1s Loader Gate
This was to be my next place of work; this roadway contained three conveyor belts that transported coal from the coal face to the Main Intake Roadway, for this reason it was described as the loader gate, it also contained one bidirectional endless rope haulage system and the inbye end of the gate was supplied by a pit pony.
For a couple of weeks I was to work alongside Earny Worthington just to get to know the job, he was then moving on to work with the "Rope Staff" alongside his father of the same name. This left me on my own to transport vehicles in and out of 1s L/G although for a time I did get the odd man to work with me; I did work with the Haulage driver Tommy Harpham (nickname Pam) but firstly this was only when we clipped the vehicles to the haulage rope. After I had reached the inbye end of the haulage system Pam would then bring the pony in for me and then we would "gang" the materials to the inbye end of the gate; the materials would be unloaded or left there dependent on what time we had available. We could transport three full tubs or six empty on the rope haulage, but only one full or two empty with the pony; this meant we would have three separate runs inbye with the pony and often stayed overtime and still not complete our task. Some days (not very often) I would not take the pony out of the stables and occasionally the pony would be left tied up at the outbye end of the gate because we had not progressed our work far enough to use him, the pony was not left unattended as conveyor point attendant (Bill Ellis nicknamed Blonk) was present.
The haulage gear that Pam operated was a Pikrose, this was a common haulage engine used in various parts of the mine and could be easily adapted to be a direct haulage; this type of haulage gear operates by the vehicles pulling the rope off of the haulage drum by gravity and then on the return journey the haulage engine winds the rope onto a drum.
Safety was not too much of an issue as I remember; one afternoon my father's cousin came to our home to inform my father that his brother Richard Roebuck had been killed in an accident at Pleasely Colliery. Apparently he had been operating an unguarded pump in the pit bottom and somehow become entangled in one of the moving parts. The haulage that Pam operated in 1s Loader Gate like many others at Teversal was unguarded; the morning after my uncle's fatal accident the mechanical staff came around to fit guards to all of the Pikrose haulage gears and other machinery.
Not 1s loader gate, but is a good representation
Not 1s loader gate, but is a good representation
It was at the inbye end of 1s Loader Gate that I experienced my first fright of the roof “weighting”; I was about twenty metres from the coal face with the pony still attached to the front of the tub, when the face men came scurrying off the coal face and started to run outbye. They called on me to run and leave the pony where he was. I didn’t need any encouragement; the sound of the moving strata and the breaking cover boards (planks of wood placed over roof supports) was enough to put me to flight.
I returned later when the face men told me it was safe to do so, my pony was unharmed, though the roof had lowered about nine inch’s with many broken cover boards sticking out like monsters teeth. I had received a superficial laceration about four inches long to my upper left arm to which one of the face men applied a bandage.
Later another haulage system was installed and this reduced the amount work for the pony to do though it did increase the workload for Pam and myself, it was at this time the deputy did get another man to “join the team”. This man Kevin Bestwick was a good chap to work with and we became good friends; Kevin used to love to hear ghost stories, listening intently with his eyes wide open, needless to say we did invent some fictitious ghostly characters to enhance our stories.
I remember when Kevin first started to work with us; he was a bit on the shy side and needless to say one of our many discussions turned to the subject of sex.
To be honest sex is on the top of the agenda for most young men; however Kevin was a bit shy and admitted that he would like to buy some condoms but had not the courage to do so, I volunteered myself to carry out this task for him. On the following Monday morning I met Kevin in the canteen and presented him with a packet of three and told him of the amount of money that he owed me.
To my surprise Kevin denied that he had asked me to make such a purchase and pushed the packet of condoms back over the table towards me: this made me angry and I started to remonstrate with Kevin. It was at this point that one of the other lads whispered in my ear and informed me that the chap sat at the side of Kevin was his father and that he was starting work at the colliery that morning. I can say that the condoms and the money for them changed hands later that day.
Before I move on I must comment on Pam and Blonk; these two chaps were always falling out with each other, often I would be drawn into the argument. It was at the outbye transfer point where Blonk worked that we left our coats, shirts and bag’s before going inbye, I can’t tell you how many times that we returned at the end of our shift to find everything nailed to the wooden chocks that supported the roadway junction. Very often the next day Blonk would leave the mine supporting a black eye or some other injury and Pam would leave the mine with a smile on his face. Rough justice but most satisfying, I will mention Blonk later.
Toilets were a rarity though some were provided but not often used as these were the smelly chemical type toilets often filthy by misuse; well Pam would do anything to earn some extra money and he volunteered to empty these toilets provided that he could get a Saturday shift to carry out this task. These toilets consisted of metal enclosure containing an oversize bucket with a plastic bag inside to catch any deposits, a board with a hole in it was provided for a seat. (No one would dare sit on one of these.) Pam’s task was collect these plastic bags and carry them out of the mine, like most men he would take a short cut to make his work lighter and instead of carrying these bags out he would tie the top of the bags up and run them out on the conveyor belt. One Saturday morning he was a bit late in stopping the conveyor belt and the full bags came to rest on an elevated section of the conveyor just out of his reach, he had no alternative but to stretch up and pull the bags off losing control as he did so. You can guess what happened next, one of the bags split open spilling its contents all over him, after this Pam carried the bags out and he did complain that when he got home that day his wife had cooked him sausages for dinner.
