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Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine & Steam Train June 21, 2010

by Chris Guenzler

I got up at the Comfort Inn in Bethel and went down to the lobby for breakfast. After a good meal, I did the corrections for my stories and uploaded them. I checked out and drove west on Interstate 78 to Exit 13 where I gassed up the rental car. I then drove north on PA 501 north over the Endless Hills to Interstate 81 which I took north to Exit 124 at Frackville. I then drove PA 61 to Ashland and followed the signs to the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine.

A Brief History

By 1828 bustling coal towns in Pennsylvania were filled with opportunists. Prospectors scarred the mountains with trail shafts and mine pits. When these filled with 30 or 40 feet of water, they dug new ones. Soon they discovered they could dig much further by tunneling straight into the mountains from a ravine or the foot of a hill. This became known as horizontal mining. The original Pioneer Colliery was operated in Mahanoy Mountain at Ashland in the late 19th century and gave the name to the Pioneer Tunnel. The Pioneer Tunnel was owned and operated the Philadelphia and Reading and Iron Company from 1911 to 1931. This mine echoed the grunts of gritty face miners, the crunch of pick against coal and the screech of overloaded iron wheels. Water dipped from the dank, heavy timbering overhead to mix with the sweat of straining mules. Oil torches and later carbide lamps flickered in the darkness, pointing bright fingers to the glistening rocks. And when the day was over, scores of tired, dirty eyes came out and squinted in the fading light. Electricity sparked the Anthracite Industry of the mine and huge motors pumped the water away. A trip into the mine today you will ride 1,800 feet into Mahonoy Mountain darkness on a mine motor to see the will glistening seams of coal like the miners saw back in their day. A mine guide will give you a complete tour of the Pioneer Coal Mine. Outside there is a steam train ride pulled by a 0-4-0 steam lokie that is only 23 feet long, 8 feet wide with 33 inch drivers. This type of engine was used in the strip mining that occurred in this area of Pennsylvania.

My Private Tour

I parked the car and went into the Business Office and met the staff. The man in charge of the Coal Mine then offered me a private tour of the Pioneer Coal Mine. Let's take the tour. I was given a jacket to wear before I went into the mine.

The opening to the Pioneer Coal Mine.

The mine engine which pushes the train into the Pioneer Coal Mine.

A sign about the Pioneer Coal Mine.

Looking into the Pioneer Coal Mine.

We head into the Pioneer Coal Mine.

Two views into the tunnel.

This is as far as the train takes you into the Pioneer Coal Mine. From here you are escorted deeper underground.

A look at the mine train.

One of the side tunnels.

Looking up a vent.

Looking up a chute.

A Petrified Tree.

There are fossils in the Pioneer Coal Mine.

Coal Cart.

A fault line in the Pioneer Coal Mine.

View of a tunnel. The supports don't hold up the mine. They are a warning feature in a coal mine. If they start to crack, then a cave in will occur. So if you hearing a cracking sound you get out before the cave in happens.

A telephone is the most important safety feature in a coal mine.

Diagrams of the Pioneer Coal Mine along with my guide.

Mules were used to haul the coal out of the Pioneer Coal Mine.

This is what a coal miner would look like doing his job.

A few tools of coal mining.

Two views of a coal miner.

View of the tunnel.

Looking up a coal chute.

Emergency ladders up to the surface.

Another view of a tunnel in the Pioneer Coal Mine.

More tools of the trade.

Another view inside the Pioneer Coal Mine.

The Wishing Well.

Young boys would help with loading the car.

The cars didn't have brakes so a piece of wood would be placed into the spokes of the wheel to stop the car in motion.

The Wishing Well as well as a tunnel in the Pioneer Coal Mine.

More tools of the coaling trade. Now we will start to exit the Pioneer Coal Mine.

The trip from deep inside the Pioneer Coal Mine to the outside world.

My guide has returned me to where we started.

A look back at the Pioneer Coal Mine.

One last picture looking into the Pioneer Coal Mine. I thanked my guide for his excellent private tour of the Pioneer Coal Mine. Now I will wait for my train ride here.

Click here for Part 2 of this story