Coal Mining in Illinois
Shaft Mining

Shaft mining is the method used for extracting coal underground.  This is most commonly used where coal is far beneath the surface.  Access to the coal seam is made through the shaft, a large compartmentalized structure that houses a hoist or lift.  The hoist is used to raise and lower people, machinery, materials, and coal product into and out of the mine.  The main traffic area at bottom of shaft connects to tunnels leading to various sections of the mine.  Removal of coal from the face is done in the rooms that are located along the tunnels.
It is a four step process to remove the coal:

1)  Undercutting the face:  Removal of the lower part of the seam or under clay to create   a void for the coal to move into during the blast. 
2)  Drilling: Shot holes were drilled for explosives to be inserted. 
3) Shooting coal:  Explosives were inserted into the drilled holes in the coal face, and charges set to break up the coal as it is separated from the face.
4)  Loading:  putting the coal into a coal car.    

The loads of coal were then hauled to the surface for cleaning, sorting, and distribution.

Photographic History of Coal Mining Practices in Illinois
C. Chenoweth, Alan R. Myers, and Jennifer M. Obrad
Circular 572
Illinois Department of Natural Resources, 2008



Photo of a chunk of coal


Coal : A solid, brittle, more or less distinctly stratified combustible carbonaceous rock formed by partial to complete decomposition of vegetation; varies in color from dark brown to black; not fusible without decomposition and very insoluble. The classification of coal is done by degree of hardness, moisture and heat content.

Anthracite is hard coal, almost pure carbon, used mainly for heating homes.

Bituminous is soft coal. It is the most common coal found in the United States and is used to generate electricity and to make coke for the steel industry. (See photo at left.)

Sub-bituminous is a coal with a heating value between bituminous and lignite. It has low fixed carbon and high percentages of volatile matter and moisture.

Lignite is the softest coal and has the highest moisture content. It is used for generating electricity and for conversion into synthetic gas. In terms of BTU or "heating" content, anthracite has the highest value, followed by bituminous, sub-bituminous and lignite.

Picture of bituminous
coal found locally.
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Photo of Braidwood Teamsters hauling wood for the support structures of the mines.

The Braidwood Teamsters hauled wood for the support structures of the mines. These supports were used in the shaft mines.
The principal coal seam in the area was 60-90 feet (below the surface).

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Photo of miner with his mule.

Mules were used in the mines to pull the coal cars. They wore small cowbells to alert the miners that they were moving through the tunnels.

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Coal miners placing an explosive charge in the coal face.

The miners pictured above are placing the explosive charge into a hole in the coal face.
One miner is handling the electric wire while the other is carefully using a tamping rod to push the explosive charge into the hole.

The tamping bar, pictured below, was made either of wood or iron. The iron bar had about an 8" copper end to prevent sparking.

Photo of the tamping bar.

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Shot-firer placing an explosive charge.

This mine employee (unknown), pictured above, was classified and certified as a "shot-firer."
He is shown inserting the detonator into the explosive charge. This charge will be set off by electricity.
Note the oil safety lamp on his belt and the leather pouch over his shoulder.
He is wearing a safety cap that was called a "turtle cap" by the miners.

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Coal miner tools.

Each miner was responsible for his own set of tools. These items, among others, were purchased at the company store.