The Model Coal Mine.


            Most of this is taken from an article that appeared in ‘The Model Engineer and Electrician’ on January 29th 1925.


            One of the attractions in the Mining Hall attached to the Coal Mine at the British Empire Exhibition in 1924 was a model coal mine measuring 14 ft by 8ft 6ins and about 8 ft high. This model was the work of a one time colliery worker, then working on the railways, William Phelps of Treherbert South Wales. Phelps was a man without training in engineering or mechanical work, without a workshop such as a model engineer usually considers necessary, and without the capital to purchase the parts of the model, which are so frequently obtained ready made to save time. It took 20 years of his spare time helped by his wife to make the model, and he was largely dependent upon the information he gathered from the pages of ‘The Model Engineer’ for the knowledge of how to make and use the tools and appliances which he found necessary in its production.



            Nearly the whole model was made from scrap material found in the various waste heaps which abound in coal mining districts. The electric bulbs, and motors which provide the power to produce the lifelike working motions of the men being almost the only parts which have been purchased.

            On two of its faces the model shows the surface works, buildings and operations, the other two faces are sections, showing at the surface the railway, pit head, fan, winding engine house and pumping engine, and beneath these the bottom of a shaft with sump etc., hauling and pumping appliances, and the working faces on the four seams of coal. One of these, the upper thin seam, has been added since the model came to London, and since the photograph was taken.

            The writer mentions a photograph, and in the article three of the four illustrations of the model are the same as the post cards that were on sale at the exhibition. No 4 Section of the underworking of the mine is different from the post card although it shows the same view of the model taken at a slightly different angle. This section also shows the tramways, wagons, stables, drifts and crosscuts, ventilation doors and brattice cloths, with horses and men at work.

            For those who have the four post cards which are numbered 1 to 4, the article describes the views in detail. These four cards do not have any mention of the British Empire Exhibition on them but so many are known with Wembley stamps and exhibition post marks and comments, that there is no doubt they were on sale at the exhibition. No. 1 Surface Section, shows on the extreme left the end of the engine winding house, exhaust fan house and pit head which can be seen to better advantage on card No. 3. The pit head frame made of iron of various sections, riveted together and stayed with lattice work cross pieces, as is the modern practice. The ladder to the top where there are two large pulleys over which the winding ropes travel when hoisting or lowering the cages carrying the men or the coal trucks up and down the shaft. The engine house is seen with one side wall broken open to show the massive winding engine and the model men operating it.



            The sheds at the pit head, with weighing appliances, turntables etc., over which the full trucks pass, returning when emptied to the shaft for their next journey. These wagons or trucks are pushed by little models of men, who walk along, putting one leg before the other in the most natural manner. Then we see a party of men with their safety lamps ready to go down the mine. Coming down the stairway with its protective rails we come to the lowest level we find the railway with a tank engine and four loaded wagons ready to be shunted off. It will be noted that the railway wagons have the initials of their owner ‘W. P.’ painted on their sides in the authodox fashion. There are in this section 16 models of men 10 of them carrying safety lamps. Also the skew bridge is properly finished off with the date of its opening, 1922 cut in the stonework.


            View or card No. 2 shows the surface with many of the buildings, machines, appliances, etc., which one finds at a colliery, this time on four levels, so that a greater number and variety can be shown than would be the case if it was all on one level. On the left side we see the skew bridge or tunnel from the No. 1 coal face. Just outside where the two sets of rails join the main line, the points being well shown. Here again we have a ‘Pecket’ locomotive and loaded coal wagons. On the extreme left are two tip-over screens, worked most naturally by five of the model men, receiving the coal from two of the tram wagons, seen in view No. 1 as brought from the pit head, and discharging direct into the railway wagons marked ‘W. P., Model Collieries, Treherbert, with their regular number, and Load 10 tons, Tare 5-10-0’ nothing seems to have been over looked. On the right side in a shed a further six wagons are waiting their turn to be loaded up.



            The next level is full of life, next to the screening plant already mentioned is four boilers with their furnaces supplying steam for the winding engine and other stationary engines, and behind them the tall round red brick chimney carrying the legend ‘W. P. 1922’. At these furnaces are three model men, one the engineer-in-charge, another raking one of the fires, and the third busy stoking, all the men are in motion. Next to the furnaces is the lamp room. The lamps are being prepared for issue to the men, and some of them are alight to show that they are all in order. Two other men are sitting outside the lamp room with their lamps alight, and from the motions of their heads are having a good ‘mag’ before going down. Next is the smithy, without which no mine could carry on, the fire is alight with one man holding a piece of iron in it and the smith and striker are at work at the anvil. In the engineer’s shop inside which several men are seen working, one at a treadle lathe and another working a ratchet drill. Adjoining this is the woodworking shop, outside the workshop are two men one turning a large grindstone, and the other carefully grinding an axe on it. and another man sawing a plank. Another man is planing up some wood. The action of this man should be watched as the movements are very natural. The whole of the body swings from the feet, and the arms working from the shoulders have the elbows dropped at each return stroke. The action has been caught perfectly. Further along a man is seen continually shovelling mortar into a mortar pan driven by a stationary engine.




