1960s: Coal Fuels America’s Critical Electrical Backbone – 1960-1969
The 1960s were a period of transition for the coal industry. When the decade started, producers were struggling with a down economy and a public increasingly enamored by oil and natural gas. In 1958, natural gas bumped coal as the second place energy supplier and in 1959 almost 27% of the total energy picture was fueled by gas. Third place coal was down to only 23.5% that year, having fallen from 37.8% in 1950. As the new decade began, oil supplied 40% of the energy needs of the nation. Traditional markets like home heating and the railroads were gone. The saving grace of the industry was the development and build-out of America’s new electrical power grid. Though in 1960, coking coal and industrial users were the largest consumers of coal, by the end of the decade, the electrical industry was by far coal’s biggest client, receiving more than 310 million tons in 1969 as production increased to a high of 573 million tons that year—virtually all of it bituminous coal.
But increased productivity came with a price. Land conservationists and environmentalists began to fight for regulations to control the appetites of the new strip-mining operations. In return, the coal industry, with the help of Coal Age, waged a massive public relations campaign showcasing the efforts of producers to voluntarily reclaim, re-plant and re-develop strip-mined lands. Legislation treating both acid mine drainage and reclamation controls were passed by several states, eventually forcing the federal government to get involved. Coal’s new ally, the electrical utility sector, also came under scrutiny as smog and smoke abatement campaigns and SO2 management schemes successfully altered the way coal was being burned. Just as King Coal began to reconstitute its collective strength and begin producing at levels not seen since the early 1950s, its detractors threatened to derail whatever gains were being made.
Labor peace was sustained throughout the mid-1960s, but at a high price. Wages rose throughout the decade and producers turned to even greater mechanization as a result. The huge new draglines and buckets that started to be deployed in the late 1950s were joined by and often replaced by even larger draglines and mobile equipment as a fleet of new machines took the field—particularly in Illinois, western Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. Underground producers increasingly adopted and adapted new hydraulic machines and cutters, merging the technologies together into new longwall installations. By the end of the decade, tons per man-hour had gone through the roof at these more progressive operations. But the industry still needed new miners. As coal looked to expand, there weren’t enough workers to go around and not enough were applying for new jobs. As the industry faced its best opportunity in decades, creating a stable workforce became a challenge.
During the spring of 1967, Coal Age also went through a transition as editor Ivan A. Given retired after nearly four decades working for the magazine—the longest tenure of any staff member. He was succeeded March 1 by Alfred E. Flowers, who had been a long-time associate editor. A native of Sutton, West Virginia, Given was the fifth chief editor of Coal Age. After a 10-week editorial training course, he started his McGraw Hill career on June 25, 1928. On March 2, 1944, he was appointed the magazine’s editor, a position he held longer than anyone prior.
As Given was retiring, King Coal was beset upon by myriad of challenges, “not only of competition, but the newly important ones of air and water pollution, land reclamation and improvement, subsidence, plant noise and appearance and others.” Taking advantage at the market’s bottom, oil companies started buying up coal producers left and right. By the end of the decade, many of the biggest miners, including top producer Consolidation, had been purchased by oil companies. Though now reduced to only corporate divisions, big oil brought with it deep pockets and coal producers were able to secure the vital capital to expand to new heights of efficiency.
Electrical Demand Drives Steady Production Gains in the 1960s
Slumping coal production had stabilized to approximately 435 million tons in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1961, production bottomed out at 423 million tons, but would gradually and steadily rise from there throughout the decade to a high of 573 million tons in 1969. “Hard hit by deeper-than-expected recession in ’58 and a severe 4-mo steel strike in ’59, bituminous entered the new year and decade poised to resume its growth destiny,” wrote the editors in the February 1960 issue. The top 15 coal companies (led by Consol and Peabody at 31 million tons and 25.7 million tons respectively) produced nearly 40% of the national total. For the 11th straight year, utilities increased their use of bituminous coal. 1959 totals were approximately 10% higher than the previous year as almost 170 million tons were burned by the growing utility sector. That would grow to 179 million tons in 1961 and 193 million tons in 1962. In the April 1963 issue, the editors stated that coal use by utilities was expected to grow at a rate of 13 million to 20 million tons per year.
In the new decade, industry management, through the formation of the new National Coal Policy Conference and the re-organization of the National Coal Association, challenged competitors to ensure coal’s place at the head of the nation’s energy future. Since research and development was key, producers joined forces to help develop coal-to-liquid fuel technologies and other techniques to return to transportation markets. Producers also worked with the electrical industry to increase coal utilization. Together, they also teamed up to fight increasing railroad shipping rates by changing transportation patterns. Barging became much more common as new mines located along rivers and installed docking facilities—often foregoing rail transport entirely. Other producers began shipping in new unit trains to take advantage of efficiencies of scale and conditionally lowered freight rates.
