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GalleryMemories of Teversal Colliery 1959 - 1980  (Page 9)

Malcolm Roebuck - Photo Gallery

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My next place of training would take place in Waterloo 3s Tail Gate Ripping. (Supply Gate)   Ripping is a method of advancing a roadway behind the coal face. Waterloo 3s Coal Face was machine cut and loaded by a double ended floor mounted trepanner, cutting a seam section of 42” leaving a 6” coal top for added support to the weak mudstone roof.  To advance the gate, the face supports were withdrawn from the section to be enlarged; the ripping lip (the roof of the seam in which the gate is being advanced) would have a number of shot hole’s bored, charged with explosives and fired.  The resulting debris would fall to the ground and block any access to the face, sometimes stopping the ventilation until a sufficient amount had been removed to restore the ventilation.  You then had to wait until the men in the gate had dressed the lip down of any loose stone before access to the face could be made, even then until the roadway supports were set there was a danger of loose stone falling.

The first task that I was assigned to was to put the gate low side pack on; there were not any conveyor to put any leftover debris on and all of it had to be packed into the waste, you could spend the whole shift just putting the pack on. Gate side packs were important as they did provide some support to the roadway by limiting the crush to the roadway as the face advanced this was due to the roof closing in on the gobbings.  It was in this location that I suffered my first injury on the coal face; it was at the end of the shift and I was collecting my tools when the accident occurred, a piece of the coal top shot out from over the top of a roof support and stuck me on the back of my head knocking my helmet off.  This knocked me dizzy for a short time and I suffered a small laceration to the back of my head; I was sweating profusely due to exertion and this caused the blood to flow more rapidly than it normally would.  As I gathered my senses I could see that the T shirt that I was wearing was soaked in blood; at this point two face men who were on their way out arrived and administered first aid, they were Don Jones and Alan (Pam) Harpham (My old workmate Pam’s son.)

I must admit I was furious over this accident; had it occurred earlier I would have got out of the mine before the end of shift, not only that I lost time by having to attend hospital for a couple of sutures to be inserted.  Now for the funny part; at that time I wore my hair in a DA style (Ducks Arse) at the back and would spend a great deal of time combing my hair just to get it right.  I had only had the sutures in for a couple of days when I was in front of the mirror combing my hair ready for a night out and I pulled the bloody things out with my comb.  

I did spend some time in the gate learning how to set the roadway supports (Rings) and carry out other associated tasks in the ripping.  The first job to do was remove the supports from the face of the ripping lip (the part to be advanced) and then dress down any loose stone; once this was done the face of the lip was bored ready for charging with explosives. The explosive used was Carrifrax made by Explosives and Chemical Products Ltd at Normanton Derbyshire.  When this explosive was detonated it produced masses of pinkish coloured smoke, this was a safety feature that would shroud the area in a non flammable gas so as not to ignite any methane that had not been located.  The only drawback with this explosive is that it gave you a blinding headache that would last for hours, often causing vomiting; this could be caused by breathing the fumes or just by handling the explosives.

I mentioned earlier that occasionally the debris could cut off the ventilation; the danger from this was that it allowed methane to gather at the highest point and as the face was advancing uphill, the highest point was in the roof of the ripping lip.  The chargeman ripper (Bimbo) would stand on the pile of debris to reach the roof so as to put temporary supports in position and unwittingly place his head in a pocket of methane; more than once he has been seen to faint and fall down due to the effects of breathing methane with insufficient oxygen content. Apparently this was a common occurrence as Bimbo wouldn’t test for gas; he would leave his flame safety lamp a safe distance from the lip and was too lazy to fetch it and instead of waiting for the ventilation to be restored he would rush forward to get on with his job. The shotfirer would test for gas after firing the shot, but it would be a short time after that before the methane built up.  I can’t recall Bimbos proper name, the other men in the ripping team were Frank Eureby, Alwyn Sinfield and Herbert who’s second name I don’t remember.  After I had completed my training in the ripping I was to spend twenty days doing my coal face familiarisation on Waterloo 3s coal face.

