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Powering The Mines

by Todd Underwood

Steam Engines
In the early days and in small operations, simple mule and man power was used for everything. As technology advanced, and operations became larger, the steam engine was introduced. A

Steam Engine

steam engine consisted of a large boiler. The boiler (pictured here) was a very large cylindrical metal chamber in which steam was produced. Most boilers have either fire tubes or water tubes on the inside of the chamber. Either water was forced through these tubes (pictured below) and the rest of the chamber was filled with "fire" or water filled the chamber and the tubes were filled with the "fire". Wood, coal or coke was used to produce the "fire" or heat that was in turn used to turn the water to steam. From the boiler, the steam went to a cylinder much like a modern gasoline powered car's cylinders. Under pressure, steam forced its way into the cylinder depressing the piston. As the piston was depressed, it turned a crankshaft which could be used to power a hoist, air compressors or pumps.

Water(Hydro) Power
Wherever possible, water or hydro power was used. If the location of the milling site was near any kind of sizeable reliable moving water, a water wheel would be used to generate power. This water wheel would have many paddles on it and would be partially submerged in moving water. As the water flowed, it would cause the wheel to turn. The wheel was then connected to whatever was needed to be powered.

Diesel Engines
In the early 1900's, diesel engines began to replace steam engines because they could produce more horsepower using less space. Invented by a man named Rudolph Diesel in 1894,

Diesel Engine

the diesel engine was built on the idea that air could get hot enough from the pressure inside the cylinder to ignited the fuel. A diesel engine does not have a spark plug. It generates the heat needed to ignite its fuel entirely from the compression of air. To do this, the compression in each cylinder is about 3 times the amount found in a normal gasoline engine. Diesel engines were hard to start as these engines were placed in harsh and many times cold locations where mines were located. To counteract this problem, glow plugs were used. These are small plugs located in the cylinder that can be electronically heated up to ignite the fuel when the engine is cold. Diesel engines are still used today to produce power at mines.


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