It was at this time whilst I was working with Pam that I met my future wife Christine; Christine had a bicycle that she loaned to me so that I could cycle to work along with Pam. I remember one day when we had just rounded the bend onto the pit lane when along came a bus and knocked both of us over the fence at the side of the road, I dare not print the obscenities that Pam made to the bus driver as he passed us on his way back from the mine.
Brit was my ponies’ name; he was a great horse to work with and he would pull his heart out for you, I could do anything with him. Often I would have to get him to climb onto the stationary conveyor belt at the inbye end of the gate; this was to permit the tubs to be pushed past him so that he could be brought outbye as there were insufficient room for him to walk by the parked vehicles. Every day I would buy a 4.5p (5p=1 old shilling) packet of Opal Fruits (sweets) for him, I would give him these for a treat along with a bag of fresh mown grass from home when available. You had to be careful where you left your “snap bag” (bag containing your food) though your snap would be in a snap tin safe from the pony or rats, any other consumable such as apples and oranges were at risk. Often when Brit was left at the outbye end of the gate, I would return to discover that he had chewed through my snap bag and my apple or orange (he preferred apples) had disappeared leaving only a wet stain behind, he also loved a pinch of aniseed flavoured snuff. It is not that Brit was hungry, every time that I took him out of the stables I would take a nosebag full of food for him; water was supplied via the Fire Hydrant.
Rats were a problem on this district; often I would be illegally riding a vehicle inbye or outbye using a piece of shot-firing cable as a set of reins to control Brit and I have seen as many as four rats running between Brits legs. I would kill as many rats as I could catch, it’s surprising to see how quickly the fleas leave the body of a dead rat and often I would suspend a dead rat over the conveyor belt where it was low in height so that the men illegally riding the conveyor out at the end of the shift would collide with them. If the men had known that it was me that was hanging the dead rats up, they would have skinned me alive.
One of the down sides with working with ponies was that after the annual holidays; those ponies that were lucky enough to get two weeks on the surface eating fresh moist grass suffered with flatulence for about a week afterwards and if you were the wrong side of the pony with the ventilation blowing towards you, you got it full in the face.
Eventually Brit succumbed to an infection to the hoofs caused by the filthy water that was abundant in 1s L/G, he was transferred to a dry district so that he could recover from this infection, I was sad to lose him, you do get attached to your regular pony and I did have a lot of affection for him no other pony could ever replace him. For a time I took a number of different ponies but finished up with a pony named Taffy; what a contrast, this pony had to be pushed, he wouldn’t step over a small piece of paper and he used to grunt like a pig. The only thing that Taffy liked to do was to roll in the dust at the end of the shift.
This part of the mine became very busy with a new development and another Loader Gate for 2s coal face using 1s L/G. One day whilst I was taking a run of vehicles inbye the haulage rope stopped then ran in reverse without me transmitting any signals for it to do so. I gave a signal for the haulage driver to stop which he did, then he ran the rope forward again without a signal from me. I couldn’t understand this so I crossed the signal wires (This causes the bell at the driver’s position to ring constantly) and jumped onto the conveyor belt to ride outbye to see what was happening. I discovered that a development deputy Edmund Bacon (the undermanager’s brother) had set another team to work on the haulage without my knowledge, this was highly dangerous and an argument ensued that resulted in me being sent out of the mine. I didn’t lose any pay over this incident; but it did result in a bitter hatred that I held for Edmund that lasted for years. I will mention Edmund later.