Production patterns were changing as well. In 1960, five of the top 10 producing mines were in the Illinois Basin and six of the top 11 were surface operations. Some of the largest of these were concentrated in western Kentucky’s rapidly growing coalfields. Close to new TVA burns and with excellent river access, the region’s shallow reserves were perfectly tailored for the moment. New production methods increased tons per man to approximately 13.5 as editor Given predicted that, by 1970, bituminous operators would find markets for between 625 million and 650 million tons of coal. Given would be off by only 20 million tons.
Coal exports, heralded in the 1950s as a steady 40 million ton market, were flat and falling by 1961. “Japan was the star in an otherwise dull export market, with shipments drifting from 37 down to around 33 million tons.”
In December 1961, Coal Age reviewed the operating results of newly installed longwall technology at the Keystone mine owned by Eastern Gas & Fuel Associates in West Virginia. Manufactured by Westfalia Lunen, Germany, and marketed by Mining Progress Inc., the system allowed a 50% reduction in manpower, better roof control, increased production, and minimum maintenance and supply costs. At the time, it seemed longwall mining would become the technological breakthrough that underground producers had been hoping to make for many years. West German and British equipment was field tested in the U.S. in 1961 and 1962 and several longwall units were installed during the decade.
“The key to the situation has been the advent of self-advancing roof-support units that permit longwalling under the labor-economy conditions prevailing in American mines,” wrote the editors in the January 1962 issue. “The times when ‘revolution’ is the appropriate description of a change in mining are quite few…[but]…deep mining in the U.S. is on the verge of a change that might eventually deserve the term,” wrote Given in the March 1962 editorial. “The number of longwalls adapted from foreign practice is as yet small, but anyone who sees either of the two now in regular operation is most likely to be seized by an almost irresistible desire to go home and place an order for one or more of his own.” The magazine would continue to report on Eastern’s progress with longwall technologies in the October 1962 model mining number, as well as the August 1963, September 1964 and August 1969 issues. By the end of the decade, Eastern had become a leader in mining efficiency.
But conventional mines were still holding their own ground. In 1962, Peabody Coal’s Mine No. 10 in Pawnee, Ill., one of the nation’s most productive mine, set a world record in output, producing more than 5 million tons from a single opening. “The mine, which employs 840 men, working three shifts a day, five days a week, produced the 5 millionth ton on Dec. 11, the 210th day worked,” reported the magazine in February 1963. The mine would produce 5.35 million tons the following year. A close second was the conventional Pittston/Clinchfield Moss No. 3 in Virginia that produced 5.15 million tons that year. But, as a sign of the times, the rest of the top five productive mines in 1963 were all Illinois basin surface operations owned by Peabody, each mining between 3.6 million and 3.1 million tons.
For the October 1964 model mining number, the editors once again reviewed the operations of Consolidation Coal—that year celebrating its centennial. Having just produced its 1 billionth ton, “its quite likely that Consol will produce its next billion tons in less than 25 years—perhaps less. ‘Consolidation,’ in the case of Consol, truly means benefits to the energy consumer and the general public of the United States even now running to many millions of dollars annually as a result of its concentration over the years on a better product and better service at a lower price. Its contributions to the advancement of the industry’s general welfare will continue to grow in scope and magnitude as Consol moves ahead in the production of its second billion tons,” wrote Given. The nation’s long time number one producer at the time, Consol held reserves in nine states and was mining in six, with operations in West Virginia being the most prolific. With overall tonnage expected to top more than 45 million tons in 1964—a nearly 14% increase year over year, the company was entering a period of tremendous growth, particularly following its 1962 merger with Truax-Traer.
Despite this, however, in 1964, Consol was overtaken as the U.S. production leader by a surging Peabody Coal Group that mined 46.6 million tons, 19% more than in 1963 and 1.3 million tons more than Consol. Following a large $38 million build out in southern Illinois, Peabody had invested heavily in new dragline technology and was churning out massive amounts of surface mined coal in western Kentucky and Illinois. Consol and Peabody would vie for industry production leadership throughout the decade.
