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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 8 (January 15, 1927)

The Romance of Coal

page 33

The Romance of Coal

Coal has its romance. Not always was the essential thing the cost per ton. Its romance goes back into the dateless past, and began when the world was in its youth. Astronomy tells us that the earth on which we reside was once “a roaring mass of shapeless flame.” Cycles of ages pass. In bulk it has greatly diminished and its various elements have so far cooled, that on its surface have gathered here and there masses of granite rocks, and the waters of oceans “hustling and foaming.”

Another cycle of ages passes. The ocean has been upheaved from its bed again and again. Billow and blast have ground into dust and pebble case-tempered granite, and now piled tier upon tier, stand gigantic the stratified rocks, gneiss, slate, hornblende and limestone, looking down into the flood, into which are rushing their ruins in dust or in block, the ground of a new and better foundation.

So far it is a lifeless world. Now seaweeds begin to appear in the ocean. Its waters swarm with coral, molluscs, crustacea, and strangely armoured fish. Flower plants and even trees begin to appear on land. But the earthquake, the volcano, the hurricane, and the flood are at work again. The ocean floor is elevated into wide plateau or marshy expanse only to again descend into the depths.

Then comes the age of forest jungles and vegetable wildernesses. It is the era of the great forests from which the coal measures have developed. Never before or since has our planet witnessed such a flora. From what are now the icy waste of the north, to the most distant lands of the south—co-extensive with the earth's
Patent tip-trucks, designed and manufactured by a Dannevirke firm, being transported by rail

Patent tip-trucks, designed and manufactured by a Dannevirke firm, being transported by rail

surface—stretched a mantle of vegetation. The enveloping cloud, the warm and steaming atmosphere, the carbon laden air, made the world like a vast hot house. “Wherever dry land, shallow lake or running stream appeared, a rank and luxuriant herbage cumbered every footbreadth of the dank and steaming soil.” Huge pines raised their heads more than a hundred feet above the ground. Tall tree ferns, reed-like calamites, and sculptured sigillaria made dusky and tangled forests. As far as is known, no animal lived among its shades. It was emphatically the period of plants. This is but the beginning. It is coal in the making.

Mighty changes take place. Continents disappear, now buried in the depths of the sea to be covered by sedimentary rocks now upheaved by the outbursting of central fires, to sink again and receive layers of chalk, sand and clay. Eras pass. New creatures flourish above; strange monster animals waddle across the land. The sea has new occupants and the air numerous birds of the bat family.

After long delay, man—the focal point of creation, the master type—arrives. Ere he stands upon the earth, his every need has been provided. Corn bearing grasses to sustain life, flowers to delight the eye, luscious fruit to gratify the taste, and not the least important of all, coal to pile high the winter fire, feed the furnaces, and drive a hundred thousand trains across the Continents.

Hidden in the lower parts of the earth for countless ages, convulsions twist its layers upward, and drive it from its deep recesses ready to his hand, the stored up sunlight of another age,—the fuel for a world. (To be continued.)