It’s about this time that the workforce was increased and my twin brother David who was ganging in another district came to work with me. Well I can tell you that this was going to cost me a lot of money; my twin brother (whom I loved dearly) and I were prone to squabbling, this often developed into none serious fighting, though to the onlooker it may not have appeared so. One day we had a disagreement that developed into one of our usual bouts of rolling around on the floor throwing the odd punch or two when a colliery overman (Cyril Wright) appeared on the scene. Needless to say he stopped our antics and ordered both of us to apologise to each other, David apologised to me and I being a bit of a plonker refused to apologise to him. The overman said to me “You’re due to start your coal face training on Monday aren’t you?” “Yes” I replied, “Well you won’t, the next man on the list will be” he said. I was devastated; I had been at the pit a year longer than the next man on the list and who was the next man on the list? You’ve guessed it MY BROTHER…
It was whilst I was working with my brother that I experienced an extremely painful though not serious accident. The conditions in 1s Loader Gate were awful; the sleepers beneath the rail track were rotten due to the water and often vehicles were derailed because the rail track often splayed out. The roadway was tight with no clearance for the passing vehicles; often the tubs would become staked (fast) on the roadway supports or the conveyor belt structure and this would stall the haulage rope. The haulage rope would slip on the drum of the haulage engine and to overcome this Pam would pull the slack rope to make it grip on the drum giving it more tension so that it would pull the load. This was an extremely dangerous practice as the release of any stored energy in the haulage rope could cause the load to swiftly move. If you can imagine stretching a piece of elastic and then releasing it you will note that it will move violently back to its shortest length, this is due to the stored energy in the elastic. You can imagine the amount of stored energy in a haulage rope some 600 metres long. One day we were taking three tubs of panzer chain (Chain for the face conveyor) inbye when they became derailed; there wasn’t any lifting gear available (there never was) so we did what was the normal practice at that time. We took the back clip off the rope, uncoupled the leading tub and placed some boards under the front wheels of the tub so as to lift it up and guide the tub back onto the track. We then got a short length of timber and staked it between the side of a roadway support and the front of the tub so that the tub would be pushed over into line with the track when it moved forward. We then gave Pam a special signal to move the haulage rope forward very slowly; Pam also understood that he was to pull out any slack rope from the haulage drum. I was stood about ten metres in front of the tub in the direction of travel; suddenly the stored energy in the rope was released as the rope slipped through the front clip and this caused the rope to bounce violently up and down. Unfortunately I was stood astride the rope and it struck me between the legs; I fell to the floor in agony and could see blood staining my trousers between the legs, David seeing what had happened stopped the rope and came to my assistance and then called for Albert Woodfield to bring the first aid box. I have to say that the injured part of my anatomy could not be bandaged with any success so the next best thing to do was to apply a triangular bandage in the form of a nappy. I walked out of the mine with bowed legs looking like a cowboy that had spent months in the saddle; the most embarrassing moment was when I entered the First Aid Room and Sister Harrison asked to look at my injury. I had suffered a laceration (skin flap) to the left side of my scrotum to which she applied antiseptic cream and lint dressing held in place with some Elastoplast tape.
One day my brother and I were redeployed to Waterloo 3s Loader Gate to take a run of supplies in. This loader gate had a ninety degree bend to the right as the coal face had to be shortened at the loader gate end of the face when the advancing face struck a “washout” in the coal seam. A washout is a geological feature where the coal suddenly disappears; it is thought that the coal would have been washed away by a river during its formation and is replaced sand, silt and clay. When a coal face strikes such a feature it is known as a “white wall”. The face had been shortened by about 90 metres and then the gate took another ninety degree bend to the left so that the face could be re-established and then continue production as normal and had advanced about two hundred metres. It was at this ninety degree bend in the gate where we was met by Albert Woodfield; Albert informed us that there was a problem with the conveyor belting turning over and doubling up on the “gear head” (The point where the conveyor belt passes around a roller at the point of delivery) and would require our assistance in getting the belt to run evenly. The source of the problem was in what is called the “loop take up” (Where the conveyor belt is tensioned up) one of the tensioning chains had slipped on the sprocket and was “Odd legging” (A term used when two chains that should run in sync over two different sprockets are out of sync causing one to be a different length to the other) causing the tension roller to run unevenly. To remedy this Albert told my brother and me to sprag the tension roller with two dicks whilst he slacked the chains off so he could equalise them on the sprockets. Both David and I warned Albert that this was too dangerous as the dicks would probably split; Albert ignored our concerns and instructed us to do what he said, so we did as we were told and spragged the return roller at each side with two pieces of wood. (Dicks as used in the pit bottom) When we had spragged the roller Albert slacked the chains off and then started to even the chains up; he had almost completed the task when there was a sudden bang when the dicks split and the chains snapped tight trapping and crushing the tip of Albert’s right index finger between the chain and the sprocket. Albert let out a scream of agony and snatched his hand out of the way severing the tip of his finger to the first joint as he did so; due to more luck than judgement the chain had dropped into the desired segment. This caused much amusement to David and I and we did try hard not to laugh, but it was a “Told you so” attitude that we had towards him. We did administer first aid to Albert and then phoned for Arthur (Barge) Wilcox the district deputy to inform him what had happened; Arthur arrived on site and recovered the severed portion of Albert’s finger, wrapped it in cotton wool and sent it out of the mine with Albert. Unfortunately the severed tip of Albert’s finger was too badly damaged to be re-attached.
After a couple of weeks working on Waterloo 3s Loader Gate we were deployed back to our normal place of work in Waterloo 1s Loader Gate, though I would have preferred to stay on 3s L/Gate as the working conditions was much better and cooler.
1s Loader gate was accessed via a cross measure drift (A roadway that starts at one level [coal seam] and ends at a different level) the gate drifted down from the Dunsil seam to the Waterloo seam about 30 feet below and dropped at about one in eight. When taking a run of vehicles down the drift, the man who attached the last or “back clip” to the rope walked in front of the vehicles and vice-versa when coming up the drift; if you put the front clip on to travel uphill you walked at the back of the run. This ensured that you put the clip on the rope as tight as possible and check that you were not overloading the set of vehicles, though this did not guarantee your safety as the condition of the haulage rope was questionable.