Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

January 4, 2007

Mines on the Interurban to Mystic

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the last couple of weeks, I have described the route of the Interurban Railroad to Mystic in detail. Several large coal companies took advantage of this railroad and dug their mines along the route. They were Sunshine Mine No. 2 (1917-42), McConville Mine No. 2 (1920-46) and Sunshine Mine No. 3 (1931-57). They were all very large mines. All these mines were along the railroad, exactly 1 1/2 miles north of Hwy. No. 2.

I have previously told you about Sunshine No. 1 (1906-45) at the Pale Moon corner. Sunshine Mine No. 2 was first called the Sterling mine. It was just east of Brazil, one mile west of the Mystic road T-14. It was a shaft mine, nearly 100 feet deep and was built in 1917, and 195 acres were mined. At various times both mining machines and pick work were used. The tipple was equipped with screens to size the coal. In 1925 the royalty was five cents for the first 60,000 tons and six cents for the excess.

In 1919 Frank Atchinson, age 55, died of heart trouble in Sunshine No. 2 mine while walking in the undergound system. John “Cap” Buban was hit on the head by a piece of falling slate in the Sterling mine and was unconscious in the hospital for three days. Upon awakening, his first act was to spit our a piece of tobacco chew which he had in his mouth the entire time. The mine was closed in 1942.

Sunshine No. 3 was one mile due east of Sunshine No. 2 or one mile east of Hwy. T-14 on Bill Van Zante land. It was called the New Sterling Mine. It was in operation from 1931 to 1957. It had a 125 foot shaft and mined a huge area of 400 acres. J.R. Hamm was the President of the Sunshine Coal Co. At one time, some 125 miners worked underground, and they extracted and hoisted 700 tons of coal daily from this mine.

In 1936 Clarence Arnaman, 42 years of age, was killed instantly by electrocution from a machine while handling a 220 volt cable, He was head man and the two other workers were Victor and Eddie Blazovich.

The large, modern Sunshine mines that operated well into the 1940’s and 1950’s utilized some of the latest techniques. In addition to electric powered mining machines to undercut the coal, blasting was more common to help bring down the coal. In preparing his “shots”, he would bore deep holes with an auger to accept a large amount of powder. The shot would be inspected by a shot examiner to certify that the shots were properly placed. The miner then inserted the blasting powder and placed fuses at the front. He used dirt to seal the openings and direct the main force of the explosion back into the coal seam. In early days, the miners fired their own shots, about three per day. Later a special shot firer was used for this dangerous work.

Of all the mining operations, this required the greatest skill. The miner had to be knowledgeable about the composition of the coal seam, the drilling process and the use of blasting powder. Proper placement of the shots was critical. If the blast was too great, it blew coal all over the room and might dislodge some of the props.

Some of the other positions needed to keep a large mine running smoothly were the timbermen, the track layers, wiremen, mule drivers, the hoisting engineer, the check weighman, and finally the mine foreman.

As the miners worked ever more deeply into the mine, the support system had to be extended to the outermost locations. The trackmen followed the timbermen and extended the rails to the coal faces. Whenever there was a turnoff, they had to install switches. They also had to keep extending the track. The wiremen constantly extended the electricity for the mining machines. Doors had to be built to the various, new air shafts.

Some of the excursions on the Interurban could get pretty exciting when the train was in is heyday. On one fine day in 1922 when the train was tootling along the track north of Centerville, the railroad men were observing a herd of unruly cattle milling about in a peculiar way in a pasture not far from the track. As they watched, the cattle suddenly parted and disclosed a huge bull down on his knees with his head boring toward the ground. A train man named Bandfield cried “Look, A man is down”. With that, Dewhurst applied the air and brought the train to a dead stop. Bandfield grabbed his coal pick, leaped from the cab, hurdled a fence and ran to the aid of the 35 year-old man.

Bartledd, the unfortunate man on the ground, had his arms locked about the bull’s head to keep from being fatally gored. As the animal raised his head, Bartledd was lifted from the ground. The beast ran, clawed Bartledd with a sharp hoof at every step, then stopped. He twisted and shook furiously to loosen his victim and pinned the man to the ground with his head. Bartledd’s clothes were in shreds, and blood was streaming from his mouth and nose. His strength was growing weaker.

When Bandfield arrived at the wounded man’s side the bull stopped his attack and looked at the newcomer. The beast had become so enraged that his eyes were purple. “Shall I kill him?” Bandfield asked, taking advantage of the pause. “Yes” the almost exhausted man replied.

Bandfield struck the bull between the eyes with his coal pick. Bartledd loosened his grip, and the animal backed off a short distance, where he sank to his knees. Bandfield picked up the injured man and started toward the fence. He had gone only a few steps when the bull charged again. Bandfield turned and stopped the attack with a heavy blow across the animal’s nose. Bartledd was taken to the side of the engine where his injuries were examined. Several ribs were broken, but at his request he was left by the track. He told the crew that he had been fighting against the attack of the bull for 30 minutes and could not have lasted more than five minutes longer.