IL Coal

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THE ROMANCE OF SOUTHERN ILLINOIS COAL

 

When we throw a shovelful of coal into the fumace, few of us realize that we are handling a product that had its beginnings millions of years ago when the surface of the earth was largely covered by bodies of water and swamp land. There was a luxurious growth of carboniferous plants - giant ferns, trees and shrubs and the air swarmed with insects of various kinds, while mammoth beasts and reptiles inhabited the waters and land.

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In the coal mines of France, there have been found in the strata of coal and rock the fossils of many of these species in a splendid state of preservation. These fossils included flies, grasshoppers, roaches, spiders, locusts, dragon flies - some of which measured two feet from wing tip to wing tip.

It has been estimated that the original amount of coal deposits in the United States exceeded three trillion tons. Of this amount, the original coal deposits in Illinois alone were placed at 18 billion tons. Illinois ranks second only to Pennsylvania in that respect. The first discovery of coal in the  U. S. was made in the latter part of the l7th century by explorer Father Hennepin at Ottawa, Illinois.

In the early days of mining, for every ton of coal mined, there was about one and a half ton of coal wasted or left in the mines as supporting pillars. Modern methods of mining and improved equipment have greatly reduced this percentage.

One of the greatest obstacles to mining coal is the great amount of water that collects in the mine which has to be continually pumped out. In Illinois alone, more than a billion gallons of water are pumped out of the bituminous mines annually. A general average figures about fifteen tons of water pumped for every ton of coal mined.

Every year the shafts of the mines must be sunk deeper and deeper, as the more accessible veins of coal are worked and exhausted. Pumps for the work cost thousands of dollars each, so there is an enormous investment in this equipment alone. A large force of men, besides those actually employed in mining coal, must be always available to keep mine machinery and equipment in repair as mining operations cannot be interfered with, except in cases of great emergency. Since the mining is done during the day, repairs are carried out at night and on Sunday. The water from the mines has such high mineral content that it cannot be used in the boilers at the collieries.

A large ocean liner, in making a record trip across the Atlantic, used 4,725 tons of coal, enough to keep 945 families in fuel for an entire year. In a single year, one great steamship company paid seven million dollars for the coal necessary to operate its fleet of steamships, or 50 percent more than it paid for provisions for crews and passengers.

Coal was first brought to East St. Louis by the 12 mile long Pittsburg Railroad. In 1875 coal could be delivered to any pin of East St. Louis on a railroad track for six cents a bushel. Manufacturers could buy in bulk at $1.50 per ton.

Coal is not only useful as a household fuel, and in manufacturing, but it has a number of valuable by-products. Here is what one ton of bituminous (soft) southern Illinois coal will yield: 1500 pounds of coke; 20 gallons of ammonia water; 140 pounds of coal tar. Coal tar, by distillation, will yield 70 pounds of pitch, 17 pounds of creosote, 14 pounds of heavy oils, 9.5 pounds of naphtha yellow, 6.3 pounds of naphthalene, 4.75 pounds naphthol, 2.25 pounds alazarin, 2.4 pounds solvent naphtha, 1.5 pounds phenol, 1.2 pounds aurine, 1.1 pounds anthracite and 0.9 pounds touline.

From touline is obtained the substance known as saccharine, produced by the Monsanto plant near Cahokia. Saccharine is 230 times sweeter than sugar. Saccharine is used for medicinal purposes and in the manufacture of confections.

Southern Illinois coal has a high sulfur content and in 1951 St. Louis passed an ordinance banning its use and required hard anthracite coal from Pennsylvania to be burned instead. Pocahontas coal is a bituminous product that produces high heat and little ash.

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Like coke, it should always be fired damp as this produces a hotter fire and keeps down the coal dust. In estimating the fuel requirements for the average home, experts generally figure one ton per room per season plus an extra ton per house. So, on this basis a five room house would ordinarily require six tons of coal a season.

Most of the towns along the bluffs near East St. Louis owed much of their prosperity to the coal mine industry. Glen Carbon, which means "coal valley," was founded in the 1890s for the specific purpose of supplying St. Louis and East St.Louis with the coal they needed for homes and industry. The Glen Carbon area is so heavily mined, the subterranean landscape is honeycombed with mines that eventually played out. A vast majority of homeowners there now carry mine subsidence insurance. The state police station in Maryville (near Routes 159 & 270) had to be abandoned some years ago due to subsidence problems.

140-ue.tif (55214 bytes) The artificial gas industry in East St. Louis dates back to 1865 when the East St. Louis Gas and Coke Company was chartered by the state. In 1907, the company was consolidated with Belleville Gas and Electric to form the St. Clair County Gas and Electric Company. By 1950 Illinois Power and Light Co. had their gas plant at 2060 Lynch and a regulating Station at 627 North 89th. Their offices were at 417 East Missouri. Union Electric, which generated its electricity from burning coal at the Cahokia Power Plant, had their East St. Louis offices at #7 Collinsville Ave. (shown left), next to Southern Illinois Bank. They built a new office at 5th and Broadway 4 1957. For the most part, Illinois Power supplied the city with gas, and Union Electric took care of its electrical needs. In both cases, Southern Illinois coal was the source of fuel that was used.

The most common gas used in East St. Louis was coal gas. This was manufactured by placing coal in a superheated clay retort which was then closed to exclude air. The heated retort freed the volatile or gaseous matter contained in the coal. These gases were then carried through a series of pipes and appliances which condensed, washed, and scrubbed the crude gas, and by mechanical and chemical means removed the impurities from the product and made it ready for the 400 uses for which gas is applicable.

A second method was known as "carburretted" water gas. This gas is manufactured by passing steam through a bed of coal or coke in an incandescent state. The action of the hot fire on the stem passing through it decomposed the steam into hydrogen and oxygen. These gases were united with carbon gases from the fuel bed to create water gas. The mixture in that state had little illuminating value so it was then passed to another machine where it was mixed with an oil vapor. This whole mixture was then fixed into a permanent gas by contact with superheated fire brick. It was then scrubbed and cleaned in a similar manner as the coal gas. Water gas was often used to enrich coal gas, thereby giving it a greater illuminating value.

The distribution of gas from the storage holder was carried on through a system of about sixty miles of cast iron pipe of diameter varying from four to sixteen inches. The flow of gas through the mains is similar to the flow of water through pipes, but the pressure is much less, being about 1/9th of a pound per square inch. Wrought iron pipes were laid from the main to the consumer's cellar at no charge. Contrary to public opinion, gas meters, which measure the amount of use, are very accurate. They cannot register unless gas at that time is passing through it.

 

C. H. Quackenbush was president of the company in 1907 and wrote most of the material used in this article.

 

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