In the October 1965 issue, Coal Age reported that American Electric Power (AEP) was beginning to act on vast expansion plans throughout Appalachia. Designed to boost system generating capacity by 25%, AEP announced commitments of $370 million through 1970 to add another 2.3 million kilowatts of new generation capacity in the area. When completed, the various projects would consume an estimated 146 million tons over their lifetime. The first expansion project would take place at the Muskingum River plant near Marietta, Ohio, where capacity would expand from 800,000 kW to 1.495 million kW, boosting the generating station’s coal burn to more than 4.5 million tons per year. Other expansions, not all of it coal-fired, were also announced in West Virginia, Virginia and elsewhere.
In November, the magazine reported on the just announced “marriage of two giants” between Continental Oil Co. (Conoco) and Consol. The oil company’s unexpected intent to acquire Consol, “representing the largest merger of oil and coal interests in U.S. history, raised eyebrows both on Wall Street and in industry circles. As to the why of the merger, involving some $620 million, little light was shed by the firm’s announcements. Reasons suggested by Wall Street analysts included Consol’s need to dispose of its immense cash flow and the importance of its Chrysler Corp. interests. Not to be over looked in the turmoil over the merger announcement is Consol’s ‘Project Gasoline’ which it is predicted will turn out gasoline from coal at 11c a gallon, including a ‘reasonable’ profit. This figure is said to be less than half any previous prediction for a coal-liquefying process of this type.”
The coal industry’s drive to decrease prices throughout the decade was rewarded by utility consumers. In 1965, bituminous production increased by approximately 20 million tons year over year, with most of the increase going into the utilities markets that burned a record 245 million tons that year. Production-wise that year, 12 longwall installations were being tested nationwide. “Much of the activity during the year was devoted to equipment evaluation which led to the introduction of new types. One face in West Virginia employs two ranging shears, working from opposite ends of the face toward the center then back to the ends. Longwall projections were changed at another West Virginia installation to correct a crushing problem in the tail entry. A mine in Utah is now on its fifth panel in coal that could not be mined by other means, and another operator in the Rocky Mountain region has begun operating a 330-ft long wall in a seam that pitches 30 deg. Here and overseas, a great deal of research is unde rway, especially in the development of improved roof-support equipment and automatic control of the face sequence.”
Surface miners continued to add larger shovels to the fleet. In 1965, shovel capacity grew to 180 cu yd and there was a major breakthrough in truck design with the advent of the 240-ton shuttle unit. This new truck, designed to keep up with ever growing capacity of stripping machines, was undergoing tests in Illinois while more units in the 100-ton class went into service elsewhere. However, surface miners continued to deal with increasing pressure from federal and state agencies and more companies planned land reclamation as part of their mining operations. The goal “is to restore the mined land to new and continuing usefulness. As acid-water controls became stricter, more companies took positive steps to comply with new regulations.”
While oil companies were intrigued about creating energy synergies with coal producers, Kennecott Copper, one of the leading hard rock mining companies, decided the time was right to buy Peabody Coal. In July 1966, spokespeople for the two companies said discussions were being held. Several months later in October, the Consol/Conoco “Energy” merger was completed. “In explaining the union of the two companies, L. F. McCollum, chairman of Conoco, said it is no longer a question of one source of energy pushing out another source. By 1980 the free world’s need for economic sources of fossil energy for electric power, transportation and other basic industries will be doubled.” In 1965, the 90-year-old Continental Oil Co. was the eighth largest crude oil producer worldwide. The 101-year-old Consol produced a record of nearly 49 million tons and had recoverable reserves estimated at 5.676 billion tons, “equivalent in Btu’s to two-thirds of the total petroleum-liquid reserves in the country.”
In September, the new Kaiser Steel Corp. York Canyon mine in northeastern New Mexico began making shipments of coking coal to the company’s Fontana, Calif., blast furnaces some 1,100 mi away. To provide this service, the Santa Fe Ry. acquired 101 specially-designed 100 ton gondola cars, eight-four of which will move in continuous shuttle service on a rapid turn around schedule from mine to mill and back. At the time, this was the longest planned unit train shipment in the nation—a time when unit trains were coming into vogue.
Continued growth in electrical generating demand led to the decision to build a $118 million 1 million kW power plant in Washington State using locally mined coal. In February 1967, Coal Age reported the joint venture between the Washington Power Co. and Pacific Power & Light would lead to the opening up of the largely untapped Centralia-Chehalis coalfields. The power plant was designed to initially consume between 4 million and 5 million tons annually—more than the peak year of production—1918—for all the coal mines in Washington combined. Coal reserves to fuel the plant were acquired by the plant’s owners and officials from the new partnership envisioned a large surface operation eventually providing all fuel needs.
