Emeritus Gatherings

Second Annual Emeritus Field Trip

May 15, 2003

A suspiciously mature-looking group of Geology students was led by Professor William Crawford through a hands-on history of coal-mining in Northeastern Pennsylvania. We began with a quick review of Triassic, Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Mississippian and Pennsylvanian outcrops as we zipped at 60+ mph along the Northeast Extension. Press for a map. Since state troopers turn out to be quite hostile to more leisurely viewing, our first stop was Ashland Pioneer tunnel, where we rode in what is touted as the only functioning steam train in the world (quite bumpy) and then took an extremely informative (and chilly) tour into a mine that had operated for about fifty years but has been defunct for almost as long. Here the details of mining were shown, and we learned about mule stables, blasting patterns (leaving the central rubble to be a platform for the next round and to avoid long accidental decents), breaker boys, canaries, major veins, tunnels and gangways.
We decided to return to the picnic grounds for lunch later when the density of grade-schoolers was likely to be less and so drove directly to the high/low point of the trip, the town of Centralia, under which coal fires have been burning since 1962. Though we had read the extensive documentation provided by our leader, we did not expect to see actual smoke rising from the ground, and our first look, along a section of the highway abandoned because of subsidence and burning, was not illuminating but right to the side we found an old garbage trash dump smoldering away and then we drove to the town park, identifiable only by the burnt poles of a set of swings where we saw smoke rising from a number of spots. Everything looked so peaceful, even the cracked sidewalks and the few isolated, newly buttressed former row-houses that still remained.

We ended this leg of the tour with a stop at a drainage site from an active strip mine, where treated water is directed to nearby polluted streams which it dilutes almost to the point of potability. We got to test this first-hand by samplING the water from the plant, from the polluted stream and from down-stream where they had mixed. The pH from the mixture was almost as high as that from the plant, about twice that from the polluted stream and actually higher than a sample of Bryn Mawr tap water. (We were grateful we had soft drinks with us.)

After our ample, tasty and child-free picnic lunch (thanks to the Provost), we drove to McAdoo to see the happier side of modern coal-mining, a co-generation steam plant. Low grade ore ("culm") left over from the old mines and piled into large bare hills on the horizon is brought to a co-generation plant where it is crushed and burned to produce steam and ash. We also viewed a partially filled-in strip mine, where not only are trees and grass beginning to grow but the neighbors report deer and coyotes.

The drive home took us though several mining towns with their distinctive rows of housing as well as the quaint town of Jim Thorpe, which once housed more millionaires than Philadelphia.

For larger pictures of the group, press here and here. We may further pictures, if we can expedite the scanning process.

Posted May 23, 2003