When Coal Was King
Industry, People and Challenges
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The Lamp House

Miners outside lamphouse, Hillcrest mines, Alberta, 1914The lamp man assigned each worker one of the most important devices to the miner. The lamp was not only used as a lighting instrument, but could be used to indicate potential dangers. The timekeeper gave him a brass tag inscribed with the same number—to carry as in-the-mine identification. A matching brass tag or check was put up on a nail above the miner's number on the check board. This system allowed the timekeeper to know who, exactly, was in the mine.

The lamps revealed the locations of the men who carried them. Lamps were returned at the end of each shift. If a peg remained uncovered (by a lamp) at the end of a shift, the fire boss would know—at a glance—that a missing lamp meant a missing man.

Miners' lamps, Crowsnest Museum.After every shift, the lamp man cleaned each lamp. It was an important job: a flame-type
safety lamp with a build-up of carbon could get hot, igniting the surrounding methane gas.

The use of flame-type safety lamps was closely controlled. Each lamp was locked to prevent its user from opening it—a situation that could prove to he deadly! Miners might be tempted to try to relight the lamp with a match rather than walk in the dark to a distant relighting station near the entry.

The electric safely lamp—in use by the 1920s-—was also kept locked. Why? Miners were tempted to speed up their coal production by opening the lamps and using them to "fire
shots" (detonate explosives) in the coal face without waiting for the fire boss.

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