Though production increased another 20 million to 532 million tons, “the list of problems confronting bituminous at the end of 1966 certainly was close to if not actually the longest in the industry’s history. Nuclear power suddenly became a major competitor in the year just past—or at least was being increasingly credited with that accomplishment. And 1966 perhaps can be put down as the year in which the drive for better reclamation, control of air and water pollution, regulation of surface subsidence, reduction of plant noise, improvement of plant appearance, and so on really began to confront coal with some potentially serious problems, not the least of them being the fact that a growing number of office-holders and vote-seekers feel that they can make political hay out of advocating rigorous restriction or complete barring of mine operation or coal use,” wrote Given in his February 1967 editorial.
With the Johnson administration’s Department of Health, Education and Welfare heading the drive, “air and water pollution, already problems for coal, became big ones in 1966. States, cities and other governmental entities along with a host of private agencies and plain people, got into the act in 1966, with more to come in the years ahead…Though HEW and other agencies had been active for some time, credit for opening the pollution ball of 1966 perhaps should go to New York City, and its mayor, John V. Lindsay. In his campaign he promised to stop the use of coal in the city…The City Council, in May, adopted a new air-pollution-control law, said to be the toughest in the nation, requiring reduction of the maximum sulfur content of coal and oil from its original level of 2.8% to 1% in three stages in five years. Con Edison, New York’s utility, also was required to install 99% efficient dust-collecting equipping in three years. Bituminous coal was banned for space and hot-water heating.” New pollution laws treating federal installations were set to go into affect in October 1968. The standard would require cuts to all sulfur emissions. Both the coal and utility industries commissioned feasible studies on cutting SO2 emissions, particulate matter and other pollutants in an effort to “head off the promulgation of unworkable regulations with the potential of grave injury to the fuels industry.”
Also, as the year ended, the Common-wealth of Pennsylvania forcibly closed its first major mine, the Melcroft mine of Eastern Associated Coal Corp., due to violations of the new Clean Streams Act, which had classified acid mine drainage as industrial waste and forbade its discharge to any stream. Federal and other state efforts continued along similar lines as more AMD laws were put forth and debated. “Against a backdrop of increased federal, state and local pressure for tighter legislation, a new high was reached in land involved in reclamation in 1966—and in the quality of the job. One result was a significant increase in the cost of reclamation per acre—$100 to $300 in the majority of cases…there was additional emphasis on the creation of facilities—fishing, camping, picnicking and the like—to help meet the growing need for reclamation. Conversion of mined lands into sites for housing, commercial and industrial facilities and, even, college campuses also was being carried out on an increasing scale.”
Production grew again in 1967 to 567 million tons and it was expected to rise rapidly from there as new mines came on line throughout the next few years. “The upward climb in bituminous production, dating back to 1961, continued in 1967” with 551 million tons mined that year. The 1967 output was the highest since 1948, when production reached 600 million tons. Five of the top six producing mines that year were in the Illinois Basin; four of these were surface mines, and four of the top six were owned by Peabody. But top on the list was the Southwestern Illinois Captain surface mine that produced more than 5.8 million tons that year. New in 1964, it quickly vaulted to the top of the heap. Just behind it was the Peabody Dynamo No. 10 underground mine in Illinois. Third was the Clinchfield/Pittston Moss No. 3 mine and the next three were the massive Peabody surface mines River King (Illinois), River Queen (western Kentucky) and Sinclair (western Kentucky) averaging more than 5 million tons per year each. Though Captain would be overtaken by the River King mine, the same operations were also the top five producers in 1968.
As good as the year had been, the near term future was even brighter. “Coal’s big expansion, which took a giant step in 1967, will accelerate rapidly in 1968, when some 47 new mines will go on stream,” wrote new editor Alfred Flowers in the January issue. “When they are up to full capacity, these mines will add 79.5 million tons to annual output. Another 23 mines, capable of producing 68.3 million tons, already are on schedule to begin production by 1972. Nearly 83% of the new production will be dedicated to long-term contracts with utility customers, demonstrating that coal has recognized and taken advantage of its opportunity to share in the sharply expanding electric energy market.” 17 new deep mines representing more than 30 million tons were planned for West Virginia alone. Most of the new operations were already under contract at the time of the survey, meaning that “the full production of these new mines has been sold not only for a few years, but for the expected life of the property.” An additional 17 metallurgical mines were in the advanced planning stage as well. Representing a total capacity of more than 26 million tons, only three of the new mines were captive.
