The following day I met Douggie, my minder, as arranged at the pit top. He escorted me about a mile inward to the main loader end. My first days work underground was to begin.
As I have previously described, the main loader end is where the whole of the pit conveyor system empties the coal into minecars. At this point the roadway is quite wide and well lit by overhead electric lights, wide enough for the two sets of engine tracks that are laid. Diesel engines, with their loaded mine cars, can pass other mine cars that are being filled. Higher up or lower down the main roadway from the loader end only a single track is laid.
The procedure at the loader end was:
Five minecars were loaded with coal and a further five empty cars are brought by a diesel. The empties would be left and the full cars hitched up and taken to the pit bottom.
A steel rope, which was fed over a series of pulleys, would be attached to the front mine car. At the other end of the rope was an electric ‘Tugger’ engine and the rope was attached to a drum on the engine. A switch decided which way the drum would rotate and a handle controlled the drums speed. With the switch upward and the handle drawn back the drum would rotate winding in the steel rope. The minecars would inch forward, and by slow skilled use of the rotating handle, the minecars could be adequately filled.
At the change over between cars, instead of stopping the conveyor, a metal sheet was placed between the cars. The coal filled steel sheet would be emptied and placed over the space between the next empty cars.
When the five cars were full the steel rope would be detached and by reversing the ‘tugger’ engine, the rope could be hand pulled back to be re-attached to the next five empty cars.
The engine driver would couple up to the full cars and push them forward to the single track ‘inbye’. The engine drivers mate would change over the track points, and they would then be hauled past the loader end to the pit bottom, ‘outbye’.
The process would be repeated many times during the shift.
The loader end was a two man job. At times it was nice and easy with not a lot of work to do. At other times when the coal was coming thick and fast, there was lots of spillage which had to be shovelled back into the cars. During the first and the last hour of the shift things could be quiet; it was at these times that the devil made use of idle hands
Out of the rock wall opposite the conveyor end, a large room had been excavated to house the electrical boxes and tugger engine; we called this room the dug-out. Makeshift seats had been built out of spare timbers covered with old conveyor belting. Different items of tools were also stored within the dug-out. When the coal was coming over the end thick and fast, both Douggie and I were on our feet all of the time, but when there was little to do, we sat in the dug-out probably reading a newspaper or comics.
Workers, management and other passers by would briefly stop to pass the time of day, or relay the current gossip of the day. Most of the time there was a light hearted mood at the loader end, tricks, jokes and/or ‘winding’ people up was the norm.
As I have stated, there were no toilets down Middleton Pit. Anyone who was ‘taken short’ or had to relieve himself, had to go into any convenient place. The resulting waste would then be thrown on to the nearest conveyor belt or mine car. For safety reasons it was strictly illegal to ride on the conveyor, but many men did. They jumped on to it then, because of the low height of the roadway, lay down full face forward. Many has been the time when men, coming from their place of work, have jumped on the belt and found themselves lying in someone’s human waste.