The coal face machine was a Double Ended Floor Mounted Trepanner that had seven cutting elements; a rotating drum at each end that trepanned the coal, an adjustable turret that cut the roof, two jibs that undercut the coal and floor and two side jibs that straightened up the face side of the seam. The “Trepanner” hauled its self in both directions on a haulage chain consisting what I believe was 18mm thick links. 

To the right is a photograph of an identical machine in action. 3s face was a bit of an oddity, the first half of the face was supported by “Dowty” hydraulic props (Dolly props was the nickname for these hydraulic props) and Groetschel bars, these bars were very heavy and had a male and female end to help when you are setting them to the roof. 

You had to travel on the face side of the armoured face conveyor behind the coal face machine under unsupported newly exposed roof; your mate on the other side of the conveyor who was under supported roof would pass the female end of the bar over to you and you would lift the bar to the roof.  Your mate would locate the male end of the bar into female end of a previously set bar and knock in a pin to connect them together and then a wedge that would lock the bar you was holding up to the roof and then you progressed to the next support to be set.

After you had set all of your bars you pushed the “panzer” (Armoured flexible conveyor) over towards the coal; the panzer or AFC is pushed over using a hydraulic ram that is powered by a hydraulic pump in the loader gate; the ram is set in a frame with an hinged attachment to a sprag that you lift up to the roof to obtain purchase for the ram to push against.  The ram is operated by a simple valve that can be set to push, pull and stop.  Then set your dolly props that you had to pump up by hand using a dolly key. Only alternate bars were set leaving one set of bars a little behind the others; this had to be done as the bars were too long for the depth of cut that the machine was taking and the bars that were behind the newly set bars have to be adjusted to compensate for this. 

As the bars are set in pairs, one of the Groetschel bars has to be withdrawn before any adjustment can be made; this is done by removing the back dolly prop, knocking out the wedge on the bar to be removed and then using a special hammer with a prong on it to knock out the coupling pin. There were three major drawbacks with this system; one was being exposed to unsupported roof and falling face coal, climbing over a moving face conveyor particularly when following the machine to the loader gate as there was a danger of falling or being knocked onto a moving conveyor and being dragged under the face machine.  The final one is breathing the dust that the machine produces; rubber dust masks were used but these were not adequate for the job, the filters soon got choked up and the rubber and sweat made your face sore often giving you a rash.

The top half of the coal face was supported by hydraulic chocks; I believe that this was a trial of a new system of coal face support; I don’t know the name of the company who made these chocks but I do believe it to be Dobson’s.  These chocks were a nightmare to operate; the hydraulic rams were powered by a hydraulic pump in the loader gate and whilst they were simple to use the connection between the ram and the AFC was too weak for the job and constantly broke.  The hydraulic pressure to push rams out or to pull them in was supplied via a wire armoured hose that run the full length of the face; any fluid that was being discharged from the ram was returned to the loader gate via another wire armoured hose and this hose often became trapped causing the hose to be blocked.  The “back” pressure would build up in this return hose and render the rams inoperable; they would operate only in the push mode even when you tried to operate them in the pull mode.  I remember when one of the face men Sam Steele was attempting to repair a broken connection turned the control handle to pull and the ram pushed out trapping his right knee due to the “back pressure”, fortunately Sam only suffered bruising, but this could have been much more serious.

These chocks came in two sections; one called the “Master” the other called the “Slave”, both had a separate base that had Dobson hydraulic props (dobbies) connected to them and a separate roof beam connected to the top of the dobby props.  The master was longer than the slave and had three props where the slave had only two; these props were hand operated by a dobby key similar to that of the dolly prop. To operate these you would push the panzer over to the coal and then lower the three dobby props in the master section; then pull the master up to the panzer and hand pump up the three dobby props one at a time.  This was done on each master and when all of these had been advanced, the slave section had to be advanced before the machine made its return cut. 

Billy Dawes

One of the main dangers that the men are exposed to when pushing the panzer over is the haulage chain; there is a tremendous strain put on this chain and it can move violently from one side to the other, many men have been injured due to this.  The whole of the face support system was changed over to Gullick five leg hydraulic chocks shortly after I had completed my face training; these were much easier to operate and made the working conditions much safer. 