With all of the new production coming online, needed were new miners, and lots of them. In the August 1968 issue, Coal Age repeated Consol’s call for 10,000 new workers. Equally hungry for workers, Eastern Associated in West Virginia rolled out a campaign to recruit and train 5,000 men through 1973 and had immediate needs for 1,500 employees in four mines already. By 1969, estimates of additional mining manpower needed in the next five years ranged up to 40,000 or more, requiring in turn a significant increase in recruiting and training efforts.
But environmental challenges re-mained at the forefront of the industries concerns, particularly the problems concerned with sulfur dioxide created by coal-burning electrical power plants. Though Coal Age analyzed the known data in the April 1968 issue, Flowers was still skeptical. “There is some doubt about whether sulfur dioxide is a health hazard in the concentrations encountered by the average person…Even though the health hazard is minimal or under normal conditions nonexistent, fuel users can expect continuing pressure to provide clean air. This pressure already is being reflected at some new power plants in the construction of tall stacks, up to 1,200 ft high, to disperse and dilute the sulfur oxides to an acceptable standard,” Flowers wrote in the April editorial. Additional research, he and others felt, was what was really needed.
As the year ended, wildcat strikes broke out following frustration over new contracts. Labor stoppages were more often than not reflections of frustration with UMWA policies and producer acceptance of them. Though demand was there, production fell to 545 million tons. Utility burn, however, continued to climb to approximately 296 million tons that year, roughly 7.4% higher than 1967. Another bright spot were continuing high export levels, some 51 million tons in 1968. Japanese purchases of coking coal increased significantly as some 16 million tons was absorbed into the growing market.
Coal was used to producing 63.6% of America’s energy in 1968. And, in early 1969, plans were confirmed to continue constructing large coal-fired power plants in the western U.S. to serve the region’s growing population. These included the 2,300 mw Navajo facility near Page, Ariz., and the 3,000 mw San Juan plant near Farmington, N.M. At the time, roughly 19,000 mw of power from a dozen power plants was either under construction or being considered throughout eight western states. Additionally, the Basin Electric Power Cooperative was beginning to site new plants in Wyoming as efforts continued to develop the state’s vast coal resources.
Also, continuing a trend of oil companies entering the coal sphere, in February, Coal Age reported on the plans of Ashland Oil to acquire or lease substantially all of the assets of Ayrshire Collieries Corp. With large reserves in the west and Illinois Basin, Ayrshire was a leader in the development of highly productive surface operations and the 11th largest overall producer in 1968.
In May 1969, AEP formally dedicated stripping operations at the company’s new mine near Zanesville, Ohio. Front and center was the Big Muskie walking dragline. Capable of taking 325-ton overburden bites, it was the largest mobile land machine ever built. Manufactured by Bucyrus-Erie, “the new giant can move more earth faster and farther than any machine of its type ever built. The machine’s 240-ton bucket has a capacity of 220 cu yd. Its 325-ton load would more than fill three large 100 ton railroad hopper cars. In full operation Big Muskie could handle about 19,500 tons of material an hour, about 7,000 tons more than the towering machine actually weighed. The huge machine capped a dragline and shovel race that began in the 1950s as various surface producers ordered ever larger equipment capable of achieving successively greater efficiencies of scale.”
Also capping the decade, on November 20, Senate and House conferees agreed on a compromise version of the new Federal Coal Mine & Safety Act of 1969. It was expected, at the time, that the new bill would be on President Nixon’s desk by the end of the year. Generally referred to as the Coal Act, the new body of law was more comprehensive and stringent than any previous federal legislation governing the mining industry. The Coal Act included surface as well as underground coal mines within its scope, required two annual inspections of every surface coal mine and four at every underground coal mine, and dramatically increased federal enforcement powers in coal mines. The Coal Act also required monetary penalties for all violations, and established criminal penalties for knowing and willful violations. The safety standards for all coal mines were strengthened, and health standards were adopted. The Coal Act included specific procedures for the development of improved mandatory health and safety standards, and provided compensation for miners who were totally and permanently disabled by the progressive respiratory disease caused by the inhalation of fine coal dust pneumoconiosis or “black lung.” Also created by the Act was the Mining Enforcement and Safety Administration (MESA), later renamed the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), as well as a National Mine Map Repository, within the Department of Interior.
Production in 1969 was flat, maintaining roughly the same levels as the previous year for the same reasons: wildcat strikes. Nevertheless, bituminous producers pulled approximately 571 million tons out of the earth that year, and utilities took 310 million tons of it, an increase of 4.7% over 1968.
