Friday, September 26, 2014

Land Scars (Tattoos) = Strip Coal Mining

(Update: I learned from a comment by William Oldani in a post that the accepted term for what I have been calling land scars is "tattoos." I can't fix all existing occurrences of "land scar" in this blog, but I will switch to using the accepted term in new notes.)

While researching the Gardner, Coal City, and Northern Railroad, I was reminded that coal used to be mined in northern Illinois. When I was studying the Morris Terminal RR, I noticed there were tattoos northeast of the Morris. I now believe they were the result of strip mining coal.

Shaft mining of coal began in the Grundy/Will County in the 1860s and grew because the Chicago based railroads were a big market for coal. In fact, some of the railroads bought land and operated their own mines. The last shaft mine was closed in 1954, but many had already closed in the1920s. (Kernc) In 1928, Northern Illinois Coal Company began strip mining. The following are pictures of the Marion Type 5560 shovel that was assembled in 1935 on site after its parts arrived at a railroad spur. It was the largest built at the time with a 32 cu yard capacity bucket. In the left picture, look at the man standing to the right of the base of the boom in front of the control cabin to get some scale.


The following illustrates the end of a dragline and another shovel that was used in the Coal City/Braidwood/Essex area.

By 1954 Peabody Coal Company owned most of the mining operations. In 1974, they discontinued mining in the Will County area and moved all of their operations to southern Illinois because the coal seams in northern Illinois were not competitive with the thicker seams in southern Illinois, because of a long history of violent union conflicts, because of the continued growth of the oil and natural gas industries, and because of the introduction of environmental legislation. The northern coal fields were not abandoned because they were played out. From the Goose Lake Area page we learn:
A circular prepared in 1985 by the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources defines deep mineable coal as 28 inches or more and having overburden depths of 150 feet or greater. Surface-mineable coal is 18 inches or more in thickness and having overburden not exceeding 150 feet. Grundy County still has 453 million tons of surface mineable coal, of which 51 million tons has high development potential. Deep mineable coal amounts to over 1000 times the surface mineable coal at 486,554 million tons. Grundy, Livingston, and LaSalle Counties have six billion tons of coal reserves. Peabody Coal Co. still owns approximately 1200 acres of land in Wauponsee Township with high development potential for surface mining. Goose Lake and Felix Townships still contain 18 million tons of surface mineable coal. When the thicker seams of Southern Illinois are mined out, attention may again turn to the resources that remain in the area. 
But I assume all Illinois coal has a high sulfur content, so I think the southern mines will also close before they are mined out. Currently Illinois coal is being shipped to China because Illinois burns coal from Wyoming. And that coal is being replaced by natural gas and wind power.

About two-thirds of Illinois is underlain by coal-bearing strata which belong to the Eastern Interior Basin of the Pennsylvania system. The deepest part of this basin is about 2,600 feet in Edwards County, Illinois. Grundy and Will counties are at the margin of the basin. That is why it is relatively close to the surface. In fact, the Illinois river cuts through some of the seams, which is why coal was first discovered in the 1600s in the United States near Ottawa, IL. That is almost a century before it was discovered in other places in this country such as Pennsylvania. (hinton-gen)

The following photos are from Goose Lake Area page with the captions on that page.

CCPLD: One of the last draglines in Goose Lake Township

CCPLD: Peabody's Krupp "Wheel"

CCPLD: One of eight crawler tracks of the "wheel"

CCPLD: Stripping shovel and coal loading shovel filling a truck

CCPLD: Marion dragline with 35 cubic yard bucket

CCPLD: Wilmington Coal Mining Company operation

CCPLD:Aerial view of the "Northern" tipple
And a lot more photos are available on the Coal City Public Library District's strip mining photo pages. For example, the one below illustrates the scars left by the mining operation. And page 2 has a picture of a car inside the 32 cubic yard bucket and near the bottom of that page is another view of the Krupp "wheel." Page 3 has pictures of the Marion 6360 mucker (overburden removal shovel) , which has a 185 cubic yard bucket. Near the bottom of page 6 are some pictures of a walking dragline.


Below is what the Coal City Area Club grounds looked like when it was mined out in 1955 and before it was converted to a recreational area.

I remember hearing that the hills and lakes in Four Lakes in Lisle, IL, were made by coal mining operations. But I have not been able to confirm that.

Now that I understand what I'm looking for, I believe that the areas with a bunch of squiggly lakes are former strip mines. This is reienforced by the satellite view because they are tree covered rather than farmland. And this is confirmed by the ILMINES after appropriate zooming and panning. The orange areas were strip mines.


Panning over to the Morris, IL, area confirms those tattoos are also from strip mining coal.


Update: Pyramid State Park illustrates how large the coal mines were in Southern Illinois. This park may contain the 16,000 acres donated by the Captain Mine, at one time the larges surface coal mine in the world. [lexyky]

In 1990 Illinois allocated nearly $10m to clean up abandoned mines. [niu]

History of Reclamation Research

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