Eddie B. left the screens to go for his three weeks underground training and Johnny C. to do his sixteen weeks. I was promoted, if you can call it promotion, to the pit-bank. It was a less boring job than the screens but somehow, there was less opportunity to ‘muck around’. My job, with another worker, was to push the empty tubs on to the waiting cage, displacing the full tubs. Then the process was repeated with the next cage. Looking down the pit shaft no longer filled me with dread.
One Monday morning the bank foreman instructed me to report to the ‘wood yard’, where I was to stand in for the regular worker who was off sick. I was to work with Alan, an older collier. Our job was to load tubs and ‘Chariots’, with materials for transportation underground. Chariots were four wheeled bogies with open sides. The wood yard was the easiest job I’d had since starting at the pit. Provided Alan and I did the work, no one questioned us on what we were doing. Snap time was always well over an hour, sometimes two. Alan could tell a tale or two and I was fascinated by his underground reminiscences.
Each day we were given an order form, detailing what was needed down the pit. The wood yard contained all sizes of timber pit props. All roof props down Middleton Broom Colliery were timber; there were no steel ‘Dowty’ props at that time. The longest wood props were some ten feet in length and the shortest was only twenty one inches. When I looked at the smallest pit props and placed them end on it seemed impossible that anyone could work under such low conditions, but Alan confirmed coal face workers did. One time I even placed upright two one foot nine (54cms) pit props, Six Foot apart and then placed a ‘bar’, or a flat piece of timber, on top of them. I tried to imagine what it would be like to work in such cramped conditions. I seriously doubted if I would be man enough to endure such places. In later years I would work in such, and lower, conditions.
‘Bars’ were wooden planks to support the roof, usually with props at both ends and one in the middle. They were six foot (2m) long by six inches (15cms) wide and about 2 inches (5cms) thick.
‘Rings’ were steel H girder type supports, semi-circular with one end of the bend straightened out. Two rings were erected together with a steel ‘fishplate’ bolted to connect the them. They ranged from the shortest at six feet (2m) to fourteen footers (5m). Rings were transported down the mine on the Chariots.
I spent two enjoyable weeks in the wood-yard until the previous youth returned. My next job was back to the pit bank. Never mind, I had only two more weeks to do before I went for my Underground training.
Prior to the Coal Mines (Training) General Regulations Act of 1945, the only training given to a new worker would be what a boy learned from his father, big brother, uncle or such who took him below ground as a ‘helper’. On the First of January 1947 the coal mining industry was nationalised under the National Coal Board. They soon began to regulate and enforce the Coal Mines Training Act.