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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 14, Issue 3 (June 1, 1939)

From … — Mine to Hearth — The Romance of Coal

page 15

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.

I wondered how it was possible to get the coal out of such an inaccessible and remote place, and upon enquiry, found that it was carried by water fluming for seven miles in the opposite direction through the bush. We continued the descent from the huts to the mine itself. Water was flumed from a nearby stream and under high pressure carried the coal from the mine on its downward journey through the bush
Stockton—a West Coast coalmining town 2,000 ft. above sea level.

Stockton—a West Coast coalmining town 2,000 ft. above sea level.

to the bins situated where Cascade Creek joins the Buller Gorge. The fluming itself is simply a rectangular wooden “gutter” about a foot to eighteen inches across, with wooden sides rising to a height of about one foot. This fluming has to be carefully built with relation to level, because the water in it must flow under the influence of gravity at a sufficient speed to carry the coal along. Sometimes it rests almost on the level of the ground, while at other times it has to be carried across other streams and gullies on high trestles.

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.

Returning to the huts of the miners one is impressed with their isolation. Being set at the bottom of a very steep gully the tiny settlement looses the sun early and the climate in winter must be quite severe. To convey supplies to the miners, an endless wire ropeway has been made from a convenient place a little way up the valley to the top where the road ends. This is so steep page 16
Coal fluming at Cascade Creek. By this fluming process the coal is carried seven miles through the bush to the railway in the Buller Gorge.

Coal fluming at Cascade Creek. By this fluming process the coal is carried seven miles through the bush to the railway in the Buller Gorge.

that to climb up, one has frequently to proceed on all fours, holding on with one's hands until a fresh foothold can be gained. At the end of the road there are several corrugated iron sheds which house motor cars, these providing the only means of contacting the outside world for these isolated miners.

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.

As we approach the top of the incline, a telephone bell tinkles and immediately
The rail terminal at the Mokihinui mines. The bins shown on the left are filled by trucks and those shown on the right, by fluming.

The rail terminal at the Mokihinui mines. The bins shown on the left are filled by trucks and those shown on the right, by fluming.

a full coal truck roars down with gathering speed, spilling off heaped up coal from its top. On the way down to the middle brake the truck must be slowed down and pass the empty one on a loopline as it makes its journey upwards. The speed of the trucks is governed by a brakeman working in a hydraulically controlled brakehouse, and much depends on his skill. The public are forbidden to ride on the trucks, but the miners, who descend the hill on their way home, clamber aboard the loaded wagons with hardly a moment's thought. The ride down, for the casual visitor, provides a real thrill for, in places, the speed is very fast—between forty and sixty miles an hour. Needless to say, on such a steep incline the thick wire rope, over half-a-mile in length, must have constant inspection and is discarded whenever the slightest wear is visible. It might also be pointed out that the trucks used on this incline are not the small coal trucks that come from the mine, but large railway wagons.

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

(Continued on page49.)