The Cage at Stanford Main No. 2

(c. 1947-1958)
by Fred Caban

 Poppet head, Stanford Main No 2 (Paxton) Colliery, Paxton, NSW, Australia. Courtesy of Carol Knott through Barry Howard.

There were 2 cages in the shaft, one going up and one going down. Each cage hauled 2 tons of coal or 12 men. The winding engine was driven by steam and had the fastest acceleration of any winding engine in the field. The gantry where the coal was unloaded was 50’ above the surface. The time taken from the bottom to the gantry which was 450’ took 10 seconds. The cage ride was very interesting. When the cage dropped away you would swear the bottom had fallen out and you were falling and when we got near the bottom we would feel very heavy. To make the ride more tolerable it was better get a good grip of the hand rail, look down and shut your eyes. If you looked at the surface as you went past, which was just an instant, you would get the most horrible sickly feeling in the stomach. When going up you also had to get a firm grip of the hand rail. If you failed to do this you could not stand and would end up in a heap on the floor. When the driver cut the steam at about a 3/4 of the way up, it would feel as though you were floating upwards and the coal dust would float up from the floor of the cage and get in your eyes.

Problem with the winding engine

Every once and awhile a serious problem occurred with the winding engine. It could not be stopped and continued at full power. The brakes would not hold it at full power. On the first occasion a load of men were ascending and the driver could not stop the cage. The cage continued past the gantry right up to the top of the poppet head. There was a safety device in place just in case such a catastrophe ever happened. The safety device was a detaching hook which consisted of three pieces of inch thick steel plate bolted together with an inch thick copper sheer bolt. There was a steel bell at the top of the poppet head. When the steel plates which were splayed were forced into the bell, the copper bolt was sheered releasing the rope. At the same time, steel lugs were forced out above the bell preventing the cage from falling back down the shaft. Imagine the feelings of those men in the cage suspended 150’ above the shaft with no rope on it. It took some hours to get them down.

On another such occasion there was a cage load of men coming up and another load going down. The engine drivers had by this time decided on a solution. They would alternately throw the engine into reverse and forward. The top cage would continue up toward the poppet head and then drop back down on the chairs. The bottom cage would hit the bottom and then jerk back up the shaft. This process- continued until they were able to get the steam cut off.

On another occasion there was a load of men descending and the cage could not be stopped in time. There were broken legs, a broken pelvis, a broken back and some other less serious injuries. My brother in law Stan Stewart was one of the men who sustained a rather serious back injury which still gives him trouble.

On each occasion the place swarmed with government inspectors, check inspectors, managers, engineers and officials but no fault could ever be found. The engine was stripped down each time so it was thought that each time a piece of slag from the boiler must have caught under the valve so that the steam could not be cut off.

Broken strands in cage rope

One day someone noticed a broken strand in the cage rope. The engineer was sent for and an examination made. The rope was about 2 inches diameter and had 16 strands. 13 strands were found to be broken. This meant that we could not be hauled out in the main shaft, but instead had to use the emergency shaft which was the return air shaft. The return air shaft only had one cage and it only held 6 men and it was very slow, in fact you could feel every beat of the engine as we made our way up the shaft in a series of jerks. Rather unnerving. The timber around the pit top had been there since the pit was built and was rotten. When the braceman stood on the rotten timber it gave way and his leg was hanging down the shaft while he was frantically hanging on to the cage to prevent himself from falling down the shaft. We were all crowding around the shaft hoping to be the next ones in the cage because with the operation being so slow it was going to take several hours to get us all out of the pit. We heard a very loud metallic clang from the pit top so there was a mad panic to get as far away from the shaft as we could. We then realized that the clang was caused by the braceman dropping a bar which closed the gate. There was another rush to get back to the shaft. Then we had another scare. The cages in the main shaft had keepers running on guide rails, which were railway tracks, to stabilize them. The emergency cage did not have guide rails but instead had three heavy steel guide ropes. Our scare came when we heard a tremendous rumbling and roaring of something falling down the shaft. There was a rattle of crib tins and powder tins as a panic exodus occurred to get away from the shaft again. The rumbling was caused by a guide rope breaking near the top and falling down the shaft. When we settled down I heard one fellow say, “I think someone shit in my trousers”. We all eventually got out safe and sound.

Tragedy on Christmas Eve

There was one Christmas Eve after almost everybody had gone home a deputy had to make one last trip down mine. He got in the cage to go down but the other cage did not go right to the top but stopped at the surface. It was thought that when the cage stopped 50’ from the bottom, the deputy had stepped out. The 50’ fall might not have killed him but then the cage weighing several tons came down on top of him. What a terribly sad Christmas.

HTML Comment Box is loading comments...