Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Tag 189

I'm proud to announce that my art work "Tag 189" has been chosen from a bevy of other submissions by the Hillcrest Mine Disaster Memorial Committee to represent the centennial of this catastrophic event which occurred in 1914.

My proposed concept revolved around the miners' number tags which were used to mark that they were underground as well as mark the cars they filled that shift.

The Committee will be selling a limited edition (189) of 16 X 20 inch framed prints of "Tag 189".

“The Hillcrest Mine Disaster”  Alberta, 9:30, June 19th 1914 

In my depiction of the horrendous 1914 event a team of two miners is just below their tunnel; working to empty their chute. The mine often teamed an older more experienced miner with a younger miner; or an older brother with a younger brother. The younger miner is prodding the coal while the older miner is bringing up a second car. Both are oblivious to the fireball, ignited by a spark or a blasting cap—they never knew which—and the explosive force tearing towards them. They would never have known what hit them. Other miners, in the tunnels above, would have suffered a more agonizing death. The oxygen in the mine would have been consumed by the explosion and they would have been overcome by poisonous carbon dioxide, or afterdamp, as the miners called it. 

Each miner was given two tags; one to hang in the lamp room to show he was underground and the other to take with him into the mine. They put that tag on the first car to identify their string of cars when the cars reached the surface. You can see it there hanging on the first car. It’s Tag 189in homage of the 189 brave men that lost their lives that day!

Those of you who look closely enough will notice the young miner’s wedding band, it shines out on his blackened hand—acknowledgment both of the love and the impending sorrow—of 130 widows and 400 orphans who, on any other day, would have made working underground bearable. 

They dug slanted and level passageways, and tunnels into the mountain at Hillcrest. It wasn’t dark inside—it was black. The early wicked safety lamps, carried by hand or hung on heavy work clothing, cast a misty grey light illuminating only slight more than a few feet. The interconnected main passageways were dug mostly through rock and were well timbered. 

These passageways were cut just wide enough to install a small gauge railway to bring empty coal cars to the miners or move loaded cars towards the surface. Walking on the track was dangerous, so they allowed a few extra feet to one side for a walk way and a ditch to evacuate the water. Water trickled, oozed, and gushed everywhere. It was damp and musty. Two large electrical fans hummed at the surface to replenish the air and keep the percentage of methane gas within acceptable limits.

Wherever the level passages encountered coal two-man teams dug tunnels up the coal seams which sloped up with the mountain. As the men tunneled upward they built makeshift chutes down one side. They loosened the coal in front of them with picks, pushed or shoveled it into the chute, and with the help of gravity it slid down towards the main level.

Prior to each shift a procession of empty cars was towed towards the miners; by horse and a walking horseman. The horseman would uncouple three or four cars at a time and leave them near each of the working tunnels. Once the chute was full, the team would come down to the level, pry out whatever they had wedged in the chute to block the coal from spewing onto the track, and fill their cars. At the end of each shift, the loaded cars would be coupled and moved by horse and horseman towards the slanted passageways where they would be hoisted towards the surface.