By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent
The settlement of Marsdenville developed in Section 35 on the south side of Hwy. No. 2 on land owned by John C. Felkner. There were about 15 miners‚ homes just south of the highway and west of the railroad. The town was established by Pete Marsden, the operator of the Big Joe Mine there, and later the operator of Gladstone No. 2 in Jerome. A Post office was established briefly May 29, 1893 with John J. Stone postmaster
The Gladstone Coal Co. started out to be Big Joe Block Mine No. 1. Coal was mined commercially at least by 1897. It was a shaft mine of 80 feet. The tipple was on the west side of the tracks, on the south edge of the new village of Marsdenville, the home of all the workers for the mine.
During its operation, there was a tragic accident in the Big Joe. In 1905 Peter Gallows, an Austrian, was on the second landing, ready to step on the cage to go down. Someone called his attention to something else for a few minutes. While they were talking, the operator raised the cage to the first level. Visibility was very poor with the shaft a dense fog of steam. Gallows stepped off calmly to where he thought the cage was and fell to instant death a hundred feet below.
The Big Joe Mine became Harkes Mine No. 1 in 1910 and Gladstone Coal Co. Mine No. 1 in 1913 after which it was closed. There was a total area of 203 acres mined out between 1897 and 1913.
In 1939 a new 100-foot shaft was drilled on the north side of the highway just west of the tracks, and it was called the New Gladstone Coal Co. Mine. It had a separate slope entrance for the ponies to pull the coal cars out. Shetland ponies, shorter than other breeds, were used to pull the coal cars up the steep slope to the surface. It must have been a long, hard pull for the small ponies. The ponies were housed in a barn on the north side of the road, on the Paul Felkner farm for many years. This mine was in operation for a long time until 1971 and a total of 50 acres were mined. The town of about 25 families disappeared, and the homes were moved out.
Mining operations would usually be shut down during the summers when coal was not needed for heating of the homes. The miners had a hard time making a living with such part time work. The railroads gradually switched to diesel engines for locomotion and home heating was converted from coal to natural gas. The coal was of poor quality and mines could not compete commercially. It was also quite costly to get it out of the ground because the seam of coal was only about three and a half foot thick. Most of the later mines were truck mines for local markets. Mine after mine was closed throughout the first part of the 20th century.
The Gladstone Mine was the last to close in March, 1971 in conjunction with the reconstruction of Highway No. 2, including the modern railroad viaduct. The closing of the mine ended an era, not only in Appanoose County, but all over Iowa. The Gladstone Mine was the last pony mine operating in the country.
Before the mine was completely closed and sealed, Iowa State College in Ames came out and made a 23 minute videotape of the mine operation, including the ponies pulling a load of coal to the top and the trip mechanism to unload the coal. It is very dark in the mine in spite of the carbide lamps on the miners‚ caps and it is very difficult to take pictures. The ponies in the film happen to have a white blaze on the front of their faces which show up as soon as the ponies approach the surface daylight. This tape is now available for viewing at the Centerville museum.
Former workers in that last pony mine re-opened the mine and started the machinery long enough to make the film. They were people like Louie Noble, Charles Fox, Joe Bunyan and Frank (Chesco) Massa. The mine was owned by Wayne Arbogast of Numa.
The railroad was later called the Soo Line and is the only through railroad still operating in Appanoose County today. There is now a railroad underpass under Hwy. No. 2, so the railroad is hardly noticeable when traveling down the highway. The New Gladstone Mine is pictured here. I have a little correction to make concerning my article of last week. It was about John Buban, having been hit on the head by a piece of falling slate in the Sterling Mine (Sunshine No. 2) east of Brazil and was unconscious in the hospital for three days. Upon awakening, he spit out a piece of chew he‚d had in his mouth the entire time. I referred to Mr. Buban with the moniker, “Cat” Buban. His daughter Kathy called me and said I had it wrong, that he was really called “Cap” Buban. So I am glad to make the correction.