I can remember an accident to Billy Dawes on 15s face in the Waterloo seam; caused when the haulage chain suddenly moved violently and stuck him on the head smashing his helmet and rendering him unconscious.  Billy Dawes was quite a character and in his younger days was an accomplished boxer, the relevance of which I will explain.  Billy had been unconscious for about forty minutes and as he was being stretchered out of the mine he suddenly came around and jumped off the stretcher and started to dance around like someone shadow boxing throwing punches, he had thought that he was back in the ring. I understand that it took quite an effort to calm him down and to bring him to his senses. I will tell you later of one of the stories that he once told a group of us.

The next photograph shows K8s coal face at Babbington Colliery equipped with the same type of Gullick five leg chock’s; it also shows the armoured flexible conveyor with the haulage chain on which the coal face machine pulls it’s self up and down the face.

The coal face had to be kept in line for a number of reasons; one was to prevent the panzer from creeping in either direction.  Should the supply gate end of the face be in front of the loader gate, the panzer would creep towards the loader gate and likewise if the loader gate was in front.  One way of controlling this creep was to take “fly cuts” (Hold back the face at one end or the other by not fully pushing the panzer over) occasionally dependant on the gradient of the face it would be necessary to keep one end of the face in front of the other. Another reason for keeping the face in line was to improve roof conditions; the roof was more prone to falls of ground if the panzer was not in line and I can tell you that cleaning up falls in the chock track (travelling route) was a nightmare, there was not any floor as such to shovel on due to the “relay bars” (these were floor attachments that connected the front and back of the chock together) and the rams that pushed over the panzer.

K8s coal face at Babbington Colliery equipped with Gullick five leg chock’s

At each end of the face was a hand filled section that was called the “Stable Hole”; this is where the machine was prepared and pushed over for the next cut.  The stable holes were advanced in front of the face by a team of four men; it was much like stinting except hydraulic props were used, first they would undercut the coal, bore and fire the shot holes, fill out the coal by hand and then timber up.  Additional to this task they had to prepare for the Trepaner to enter the stable hole; push it over for the next cut and when the Trepanner had left the stable hole the panzer had to be pushed over once again and then set the supports behind the panzer.  If my memory is correct the Supply gate Stable hole was about 16 metres in length, the workmen’s names were: David Roebuck, Jim Egan, Albert Elton and Eric Rowan.  The loader gate stable hole was almost identical to the one at the supply gate except; it was a few metres longer and at this end the coal was discharged onto another conveyor called a “stage loader” that carried the coal onto the gate conveyor and a few more operations were carried out at this end. The men in this stable hole were: Ken Jones, Cis Rogers, Bob Smith, Jeff Weston, David Whally, myself as a trainee and then as a workman.  I must point out that the workmen did change from time to time for a variety of reasons and some of the men changed the jobs they were doing for different locations on the face.

One of the jobs that I had to learn in the stable hole was to drive the Anderson Boyd 16 cutter; this was the same type of machine that was used to undercut the coal on the stint faces.  The first operation with this machine was to “jib in” that is to get the jib of the machine into the coal; this was done by locking the jib in line with the machine and driving the machine into the coal.  When the jib was completely into and under the coal; the jib would be pulled around till it was at a right angle with the machine and then the jib locked into position. The machine was now ready to undercut the seam for the full length of the stable hole. 

To do this a steel rope that is attached to a drum on the machine is run out and attached to the bottom of a steel bar that is staked into the roof at the opposite end of the stable hole; the machine is then started up and hauls itself towards the staker undercutting the coal as it do’s so.  The gummings are cleaned up by a man with a shovel so as to keep the undercut being filled up by the gummings being dragged back under the cut by the machine.  The stable hole is now ready to be bored and fired; the jib of the machine was often left under the coal to assist in filling the coal out after it had been fired, though this was considered to be a bad practice it was a common thing to do.

Above is a diagram of an AB 16 longwall cutter, the type used at Teversal Colliery.   
The adjacent photograph is of a similar type of machine in action at an American mine.


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