By the end of the decade, a majority of the largest coal producers including Consol, Eastern, P&M (Gulf) and others had been folded into larger energy conglomerates and oil companies. (Peabody was the one exception as the company was doggedly pursued by Kennecott Copper throughout the end of the decade.) That trend continued throughout 1969 as Island Creek, part of Occidental Petroleum beginning the year before, acquired the assets of Maust Coal & Coke; Sun Oil acquired nearly 15,000 acres of coal containing approximately 600 million tons, near Rock Springs, Wyo.; Gulf Resources & Chemical took over C&K Coal Co. in Clarion, Pa.; Kerr-McGhee began metallurgical production near Stigler, Okla.; Humble Energy created a new subsidiary to set up and start production of the Monterey Coal Co. in Ill.; as well as others. As big oil continued to invest in coal, the energy industry continued to expand, new electrical power facilities continued to be placed on drawing boards, and a stable growth curve seemed just within reach. Or was it?
Labor in the 1960s
In 1960, aging union warrior John L. Lewis passed on the reins of the UMWA to his long-time Vice President Arthur Kennedy, ending his 40 year reign. Kennedy himself, a longtime veteran of the fight, died several years later and was succeeded by new Vice President Anthony “Tony” Boyle. Boyle, once Lewis’ right hand man, wielded power with a tight fist, resisting efforts by the rank-and-file to assert more rights and local controls. Frustrated by a leadership accused of being more sympathetic to corporate needs than worker desires, dozens of UMWA locals increasingly turned to wildcat walkouts, protesting not their employers, but the union itself.
In January 1965, the UMWA celebrated its 75-year of organizing and struggle. At its peak in the 1930s and 1940s, the union controlled nearly 90% of the bituminous tonnage and practically all of the anthracite. But in 1965, the bituminous figure had dropped to roughly 70%-75%, “in large part reflecting the fact that the benefits won for union members, particularly the $0.40c Welfare Fund assessment, plus the changing nature of the bituminous market, have provided a margin and incentive for non-union producers. Whether it can hold its own and possibly recoup some of its losses is a major problem for the union. There also is a question for producers: What would follow if the stability provided by the fixed union wage and working conditions was lost, as well as the help of the union in marketing, public relations and legislative areas,” wrote Given in the January 1965 issue.
By the mid-1960s, however, activist miners began to threaten the entrenched Boyle leadership and the stability of the union. Though new contracts were signed for both bituminous and anthracite in 1966, when its terms were released and read by rank-and-file members a near “rebellion” broke out, primarily in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Kentucky where there had long been disaffection. Production was cut by some 12 million tons in a three week period of labor actions. After another wage increase, in 1969, Joseph “Jock” Yablonski challenged Boyle for the presidency of UMWA. Yablonski had been president of UMWA District 5—an appointed position—until Boyle had removed him in 1965. His challenge, the first of a sitting UMWA president, represented a fracturing of the union with many activist miners backing Yablonski and reform.
When John L. Lewis died in June 1969, the proud organization he had lead through the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War was splintering. In an election widely perceived as corrupt, Boyle defeated Yablonski on December 9 by a margin of nearly two-to-one (80,577 to 46,073). Yablonski conceded the election, but on December 18, 1969, he asked the Department of Labor to investigate the election for fraud. He also initiated five lawsuits against the UMWA in federal court. On December 31, 1969, three killers shot Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and his 25-year-old daughter, Charlotte dead, as they slept in the Yablonski home in Clarksville, Pa. The bodies were discovered January 5, 1970, by Yablonski’s son, Kenneth. Shocked UMWA members increasingly turned against their own leadership and the 1970s became a period of massive labor unrest as union solidarity ceased.
Safety Gains Marred by Massive Fire and Explosion in 1968, Leading to Sweeping Federal Legislation
Safety-wise, gains were made throughout the decade, specifically as a fleet of highly productive machines were increasingly deployed. Roof-bolting was keeping American miners safer, and, by 1961, more than 60% of production was mined under bolted roof. Fatalities in the mid-1960s were averaging at under 300 per year, falling to a total of 240 in 1964. However, 24 of those fatalities occurred in anthracite mines. Producing less than 18 million tons, anthracite’s incident factor was more than three times higher than bituminous producers where fatality rates per short ton had fallen to .45, down from .55 the year before. However, fatalities increased in 1965 by 15 to 255 total and 247 in bituminous, though rates per ton rose only slightly to .49.
By the middle of the decade, fatalities had continued to fall, particularly in bituminous. Even as production climbed again in 1967, the number of fatalities dropped to 208 from 227 in 1966, or 8.4%. Roof falls, which accounted for 52.8% of the underground fatalities, again were the No. 1 killer. Safety training was becoming more common and one company was already holding weekly one-hour safety sessions at which selected safety topics were discussed.
