Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Ghost Trains through dangerous places


Stepping over the stickiest of yellow mud, I made my way to the wooden office and put on the miner's helmet and battery pack. The pack also had a box on the waist strap which - I was told - monitored gasses like carbon monoxide and methane. There was no canary.

This stone mine had been closed during the war for use as a bomb-dump (see above), then someone had the bright idea of digging four feet out of the floor rather than the exhausted walls. This not only provided tons of good quality stone, but also provided the head-room needed for modern equipment.

Down in the centre, we all switched off our headlights and experienced something close to total darkness, with only the spark of an occasional neutron from some distant galaxy, piercing our retinas on its way to Australia and beyond. Without a map or a guide, you would get lost down there and be compelled to eat your candle.

At each junction to a side passage, curtains of thick plastic had been put up to assist the air-flow from the giant fan on the surface. Shockingly, the silence was broken by the sound of a diesel engine heading in our direction at great speed, then - with a blast of a horn and a blaze of blinding light - a machine pushed its way through the curtain as we pressed ourselves against the narrow walls to get out of its way.

As suddenly as it had appeared, it disappeared again as it sped madly off into the darkness. It was just like the Ghost Trains of the old fairgrounds of my childhood, except this time I was on the outside.

The end of the tour involved climbing up a relatively shallow shaft, and our guide pointed out the blackened ceilings on our way. Anyone guess what caused the blackness? I answered 'torches', but it turned out to be gunpowder burns from when they used to blast the stone out - in the 17th century! These were the days before they sawed the stone up into neat blocks.

I once ordered some rare Chilmark stone. The quarry is/was right in the middle of RAF Chilmark, so you actually have to sign a copy of the Official Secrets Act if you visit it, then they give you a pass and you walk between the offices and bombs to the mouth of the mine. The RAF base could well have been there simply because of the mine, when they filled them with bombs. One third of all bombs dropped on Germany were stored in a small, disused mine a quarter of a mile from my present workshop.

At the entrance to the steep shaft, there is a series of warning signs - a couple on general safety, one for silica dust in the atmosphere, and one yellow and black classic warning of Radon gas. Everyone who works down there stays as white in the Summer as when they went down in the winter. This is not a healthy place to work.

There is one danger which they did not warn me about, and that is the little diesel train which pulls the stone to the surface. They day I went down, they started the train and took it half way up the shaft with my stone on it, then it lost traction on the wet rails and came hurtling down, out of control. The driver managed to jump clear before it hit the buffers, and I pressed myself against the wall as it passed me by inches.

I had to have the stone re-cut and went back another day to collect it. A small price to pay for staying alive.

14 comments:

  1. I just forgot that both Cranky and Be Sol Be have censorship facilities enabled on their blogs, and left comments. I will not go back to see if they approve or not.

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    1. Would I dare disapprove of you?

      I imagine you would prefer moderated comments to witnessing nastygrams from the ex, but I could be wrong. =D

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  2. An occupational hazard of these train trucks in mines I believe. Good thing you are thin.

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  3. You certainly end up in some funny places - but you are still alive after a close shave.

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  4. I am thinking of giving up this fucking blog.

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    1. I backtracked for a minute, and came back to to this, which I cannot put in context.
      Actually, I was thinking of the commonality of industrial accidents. A weaver friend quit the merchant marines because of an incident. The details were quite real to me when he explained it, but have grown weak twenty years later. He was an engine mechanic, and there were two maintaining the diesel engines on a trip. Something happened that necessitated someone going into a tank of diesel fuel to turn off a valve, or risk the explosion of the ship. They drew straws, he lost. His companion would not let him go because he was a family man and the other fellow was single. The other fellow donned the wet suit and went and and got the job done. But, John always blamed that incident on his friend dying of lung cancer a few scant years later.
      Or, I have a story of my dad going overboard on an ore boat in the Great Lakes...
      I suppose hazardous jobs are safer now days. There are huge salt mines under the Great Lakes, for instance, and men go down every day to mine salt. We don't hear dangerous industrial incidents from there. Our Appalachian coal mines, however--another story.
      Quit if you wish, but I will miss you.

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    2. Don't worry ..... You don't comment on my blog and I don't get my knickers in a twist ..... We still love you. XXXX

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    3. Oh dear ..... My comment pales into insignificance after Joanne's !!! XXXX

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    4. My comment was serious.

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    5. Maybe that's what Bush meant when he said that 'the world is a safer place', Joanne.

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  5. Tom, workers are canaries in many jobs. I guess it's always been this way, but why not have less dangerous jobs in the future? We are always hearing about change, change, change and so forth. Some changes are well overdue.

    Hoping you will continue blogging for a while longer, but also hoping you are finding time for the book.

    Best wishes.

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  6. But who will I learn little snippets of information about candlesticks from if you quit? (and I removed comment moderation from my blog and just like J you don't comment over there) - you'll miss the blog if you go I think.

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  7. I have moments of inor depression, and last night's was on the hottest of the year, preceded by a shipment of stuff from Canada which refuses to arrive, a shipment of mine to France which refuses to arrive, a shipment from England which refuses to arrive, and a telephone call from someone who has had a massive row with her step-father, arranging to come round and unburden herself about it for a few hours. Then I went to bed and slept....

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  8. As Joanne said, I would miss you.

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