eastern Province, which extends from the northern part of Pennsylvania in a southwesterly direction, following the Appalachian mountain system, to the central part of Alabama.
This enormous coal bed has a length of over 900 miles, and a varying breadth of from 30 to 180 miles, with an area of nearly 63,000 square miles, or considerably more than the area of England.
The George’s Creek Coal Field lies in the western part of Maryland, extending for twenty miles across the panhandle into Virginia. Two parallel mountains “Great Savage” and “Dan’s” enclose this basin of coal on the west and east, a distance between them of about 5 miles. In this comparatively small area of about 100 square miles lies the famous “Cumberland” coal, some of the best bituminous coal in the world. The best of the best, however, lies in the valley through which flows the stream known as George’s Creek. At the highest part of this valley, over 2000 feet above sea-level, stands the town of Frostburg, Maryland, once a thriving coal community of 5000 residents.
From a couple of miles east of Frostburg, and for about four miles to the west, along George’s Creek and its winding tributaries, the George’s Creek Big Vein of coal crops out at various places as it makes its 1100-feet descent to Piedmont. Here is where the Consolidation Coal Company’s mines were first located.
Writing in his 1898 edition of Above Ground and Below—from which many of this Web page’s illustrations are taken—William Jasper Nicolls tells us that
In 1864, the Consolidation Coal Company began its history with an output of coal during that year of a little over 33,000 tons. In 1897, this had increased to 1,500,000 tons for the year’s production.
Exterior of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad shops on Mount Savage
(map close-up below)
For a long time, this company owned a large majority of the stock of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad.
In 1876, the Coal Company acquired the balance of the stock, and became sole owners of the railroad, and have since operated the same under one management.
Another view of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad shops located near the Pennsylvania Line
The railroad extends from Cumberland, in Maryland, to Piedmont, in West Virginia, with a branch extending from the main line—about a mile and a half above Cumberland—to the Eckhart and Hoffman mines.
It is over this railroad that the bituminous coal of the George’s Creek region is carried to Cumberland, from which point it is conveyed by the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad to tide-water at Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, or by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to Washington.
The total trackage of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad is 75 miles, or exactly the same as the total trackage in the various mines of the Consolidation Coal Company.
Under one management is thus operated the same number of miles of railroad “above ground and below.”
No better example of drift mining can be found in this country that what is known as “Ocean No. 7,” opened in 1897, of the Consolidation Coal Company. A drift mine is very simple: it consists of an opening “drifted” or driven into the coal seam from the outcropping and of making a tunnel in the coal itself. The point selected for beginning the drift is at the lowest part of the outcrop. This is done so that any water met with in the heading will drain out of it, and also that the coal can be easily hauled on a down grade from the interior of the mine to “daylight.” A property thus opened, by drifting at the lowest part of the outcrop and progressing into the hill at a slightly ascending uniform grade, is the cheapest and most favorable mine in which a miner can win the coal.
At “Ocean No. 7,” the great seam of coal known as “Big Vein” is opened by tunneling straight into the hillside.
The entrance to this tunnel is arched with fine cut stone over an opening 12 feet in height and 17 feet 6 inches in width. Back of the arch, the drift is lined with stone and brick masonry for a distance of 250 feet, up to the solid coal.
If one is curious, and would penetrate farther into the bowels of the earth, the obliging superintendent will hand you a small miner’s lamp—a little teapot of oil with a flaring light which at first merely accentuates the Stygian blackness of the road.
Joseph Husband, author of A Year in a Coal Mine, wearing a teapot lamp
Soon, however, the tiny flame is reflected back and forth from the glittering walls of coal, and you push forward with increasing confidence in your vision and your guide. It is not necessary to bend your head—like a duck walking under a bridge—as you catch fleeting views of the dark, overhanging mass of roof.
Old coal miners discuss how to set timber to support the high-roof of a coal mine
We are not in the thin bituminous seams of Pennsylvania. Here a man of full stature can walk upright and without fear of collision with the roof beams overhead, for the coal seam is a full 10 feet in thickness. At about half a mile underground, we come to the “face” or end of the tunnel.
Here in a space about 10 feet wide and 9 feet high, the miners are toiling with pick and bar, breaking down the coal; around us on every side is the black deposit of countless ages of time. . . .
A small mining car, with a capacity of about two tons, is drawn by a mule and pushed up close to the “face” on wooden rails. With his pick the miner digs away a space at the bottom of the coal seam, called an “undercut.”
This undercut slopes gradually downward until he has undermined a space clear across the face, as far as he can reach under the coal with his pick. Then an up and down cut is made on each side, and the coal is forced down, the miner shovels it into the small mine car, saving the large lumps to pile around the edges and heaping the coal on the car as high as possible.
The car is then shoved back to the steel rails of the main heading. Along the main heading the drivers and mules collect the cars from each “room”—branching off at regular intervals from the main road—and haul them to the colliery or tipple. There they are dumped into the big railroad cars standing ready on the tracks of the Cumberland and Pennsylvania Railroad below.
When the coal has been hauled “to daylight,” the small mine cars—as before stated—are drawn by mules or other power to an elevated platform called a “tipple,” made of wood or iron, and the contents are there carefully weighed on a platform scales by the “weigh boss.” This is done by weighing the car and coal together and afterwards subtracting the weight of the car from the total; the cars being all exactly alike, this figure is constant, and the miner who is paid by the ton receives credit for the coal that he sends out. To facilitate the matter, each miner, or sometimes two or three miners, will “work a number;” that is, a number—1, 2, 3, etc.—is given them, and all the coal sent out by him or them is credited to a given number.
The number given to each miner is branded on small pieces of wood, or is stamped on small brass checks, like baggage checks; these they get at the scale-house every morning and take them into the mines. When a car is loaded, the miner sticks the numbered bit of wood into an iron staple placed on the side of the car, or hangs the brass check on a hook provided for the purpose. When the car reaches the scales, the weigh-boss removes the bit of wood or brass, and credits the coal to the number he finds upon it. These numbered checks are then carefully piled in little heaps—the same numbers in each pile—for the inspection of the miner when he comes from his work.
After the coal has been weighed, the little car is pushed to the “tipple” itself—this movement being facilitated by a slight descending grade—and tipped over into the large railroad car that stands on the siding underneath the platform. The dumping of the contents of the mine car is easily done by means of a swinging gate on the end, held in place by a catch; when this catch is raised, the gate swings open and allows the coal to fall into a chute and thence into the railroad car below.
Automatic bituminous coal screening on the left
and anthracite coal sizing with child labor on the right
All the George’s Creek coal is shipped as “run of the mine;” that is, all the coal is shipped without screening or sizing, as is done with anthracite, unless otherwise ordered.
In 1903, Consolidation Coal Company merged with the Fairmont Coal Company and added to its collection forty-five openings in Mother Earth who was bountifully sharing her black diamonds. By 1906, Consolidation Coal Company was operating more than sixty-five coal mines and employing tens of thousands of miners.
By the following year, Consolidation Coal Company had grown into the largest bituminous coal company in the eastern United States.
And in 1927, Consolidation Coal Company was the largest bituminous coal producer in the United States—a distinction Consol Energy, its corporate descendent, holds today!
This page was last modified on Tuesday, January 19, 2016