With safety improving throughout the decade, few were prepared for the news later that year. In November 1968, an explosion and fire at the Consol No. 9 mine in Farmington, W.Va., trapped inside and killed 78 miners. The disaster made national headlines and placed the environmentally controversial industry back in the public eye. Days of billowing smoke emanating from the mine and repeated rescue attempts made for compelling television coverage. The attention led to hearings in Washington and the call, in particular by Interior Secretary Mark Udall, for greater safety rules. With 305 lives snuffed out that year, federal and state governments clamored for strict changes in mine safety—with no let up in continued curbs on pollution, emissions and strip mining.
Roughly a year after the disaster, Congress passed the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969. The comprehensive mine safety legislation, much more strict than any that preceded it, established the groundwork for the current Mine Safety and Health Adminis-tration. Included in the “Coal Act’s” language were provisions addressing silicosis (black lung), and other miner’s health issues, as well as operational safety concerns. Combined with new environmental regulations, by the end of the 1960s, producers were dealing with a blizzard of legislation even as the power industry continued to turn to coal to generate more electricity.
Battle of the Buckets: As Stripping Machines Grow in Size, Calls for Reclamation Laws Grow Louder
The cartoonish massive stripping machine depicted dwarfing a coal train on the April 1960 cover of the magazine heralded the continuation of the battle of the buckets. Throughout the late 1950s, several producers seemed to be vying to commission and deploy ever larger draglines. The latest titanic Bucyrus-Erie shovel, to become the largest land vehicle yet constructed, was destined for one of Peabody Coal’s western Kentucky strip mines. A second one was built to follow it and in April 1961, a third Peabody dragline, this time a 85 cu yd Marion Power Shovel, was in the process of being constructed.
Throughout the Midwest and later the southwest, advances in stripping technologies enabled producers to deploy ever larger units into a variety of applications. Not all, of course, were giants and many smaller shovels performed herculean tasks in the shadows of their more well-known cousins. But still, the glory went to the giants. In the October 1962 issue, the magazine breathlessly reported on the start-up of Peabody’s first 115-cu yd shovel, the world’s largest machine, which had just taken over the stripping job at the Sinclair mine at Paradise in western Kentucky. Part of a fleet of machines that would help mine more than 4 million tons per year, the new dragline was capable of moving over 3 million cu yds of material a month. The new Bucyrus-Erie 3850-B, the first of two on order, had a total working weight of 9,000 tons and was far-and-away the largest land machine able to move under its own power yet to be constructed.
In July 1963, the editors reported on the new wheel and 70-yd shovel then working in tandem at the Peabody River King mine. Production records were toppling at the time as the shovel, wheel excavator and two 30-yd draglines were removing 3,950,000 cu yd per month to make possible recovery of 17,000 tpd of raw coal. River King wound up 1962 with a record day—17,730 tons—in a record month—340,000 tons—climaxing a record year of 2,910,905 tons. And the target for 1963 was 3 million tons.
Perhaps the most famous of them all, however, was the massive Captain shovel at the new 1964 Southwestern Illinois Coal Corp. Captain mine in Percy, Ill. Reviewed and featured in the February 1965, February 1966, August 1966 and December 1967 issues, the huge machine became a veritable celebrity in and of itself. The Marion 6360 shovel, featuring a 180-cu yd dipper, a 215 ft boom length and 33,000 total horsepower, was expected to remove 4.5 million cu yd of overburden each month so as to sustain a loading rate of 20,000 tpd or 500,000 tons per month. A fleet of 240-ton Caterpillar diesel-electric coal haulers, powered at both ends and operated from one of two cabs, were deployed to keep up with the behemoth.
But all the attention and publicity associated with the new dragline machines, coupled with an increase in stripping operations, accelerated an environmental backlash. Already a concern throughout the 1940s and 1950s, what to do with post-mined land became a serious concern throughout the decade—at times the debate overshadowed the stripping operations themselves. Prior to moving any dirt, a post-mine plan was becoming vital to an operation’s success. In the September 1965 issue, the magazine reported that new TVA coal contracts would include and set reclamation requirements.
By 1966, “land restoration became integrated more and more into overall mining plans as operators strove to meet the requirements of stricter reclamation and anti-pollution laws….most operators used AN-FO to break overburden, either mixing the ingredients at the holesite or buying pre-mixed products. However, minimizing noise and vibration were of concern to companies operating near populated areas,” reported the magazine in the February 1967 issue.
