Lost and Found
This article originally appeared in Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine
Volume XXXV, Number 3 - Summer 2009
At one time a subsidiary owned by the Delaware and Hudson Railroad Company, the Hudson Coal Company employed ten thousand men at its fourteen mines and six breakers - structures of several stories in which anthracite was broken, sized, screened, and cleaned before being shipped to market - in northeastern Pennsylvania. Three-quarters of these employees worked underground. The company's Marvine Colliery, which occupied four hundred acres in Scranton, Lackawanna County, was one of the region's largest preparers of hard coal. By 1940, the Hudson Coal Company had installed 650 miles of underground track on which it operated 275 electric locomotives and also kept 1,100 mules in underground stables to pull cars when necessary. Deep below the surface, this system of narrow gauge railroad track enabled the miners to efficiently move great quantities of freshly mined coal.
Built in 1910 by the U.S. Department of Mines, the Experimental and Safety Research Coal Mines, located thirteen miles south of Pittsburgh, in Bruceton, Allegheny County, were designed to mimic the room-and-pillar mines common in the early twentieth-century western Pennsylvania mining district. Researchers used the installation to test safety equipment during and in the aftermath of simulated mine explosions. One of the facility's more unusual features was an underground oval track, or "race track," built 130 feet below the earth's surface and 1,050 feet from the mine's entrance. Constructed in 1919, the track simulated conditions in the Holland Tunnel, linking Manhattan and Jersey City. It allowed test cars to drive around the track while instruments recorded carbon monoxide levels, as well as "the effects of temperature, humidity, airflow rate, smoke, and exhaust gases on the drivers." The research conducted at the complex had broader implications for industry, municipalities, and the military.