October 7th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 40
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Mining Equipment Hits the Trail
Looking Back
John Kinnear photo
Fire tube boiler hoist in tight confines
Last Tuesday there was a lot of going’s on down at the Crowsnest Museum. I was tipped off that some big moves were in the works. Those moves involved PJB Crane Service and Manitoulin Transport both out of Sparwood. Their challenge that day, which was pretty damn tricky, was to maneuver a massive 100 ton crane and two flatbed trucks into the museum’s not-so-wide west side yard. There they were to lift, load and transport three large mining artifacts to pre-prepared sites in Blairmore.

Those three artifacts were all mining related items and included a Joy Loader, an Acme Utility Truck and a fire tube boiler. Positioning, lifting, placing and securing these items on flatbeds at the museum and later unloading them in Blairmore took the better part of the day. To watch these professionals perform these tricky moves in a safe and effective manner was a treat.

The Joy Loader lift was just under 23,000 kg. (25 tons) and it was quite the sight to see it suspended in the air for a time. Despite the rating of the crane there are protocols and positioning techniques that come into play for a safe lift. This required repositioning at times to get the most effective and safe lifting scenario. Otherwise you could find yourself in yet another you-tube crane disaster crash.

The Joy loader was donated to the museum in 1985 by Coleman Collieries Ltd. and saw service in the Vicary underground mines when it was introduced in the 1970’s. Built in 1959, it previously was used in an Ontario salt mine.

Joy loaders were brought into the mining game in later years and were a more effective way to pick up the coal mined in the face of an entry. They are considered the first piece of equipment to be used in modernized underground mining. Joys were eventually replaced by mechanical miners like the one standing at Bellevue, which could mine by itself, ten tons of coal in 60 seconds. Joys were relegated to being more of an assist vehicle in places like Sparwood where they worked in tandem with the mechanical miners to speed up coal mining and movement.
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These loaders are equipped with large oscillating gathering arms that pull the coal into and onto a chain conveyor that runs through the middle of it. I recall watching one in action years ago and it reminded me of a scorpion, which kind of creeped me out! The back end of the Joy has a swiveling tail (getting scorpion creeped out again!) that can be swung over to load a conveyor hopper, shuttle car or in the old days a 3 ton mine car. It had tractor crawlers underneath to move it and was powered by electric motors which required a large power cable. Joys was really handy for getting into tight spaces but if you were not mindful as it moved, it could really do a number on your toes.

The second piece hoisted that day is known as an Acme Utility Truck but those of us familiar with it refer to it as a supply car. I had the opportunity to operate this particular machine at Coleman Collieries B Level mine back in 1967. It was used for hauling 16 foot timbers, roof bolts and plates, lagging, cap pieces and barrels of specialty oils up and into the areas of the two mechanical miners operating in that mine.

It was truly a fun machine to operate. One end had two massive 6 foot long rechargeable batteries and the other end was an 8 foot long box that held the supplies. The supply car was simplicity in itself. There are two seats, facing each other, to facilitate you driving in either direction. There is an on/off power switch, brake pedals for each direction and a pair of small levers to activate the wheels. The wheels are chain driven by large electric motors and each side operates independently. So if you push both levers forward, both sets of wheels rotate forward, and if you pull back on the levers you go backwards. If you wanted to turn around, if there was room, one merely pulled one lever forward and one backward and around and around you would go. Now doesn’t that sound like fun.
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In the mine where I operated this machine it was tasked with climbing up a 30 degree pitch, which they soon discovered was problematic because of spinning out. So the entire supply entry, which parallels the belt entry, had 3 inch planking laid down and expanded metal (catwalk) added on top for tire gripping. That was one expensive roadway I can tell yah.

The supply car could only go so far and after that an air tugger was used to pull supplies further up the pitch to the mining faces. There is a very similar air tugger displayed at the museum which I also operated. The cable for it was attached to what we referred to as a scow which was a flat bottomed pan with curved sides that timbers could be laid onto and then held tightly to it with a come along. You could not see where it was going or when it was at the end pulley so a small bell system was used to warn the operator.

The third artifact is an odd looking contraption but was very commonly used in mining and in logging camp operations. The fire tube boiler was typically used to generate steam for power generation or air compressors for the mine. It is not unusual to run into one of these abandoned relics out in the bush all throughout Alberta and BC. They had a firebox at one end which was stoked with coal or wood in order to send heated gases into the chamber that contained multiple water-filled tubes. The water in the tubes was turned to steam which in turn is drawn off and used to drive generators or compressor pumps.
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This particular boiler was used by West Canadian Collieries at their Cougar Valley Mine (North Greehills Property) and was given over to the Frank Slide Center some time after the mines closure. It was eventually placed on permanent loan to the museum in 1991.

These three remnants of a bygone era are now comfortably resting on secure pads at the trail head for the new Kids Corner bike trail. I swung by the trail the day after their placement and walked its length to see what it was all about. It is a marvelous effort with many winding turns, banked corners and wood ramps for the younger bikers to burn around.

Sections of the trail carry interesting mining related monikers like Let’s Get Adit , Super Deluxe and Mine Your Line. I was told also that there is a tamer section for the younger gang called Sponge Bob. I found myself running around the trail as if I was on a bike, imagining what it is like to speed through its course. It turned me into a kid again, laughing and running with abandon around its tightly banked curves. This trail is a terrific addition to the UROC effort in the area.
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Recently I walked part of their multi-year and still ongoing trail effort, up along the east side of the ski hill, and was so impressed. Not sure what drives their naming conventions though. Some of them are pretty crazy, like Double Dirt-Spresso, Knotty Flo, Jiffy Pop and so on. I have yet to head up Chainsaw Massacre to the top of the ski hill or down Buck 50 to the bottom. But before the snow flies I will definitely try out the Powder Keg-York Connector that goes from the top of the ski hill over to the York Creek staging area. You can be sure I will be packing my bear spray on that one. Everyone should pack one these days.

All in all it is nice to see such collaborative efforts like this. Bringing the museum to the people. I’m told UROC will be issuing a press release on the why’s, how’s and wherefore’s of the Kid’s Corner mining interpretive effort so I’ll leave it to them to fill in the blanks. There is no denying that UROC has brought Joy to the Kids Trail in more ways than one!

Author's Note: Look to the on-line for a lot more great pics of this fascinating move. I just noticed that there is no leg room on that supply car seat, so I guess I just put my feet up on the other seat! Rather rough ride.
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October 7th, 2020 ~ Vol. 90 No. 40
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