From 1966 through the end of the decade, the coal and power industry would wage a public relations campaign to convince the American public that strip mining was actually beneficial, in the long run, to both the landscape and human activities. In fact, once stripped, post-mined lands were incredibly malleable and could be transformed into all sorts of recreational areas, fishing lakes, swimming holes, housing projects and cattle farms. In the April, May and December 1966 issues, the editors used hundreds of color images to illustrate the potential beauty of post-mined lands. Calling strip mining the “Total Benefit Industry” producers joined in with the magazine in advertising their best reclamation jobs. All the greenery made for some impressive images, and, to be sure, millions of Americans then and now have enjoyed the benefits of recreated reclaimed lands. But, by the end of the decade, Congress and various state legislatures were not so accepting. New reclamation and environmental standards were being adopted, with the federal government establishing minimum regulations that states could then improve upon. Various bills would be put forth, many of which were later wrapped up and bundled into sweeping surface mine legislation in the mid-1970s.
The Longwall Miracle: Thanks to Hydraulics and the West Germans
Beginning in December 1961, Coal Age published several features about new longwall technology. After first profiling Eastern’s experience, in the May 1962 issue, the magazine reported on how a British-made face unit and self-advancing roof support system were being employed for increased productivity and greater coal recovery at the Sunnyside, Utah, mines of the Kaiser Steel Co. “Providing a big part of the answer to difficult mining conditions…the unit has now marked up more than 5 mo of successful operation at the Sunnyside No. 3 mine…Productivity figures already achieved are expected to be bettered significantly when the unit completes the present 308-ft wall experimental section and goes into service on the 750-ft wall that will be standard for future work. The unit was equipped with an Anderton shearer-loader with 5-ft drum 2 ft 3 in. wide; a British Jeffrey-Diamond face conveyer; and a Dowty Roofmaster support system. Horsepower of the shearer was 125, weight with the plow was 8 tons. Under average conditions, width of the cut is 2 ft. The best shift thus far had produced over 700 tons with the longwall.”
In August 1963, Coal Age returned to Eastern, where a second longwall planer, equipped with self-advancing hydraulic roof-support units, had been installed at the Kopperston mine. During its first 10 months of operation, the Wesfaila Lunen unit produced some 325,000 tons and one panel with a 340-ft face and 3,000 ft deep had been mined out. “Comparing the cost of the planer section with that of a continuous miner shows that face cost on the planer is approximately 33% less while repair and maintenance runs about 25% less.” While the greatest savings was reported in timbering, production on a tons per shift basis more than doubled while tons per face man was approximately 60% greater than conventional operations.
In the September 1963 issue, Albert Evans, mining consultant, wrote a long piece explaining the modern history of longwall production and discussed how it could be adapted to U.S. operations. A year later, D.B. Shupe, chief engineer, Eastern Associated, discussed the longwall progress made at his company. “As a result of producing 2,750,000 tons from 29 faces in four mines in three seams, Eastern has achieved notable reductions in mining cost—33% in face labor and 25% in maintenance at one mine over continuous miners, and 45% in total section labor and materials over conventional mobile loading at another.”
In February 1965, Coal Age published a Longwall Mining operating guide, thoroughly treating the possibilities of longwall mining, the equipment needed and available, operations, roof action and servicing techniques. Offering up the pro’s and con’s of the new technology, the editors repeated that longwall mining, once adapted, will have a rich future in the U.S. In the December 1966 issue, associate editor Daniel Jackson Jr. reported on how a newly installed longwall unit at the Cannelton Coal Co. mine had helped make a marginal coal more profitable by reducing overall production costs.
In 1966, “further experience in longwalling led to improved methods for moving equipment from one setup to another, cutting the cost of the moves, and brining them more in line with the costs of moving conventional sections. Operating experience at one mine demonstrated the value of limiting the length of the face and deepening the panel to provide an equivalent block of coal,” wrote the editors in the February 1967 issue.
For the May 1968 issue, the editors placed the record setting Barnes & Tucker longwall unit on the cover. “Mining 5,270 tons in 24 hr from a single longwall face may be a new record that Barnes & Tucker Co. can claim at its Lancashire No. 24 mine near Nicktown, Pa. Company officials believe that this is the highest production, in three consecutive shifts, for any longwall operating in the U.S. (and possibly the world) to date. On Feb. 15, 1968, first shift got the ball rolling by completing 10 passes along the 460-ft face with the Joy/Eickhoff EW 130 single-drum shearer/loader. The second shift, not to be outdone, followed this with an impressive 14 passes. And the third shift sewed up the shooting match with a final 10 passes. Needless to say, management was thrilled.”