In Pa., Pioneer Tunnel’s new tour to show inspection routine
ASHLAND, Pa. — A new tour to show how safety inspections are done each day has been created at the Pioneer Tunnel Coal Mine and Steam Train tourist attraction.
Called the “Pre-Shift Experience,” the walking tour goes into the mine in the morning before the regular tour with the mine train and cars begin.
The tours will be held three days a week — Monday, Wednesday and Friday — at 8 a.m. through the end of October, with the exception of Labor Day.
Certified mine foreman Brad Purcell of RD Sunbury will enter the mine for his official mandated inspection about 7:30 a.m. before the pre-shift experience since no one is allowed into the mine tunnel until an inspection is made, according to federal and state laws.
“He (Purcell) will show what he has to do when he does an inspection,” said Chastity Moran, Pioneer Tunnel business manager. “But the people on the tour will guide the questions with the tour. He will actually walk in with them. They won’t be taken in with the cars. That will be really authentic walking in. People will wear hard hats in the tunnel.”
Moran said that she has received requests from visitors asking about the possibility of adding something to the site that would be different, and an idea was made about showing people what is involved on a daily basis to ensure safety for all visitors. Purcell does the inspections five time a week, with another certified inspector for the other two days.
Pioneer Tunnel is a horizontal drift mine, with its level tunnel running 1,800 feet straight into the side of the Mahanoy Mountain. The pre-shift experience gives people an opportunity to learn how safe the mine really is.
According to the history of Pioneer Tunnel by Emil R. Ermert, one of the founders, the tunnel passes through six coal veins — Orchard, Primrose, Holmes, Mammoth, Seven Foot and Lykens Valley. The tunnel is about 10 feet wide at the rails and 7 feet high. The tunnel was an actual mining operation as part of the Bancroft Colliery. The tunnel got its name from a nearby mine called the Pioneer Colliery.
Before going inside with Purcell and his assistant, Joseph Kehoe of Ashland, the temperature difference between the outside and inside of the mine could be seen as condensed water vapor left the mine as a fog. The outside temp was in the mid-70s, while the tunnel air averages about 50 degrees.
“Typically when we come in in the morning, the foreman will go in to inspect the mine of various types of gases, for airflow, any kind of strange anomaly such as a loose timber or an odd rock lying on the ground. They would be inspected,” Kehoe said. “Airways are assured to be open, the tracks are stable. Pretty much any anomaly found will be noted and taken care in the morning before anybody enters the mine.”
The foreman will take anemometer and methanometer readings, Kehoe said.
“Back in the old days, you used a canary or a rat for those things,” Kehoe said. “We’re a little bit updated here at Pioneer Tunnel and have gravitated to the electronic devices.”
In the past, canaries and other warm-blooded animals were brought into the mine to detect carbon monoxide. They were used as an early warning signal for toxic gases. If a canary was showing the effects of those gases, the miners would evacuate the mine.
Kehoe said the mine inspections are basically governed by state law.
“We are governed by the state here because we’re not using explosives in the tunnel,” Kehoe said. “There are a number of different stations inside where the foreman signs off with the date, time and his initials to assure the job was completed.”
Safety is a tradition at the site because when it was an operating mine, there were no reported fatalities during its history.
On Friday, Purcell and Kehoe went through a typical daily inspection. Purcell walked along, checking the sides for loose rock and anything else that may be out of place.
“No one enters the mine until the foreman comes in and does his full check,” Kehoe said. “He is the only one who has a key to the door.”
Tickets must be purchased in advance at the Pioneer Tunnel website at www.pioneertunnel.com.