            On the third level are three buildings, in one are two high speed generators with their workmen attending them, next is the ‘Pay Office’ with some 14 to 16 men waiting for the office to open. Then there is another battery of four horizontal boilers with their workmen at work as usual. The chimney is again a round brick one but this time built of white bricks, both chimneys are protected by lightening conductors. On the top level is another chimney taller than the others and square built, more slender than the round ones. There is a locomotive, wagons and sheds, but this will be dealt with in view No. 4 where it is seen to better advantage.

            View No. 3. Surface and Section Shaft. This is at the further end of the model and on the left is shown an end view of the screening and tipping shed mentioned before. Next is the winding engine house with a powerful horizontal engine used for winding the cage up and down the shaft. In this instance the pit head frame surmounted with the large pulleys is of plain ironwork without the lattice cross struts. In the shaft is a cage which has just been brought to the surface, and the whole place is lit by electric light. Below this is a section of the mine showing the rock formation and the bottom of the shaft with the excavations around it for the pumps, fans and other plant, and the entrances to the levels or drifts on either side. These will be seen to be bricked round as they have become permanent structures, and the bricking does away with the necessity of renewing the supports from time to time as would be the case if they were in timber. In the shaft there is a second cage which is at the bottom when the other is at the top. Along the front of the section is a line of tram rails along which one of the men is seen walking very naturally, one leg following the other in quite the correct style and without a limp pushing along one of the empty tram wagons, the bricked tunnel being cut away to show up the working. Some distance to the left of the shaft we find another excavated chamber on two levels where is seen the haulage engine drawing the trams by means of  wire ropes to and from the workings. Close by is one of the cubby-holes with seats and two men with lamps having a rest and an animated conversation.

            We come now to the fourth view, this is a section of the workings on the seams of coal underground. on the surface is a 4-4-2 locomotive hauling three loaded 10 ton coal wagons and a miners open passenger wagon. There is also a signal box, a footbridge over the line and several buildings, one of them an inn, the ‘Miners Arms’ and a number of tram wagons. At the right hand there is another engine house driving the ventilating fan which serves to ventilate the mine through the upcast shaft. Underground we are shown the workings on four seams. On the post card there are only three seams shown. The two lower seams are worked on the ‘independent stall’ system and the next one on the ‘Nottingham’ or open face system. In the model the top or fourth seam is a thin seam and is worked partly by manual labour and partly by machinery. On the lower seam are a number of model men at work getting coal and doing the many other jobs incidental to coal mining. The seam is shown partly cut away with a section of uncut coal between the galleries and the working face. There are also a number of blocks, consisting of timber props and boards filled with stones and rubbish from the workings. These blocks which the miners call ‘cogs’ or ‘chocks’ not only save the hauling and the winding of the waste, but enable it to be used to hold up the roof as the work advances, and thus again saves a lot of timber or other supports. The pit props will be seen in some places broken and bent by the pressure of the roof. All together on this seam there are 24 men mostly working and 22 lamps. Three of the men are sitting down having a snack, two of them energetically working their jaws to get down their bit of ‘grub’.



            In the second seam there is a six stall stable and five pit ponies with a stable man grooming one of them, and again about two dozen men with two out of sight although their lamps can be seen gleaming in the distance. It is not very difficult to get a man to walk along putting one foot in front of the other in a natural way when he has his hands on a tram wagon, but it is much more difficult to make the man stand up alone and walk along. The model men, in this respect seem just like children, they can walk when they are hanging on to something, but it is a different matter when they try to strike out on their own. The maker of the model Mr W. Phelps was at Wembley at the time the article was written and was crouched under the model adjusting one of the men to walk upright along the tramway track at this seam and a description is given. “He would walk along for a few inches, taking his steps quite nicely, then like a child when it feels itself falling, he would begin to run and then degenerate into a slide, with both legs dragging behind for a few inches until it was evident he had given up the idea of walking. Try again was not enough, it was try, try, try again, and it took nearly an hour before the man would walk properly.” When on display Mr Phelps is normally in his cubby hole under the model superintending the working of the various activities of the model.

            It is not surprising that it took twenty years to make the model, in all, there are nearly 200 figures in addition to the wagons, ponies, engines etc., and most of them are in motion. The power for the lights and motors comes from the local supply service at Wembley but Mr Phelps has his own dynamos and accumulators for use when necessary. The only criticism the writer was able to find was that while everything in the model was practically to scale, the heads of the men were larger in proportion to their bodies. He does concede that a good model maker is not necessarily a good sculptor.