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Bob Williamson - Page 11

Thirty Years Man And Boy - When I started to write this account I did not consider who the readership might be

Chapter 22. Heat

I was finally accepted as an Ollerton marra (one of the lads) and was given a regular job as the 3s Main East Heading electrician.

We were working in the Parkgate seam, (a combination of the 1st and 2nd Piper seams of S Notts). The shafts went down to Dunsil in the sump and the pit bottom was inTop Hard.

In mining jargon, coal seams dip and strike, this means that they very rarely run level. The whole seam dipped by 20 degrees travelling east/west, with the strike of 10 degrees travelling north/south. In real terms it gave some operational problems but nothing that we couldn't handle. The deeper we went the hotter it got and with the East Headings the hottest area of the pit. This is probably why I ended up there!

It was not unusual to come across someone suffering from heat exhaustion, in a state of collapse. It tended to be strangers to the area or haulage lads who came from the cold; it was our misfortune to be acclimatised. The immediate treatment was to try to cool them down slowly with water poured over their heads, and then get them to the main intake airway. Next get hold of the paddy and alert the medical centre of an incoming patient.

Humidity in the headings was nearly 100% with the temperature at around 35 degrees C. They supplied salt crystals for our water bottles and I personally carried 4 litres of water. Even that was barely enough and it had to be eked out throughout the shift.

It was an unwritten rule that nobody touched your water; it could be your life on the line.

We got stripped for work and just wore Y - Fronts to keep the tackle from swinging about, it was only a strip of cotton but it gave the impression of protection. High leg pit boots completed the ensemble but it wasn't a fashion parade it was necessity

Then to work and the sweat just poured out of us; it ran down our chests and our backs to soak the Y -Fronts. It ran down our legs and filled our boots so that we squelched about. It ran into our eyes and all the airborne dust stuck. They paid us well but when I think back on what we did, it wasn't enough. They damn near killed us!

From where the loco paddy train stopped it was a mile down each heading. So if you were down one heading and they wanted you in the other heading it meant a two-mile walk. If you have been underground, you will know how rough it is underfoot, with tool bag, test meter and lunch bag, the gait was more of a staggering, stumble.

After thirty years of walking in the dark, with just a cap lamp to keep you company, you just keep loose limbed and go with the flow.

Wearing a cap lamp is an art form all of its own. Wherever you look you have light but it's considered an insult to dazzle workmates. Goodness knows how the old miners managed with just the flame from a Davy safety lamp.

I found the best way to deal with the job was to wait at the top of the headings, in the cross cut, until they had both started up. Then it was up to me how to spend my time. I used to like to keep busy and time would quickly pass.

This was a rather lonely phase in my working life because it was so remote that hardly anyone came down to see me.

Both headings had conveyor belts installed and although they weren't official manriding belts we rode them just the same. Getting off with all your gear took a good deal of practice; it was all in the timing.

Then it was over; we had fought our way to 19s loader gate junction. It took us 18 months of hard grind and we were flooded out twice when the pumps failed.

We ran the Dosco Roadheaders into the end of the headings and bricked them up. They were on hire from Dosco and when the firm saw their condition they didn't want them back.

They had almost finished a new, state of the art Roadheader and it fell to us to turn right and cut up the mile and a quarter that was to be 19s-loader gate, retreat coalface.

For this job they chose the best - Arthur Jackson's hard rock headers.

With me, the electrician of the bunch.

Chapter 23. 19s The Road To Hell

19s must have been the brainchild of a nutcase because it was going into faulted ground. The geologists insisted that roof bolting was the way forward, we knew better.

Anyway we had to have a go. At the pre start-up meetings it was explained that if we could roof bolt 19s Loader Gate Heading, we could roof bolt anywhere. What wasn't made clear was what to do when we found roof bolting a serious problem.

They developed a new 38 ton road header at Dosco and sent me to the factory for a week to have a look around it. It certainly was an awesome beast, laser controlled with CCTV monitors and two operators.

It was loaded up and needed a police escort it was so huge, when they came to move it. Then we had to strip it down to little pieces, to get the thing underground. Hopefully we had got all the bits to reassemble the machine.

When the time came to power it up, it fell to me to give life to my 38 ton beast.

The management were on hand as were the Dosco bosses to see it at work. Ten minutes in the sweatbox was enough for them and in the year that it took us to cut the roadway we never saw them again.

When it broke down, the best brains from the factory were often foxed and when I came on shift I would put my hands on the control covers and I would get a feeling where to look for the fault. Minutes later the head would be spinning and we would be away.

Time after time it happened that way, it could have been broken down for two shifts and in ten minutes I would have her running again.

I must just add that no one ever actually saw me putting my hands on the machine covers; if they had I would have been thought of as nuts. But then you had to be nuts to work on 19s.

Roof bolting was a system where a 10 feet long hole was drilled into the roof using a Wombat machine. Epoxy resin capsules were then inserted into the hole, followed by a ten foot threaded rod the roof bolt, and the whole lot was spun mixing the resin. When the resin went off the roof was supported, in theory. Fine with good strata, it was just lethal here.

Who were these superhuman guys who were going to cut and bolt a mile and a quarter?

Jacko's super hard rock headers - that's who!