Tuesday, November 2, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 44 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“We are anxious for a management team and council who will work collaboratively for our community.”
- Lynne Cox  
- Director of Legislative and   
Human Resources Services   

 

Looking Back - John KinnearI noticed that the old West Canadian Collieries Greenhills mine site north of Blairmore has been given a bit of a government sponsored cleanup recently. What remains at the site these days is but a very small portion of what once was a large, thriving and well run collieries with a rock solid reputation. All that is visible from the highway nowadays is the remains of the rotary dump section of the colliery where coal cars were moved by a chain conveying system through the rotary dump and then back into line-ups of empties headed back into the mine.
If we were to go back to say 1937 we would find that West Canadian Collieries of Blairmore to be one of the oldest mining companies in Western Canada. Their operations started at Lille in 1902 and later expanded to the Bellevue and Greenhills Mines in 1903 and 1913 respectively.
Both these mines were equipped with what was considered state of the art coal cleaning plants in those days. These plants had what was known as Pneumo-Gravity cleaning systems in which all coal less than one and a quarter inch in size was sent to be mechanically cleaned by air.
The sorting of the coal was achieved using electrically vibrated screens which sized it to suit the cleaning tables. They were, quite simply, square steel mesh stretched tightly over metal frames that vibrated continuously and made for a very efficient sizing system. Each screen had a hopper to catch the sized coal from it which was then fed to the cleaning tables.
The cleaning or “air tables” worked on a simple process that took advantage of the fact that coal was lighter in weight than refuse or rock. Air from a blower fan was forced upwards through the perforated deck on the cleaning tables which stratified the bed, raising the coal to the top and leaving the rock on the bottom. The traverse slope of the table allowed the coal to flow to the front while a reciprocating motion moved the refuse to the side of the deck.
Coal over one and a quarter inch was too large to be air cleaned and was put through what was known as hydro-separators. The system used water as a cleaning medium instead of air and also utilized gravity to separate rock from coal. 
Two other interesting devices that operated within the cleaning plant were automatic mechanical samplers and magnetic separators.
The samplers, which ran continuously, sampled every car of coal loaded and those samples were assayed before the coal was shipped. The separators of course removed track spikes, nails and any other unwanted metal from the coal. These tramp magnets were quite powerful and any operator who thought their anti-magnetic watch was immune to its power usually got a rude awakening with a watch stopped in its tracks, permanently.
 
Thus cleaned and sized "Greenhills" and "Bellevue" coals (which were registered trade names) were shipped all over the Prairie Provinces for consumption. By 1937 West Canadian had shipped over 12 million tons of coal and in those days produced 2,000 tons from each mine in an eight hour shift. Their cleaned coals were categorized as: steam size mine run, nut, pea, stoker size, washed furnace and lump. Their "smithy" or blacksmith coal stood up to the finest American smithing coals in terms of retaining heat and coking ability.
Work n Play
Greenhills Mine Rotary Dump
John Kinnear Photo
West Canadian coal was used extensively by the railroads who were notoriously discriminatory fuel buyers. It had to be good coal to provide 200 pounds of steam on a heavy passenger or freight locomotive whose heating surfaces were exposed at times to 20 to 40 degree below zero weather. Ever imagined the surface heat loss of a steam locomotive as it charged across the prairies at high speed in the middle of winter? It must have been phenomenal!
West Canadian finally gave up the ghost in 1958 when oil and gas took over the markets but for 56 years they were a premier producer of coal for all needs in the Crowsnest Pass and elsewhere.
For a time many years ago I worked as a summer student greasing equipment in a very similar type of plant; the old Coleman Collieries tipple, the predecessor to what stands derelict in town today. I recall an occasion when I was working around a Tyler vibrating screen that was leaking water and a large puddle had formed on the floor. While manoeuvring to get at the screen’s grease nipples I accidentally broke off the shell of a very large industrial size light bulb with my hardhat. The stem of the light was left hanging dangerously in its socket above my head. Not thinking, (remember I was a teenager at the time!), I decided to bust off the stem of that 220 volt bulb with my aluminum hardhat while standing in that puddle of water. It was a decision that had a very jolting consequence. Needless to say I was unable to close my eyes in bed that night and it took three haircuts from old Pete the barber to get rid of the curls in my hair.  
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   Volume 80 - Issue 44 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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