The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)
From … — Mine to Hearth — The Romance of Coal
The procedure of keeping the home fires burning seems simple to most people, for all they have to do is to dial the coal merchant's telephone number, or communicate with him in some other way, and within a short time the coal-shed is refilled.
Few people pause to think of the means by which their fuel has reached them, and fewer still realise that the means of getting coal to the nearest railway varies in different parts of the country.
A visit to the coal-producing areas of New Zealand soon convinces one about the important service performed by the railways, for, to transport coal, which is bulky and heavy, over any great distance by any other means than by rail makes the cost to great as to be uneconomic in almost all cases.
The writer was recently requested to get some photographs, of a West Coal coal mine situated at a place called Cascade Creek. Having used Cascade Coal for some time and having found it an excellent product, the prospect seemed quite alluring. Leaving the nearest town, Westport, in the morning, our way led along the coast for a few miles and then turned to climb the steep slope up to the township of Denniston. This little place is situated at the top of a mountain two thousand feet up and when seen from the flat for the first time presents an unforgettable picture. The morning sunlight is caught and reflected by the windows of houses which appear to be set, in a most precarious fashion, right on the top of an almost precipitous slope. One is reminded strongly of the Biblical quotation about “the city on top of a hill which cannot be hid.” The ascent is made up a road which zigzags up the steep slope and gives one a fine view of the coast southwards towards Westport, the famous Cape Foulwind—and further still on a clear day.
After Denniston is reached the way leads on to Burnett's Face, another coal-mining area with a rigorous climate. Proceeding further, the road becomes rougher, and a lower gear is engaged to traverse the bumpy surface which climbs and descends till it finally gives place to a narrow bush track. Leaving the car behind, this track is followed down a very steep gradient (difficult to negotiate in wet weather) until, at the bottom of the hill, we come upon a group of huts—the homes of the miners.
In order to obtain photographs of the exit of the fluming from the mine mouth it was necessary to straddle the sides of this “gutter”—one foot on each side—and proceed up it for several chains. With no previous experience in tight-rope walking, this new form of frog-puddling up a fluming with a foothold of about one inch wide, on each side, and heavy camera equipment balanced on one's back was something of an experience.
After shooting a monochrome and colour photograph the return journey was accomplished without accident.
It is possible, when the water has been turned off in the fluming, to walk down by this means through the seven miles of bush to the bins on the Buller Gorge. From here the railway, which will soon be completed to join up with the West Coast and Midland lines, carries the coal to Westport where it is shipped.
The average Westport schoolboy, as he strolls along the wharves on the waterfront, can tell where the coal trucks have come from. He can recognise the Cascade Creek coal because for the journey down the water fluming, the pieces must be small to start with, and on the way down they have all the corners chipped and worn off. The trucks that have come from Denniston have all passed down the steep incline and extra coal that was heaped up will have fallen off on that descent. If the coal is in larger lumps and is heaped higher on the trucks our schoolboy concludes that the bins were situated right by the railway siding and that the coal came from one of the mines to the north.
On the return trip from the Cascade mine we stop at Denniston to see trucks in operation on the famous incline, which is one mile in length and divided into two main sections. It is worked on the usual principal of the hill cable tram in which the full car travelling down the slope pulls the empty one up.
At the middle brake the trucks are halted on a small level and then recommence the journey down a less steep incline to meet the railway line in the Waimangaroa Valley.
The interior of the brakehouse is most interesting. The braking mechanism is operated by water piped down from a reservoir away up the hill. The huge
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