Career of Fred Caban at Stanford Main No. 2

(c. 1947-1958) 

by Fred Caban

Set riding

 One of the jobs I did in my early days was set* riding. This was a dangerous job. I would clip the ropes on and off and ride the sets to look after them. I would squat down on the buffers between the second and third skip. The wire ropes with 100 HP pulling on them would stretch like rubber bands. If a coupling broke close behind me, the skips I were on would very suddenly shoot forward like a shot from a shanghai. If the rope broke in front of me I would see a ball of fire at the break site and the skips would bang together. If a break occurred in the tail rope, there would be a ball of fire at the break and the shanghai effect would tear the roller supports from the roof. 

 I developed an uncanny sixth sense while working in the pit. When the skips banged together which would have surely smashed my hips, I would be off an instant before and saved. The same thing used to happen with roof falls and the many others dangers that happened in the pit. When I was about 17, I revelled in these near misses and if I didn’t just miss out nearly getting killed about twice a week it was getting too tame for me. By the time I got to 20, I thought, “I think I can do without these near misses.” By the time I got to 22, I felt quite sure I could do without them. This sixth sense stayed with me right through my career with the ambulance. 

Saving a winch driver

After earning my brownie points working around the shaft at the pit bottom I was given a cushy job of taking picks around to all the coal cutting machines in the mine. During some leisure time on this job I became very interested in the winches. One winch driver taught me how to drive it and was kind enough to let me take over at times. On one occasion I walked into a winch room in the north section. The winch driver was leaning over the winch with an oil can while it was running at full power. The power was transmitted by gears; one of which was about 6’ in diameter and the other about a foot. Ned’s trousers got caught in the gears. I got there just in time to throw the winch into reverse and jump on the brake. Had I not been competent with the winch, Ned would surely have been dragged through the gears with very tragic consequences. His trousers were torn off and shredded by the winch so he had to go out without any trousers and hope there were no magpies around. I might add that I would have been less than 17 at the time.

Scraper Loader

I did many and varied jobs in the pit, but for most of the time until I was caviled out I worked as a scraper loader operator. These were an early mechanical coal loading device which had ropes and pulleys and a 10 or a 15 I-IP motor. They dragged coal in a steel scoop up a ramp and dropped it into an empty skip underneath. Three men worked a scraper loader, one was the loader operator, one was the wheeler who pulled the full skips out to the flat with a horse and brought the empty ones back and one was the miner or “getter”. I was usually the miner. I drilled holes l 1/2"’ diameter and 8 ft or 9 ft deep into the coal face and blasted the coal out with blasting powder. I used 15 pounds of powder a day.

Grunching for a Joy Loader

Grunching was the term used for boring holes and blasting the coal out with powder. Joy loaders filled so much coal that coal could not be kept up to them by grunching so a coal cutting machine had to be used. It made a horizontal cut 6” wide across coal face. The cut enabled more coal to be produced more quickly and with less powder. In the north section the floor was soft and the cutter which ran on caterpillar tracks kept getting bogged. I was sent in to grunch one board so that the cutter could catch up. Luckily a cut through was being broken away at one side, giving me a loose end. I bored holes right across the board and used 35 pounds of powder to blast it out.  Seven shuttle cars (which was 35 tons) were filled from that one round of shots in a 6 feet high seam. Not only was it a record for grunching in a seam only 6 feet high but I had also blown out all the bottoms and tops which had been sticky.  Overmen who came and inspected it said it was the best round of shots they had ever seen.

First aid

I was very interested in first-aid and in 1950 I did a first-aid class and won a 2 guinea prize for topping the class. I continued with the class and gained my 3rd year bronze medallion. This was followed in 4th, 5th and 6th year doing courses on mine fires, gases, explosions and self-contained breathing apparatus which earned me a gold medal. I was appointed as the first-aid officer for the section in which I worked and was also the mine first aid officer for 3 months while the usual first aid officer was on long service leave.

Deputy’s ticket 

In 1951 a deputy’s course was run at Paxton. To obtain a deputies ticket the applicant had to have 5 years underground experience and be not less than 23 years old. I had 5 years underground experience but was only 21. I attended the course anyhow and didn’t worry too much about it but a week before the exam I found out that I could sit for the exam but the certificate would be withheld until I was 23. There was a bit of a mad rush for that week to prepare for the exam but luckily I passed it and became the youngest person in the industry to pass a deputy’s exam. 

Under manager’s course

After passing the deputy’s ticket, I followed up with an under managers course. This course involved going to tech at night for 8 hours a week for about 8 years. A few months before I finished the course I was retrenched from the mine. I completed and passed the course even though I was running around looking for work. With mines closing everywhere there was no prospect of getting back in the mines so I took up a career in the ambulance.

*a set is a row of connected skips

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