Coal Mining Memory!

May 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm 2 comments

Today Andrea, Cory & I had an experience we will not forget for a very long time–we, together with a few Rotarians from RC of Gelsenkirchen, went some 1200+ meters under the earth (almost a mile under the ground) to visit a working coal mine!We started our visit with an informational video about the mining process, about RAG (the coal mining company who hosted us) and about safety procedures we needed to know before suiting up to experience a few hours in the life of a coal miner.

Make no mistaken this was not a museum–it was a working coal mine. I am amazed we were allowed to go into a fully working coal mine, under ground, right into the working area where they were cutting the coal!!

We first had to gear up which translated into stripping down to our altogether and donning men’s heavy cotton clothing (underwear out) before adding the safety equipment of work boots, shin guards, hard hats, safety glasses, lights, battery packs, and an emergency breathing device. Just getting ready was an experience that left me too warm. We took our “before photos” and then made our way to the transportation area.

We wedged ourselves into two metal baskets that descended at ~10 meters/second–apparently a speed similar to the rate a stone travels when dropped off a great height. I was too busy reminding myself that all education, even this type, was a meaningful experience to be appreciated so that I did not process the facts that the RAG employee was gleefully sharing. Had I taken the time to actually think about what I was doing, I might have taken them up on their offer to wait topside for the others to return from their experience (I had a good book in my backback just waiting to be read!).

The basket (cabin) doors opened into a large well lit (all things considered) cavern, one much larger than I had envisioned. The heat (~27C) together with the oppressive humidity (near 80%) was daunting, especially given the weight of the gear we were wearing.  There were monorail tracks, hydraulics, various structures, equipment, and a few men going about their business. And there was the noise. A steady metal clanging, similar to the noise made by a pile driver, created the ambiance, one that threatened to overwhelm had I not already inserted the ear plugs (more safety gear).We made our way to the monorail, a people moving transport system that moved the miners up the line towards the working face. We were ushered into metal oblong cars that were completely encased except for small metal gridded openings and waited for clearance to begin journey towards the active mining area. Waiting was difficult–it was dimly lit, hot, oppressively humid, and my mind wandered to thoughts of being stuck in these stifling metal coffins. Thankfully, once we were on the move, such dark thoughts were dispelled (at least for the moment!).

Once the monorail journey ended we faced a upward inclined trek that ran along the conveyor system that transported mined coal towards the surface. This was not an easy walk given the heat, the noise, and the unfamiliarity of the surroundings. As we got closer to the working planer/drill area we encountered the massive hydraulic shoring system that protected man and machine alike. It was enormous! I had been making my way along and over these hydraulics for a while before I realized that the system was there–these machines were holding the tunnel top (the overburden) from falling on man and machine (apparently it sustains over 400psi) and there was a steady line of these hydraulic robots that protected and moved along with the drilling machines. It was easier not thinking about mechanical failures, tons of earth above my head, etc. I was totally impressed (and more than a little grateful) for all those engineers and innovators who put this system into reality.

Once at the actual work face we stood in awe at the size of the machine that seemingly carved tons of stone and coal from the walls around us. It was very noisy. Hot. Dusty. And awesome. (Thankfully they shut production down for 30 minutes while we asked questions and just tried to take it all in.) This mine hauls tons and tons and tons of coal each day–the 12000 ton range springs to mind.

This type of deep underground mining is expensive, highly technical, and will disappear in Germany by 2018 due to complex political decisions made by the EU/Germany a few years ago. The loss of coal mining has hit this area very very hard, tens of thousands of families have moved out, housing markets have stagnated, and business people worry about the future. Once it is completely shut down, the economic impact will be significant to individuals and to the region alike. Thankfully the companies and business people are working at identifying a future that will work for them and the area.

The upward trip was much easier for me–it was still dark, still hot and noisy but I was looking forward to the trip up. When we arrived topside someone told me I looked hot–let me tell you that was not a compliment! I was soaked from the skin out, red faced, covered in black soot and my hair was plastered to my head. But I had a grin from ear to ear–I was topside again!





Entry filed under: Team Blog.

Medicos Gelsenkirchen Education Gelsenkirchen Style!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Rob Martin  |  May 31, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    Wow! What an awesome adventure! And you do look hot in the picture! One you’ll want to send to your school!

  • 2. billrobson1  |  May 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm

    Oh my goodness! Now that is one I NEVER would have done. It ranks worse than eating outdoors. I swore when I left school that I would never go underground. The last 4 or 5 generations of my family had been coal miners and I swore I would never do it and I never have. Good for you guys, what an adventure.


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