Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mine Props

If you had been a passenger on a train traveling down Delmarva in the 1920s and 1930s you would have seen huge stacks of debarked logs stacked alongside the track.  These were mine props and they played an important part of Delmarva economy up to today.  Mine props were used to brace the walls and ceilings of the tunnels of the coal mines.  In 1950 in Maryland alone there were 238,000 Mine props shipped. Part was used in the soft-coal mines of Western Maryland and the ones from the Eastern Shore went to the hard-coal mines of eastern Pennsylvania. 
above 1916

The props were usually loblolly pine, a fast growing pine that suited Delmarva well.  The props were in demand throughout the year but mostly in the fall and winter.  This was great for the railroad as it filled freight requirements when the berries, potatoes, watermelons etc would not be in season.  In 1922 over 5,000 cars were shipped from Delmarva to Pennsylvania.  On Delmarva they were cut to length as determined by the buyer (the coal mine,) they were from eight foot to thirty-two foot long. They were sold by the ton as opposed to individually.  Once arriving at the mine the mine owner would cut them to the size he wanted.  The life of a mine prop was only about two years due to the dampness, gases found in mines that cause decay and stress or crush put on them. 

The drawback to the mine prop timber operation is the demand from the coal mines.  If the miners go on strike there is no coal mined and as such there is no demand for mine props.  From 1899 to 1920 there were continuous coal mine strikes.  The reduced freight during this period gave the railroad an excuse to remove agents at some of its smaller stations.  Ironshire station about three miles from Berlin Maryland was one.  When the agent was removed the agent in Berlin handled scheduling the freight pickup at Ironshire. Eventually even the train station building at Ironshire was sold as surplus and removed.

As a by-product the bark and chips from the mine props were used in the steam engines at the sawmills and grist mills in the area. The sawdust was given away to get rid of it to the chicken houses in the area.

As government regulations have forced the cut back of coal mining there is less demand for mine props from Delmarva and as such the timber industry had been reduced and this is a rarely seen freight item for the railroad in our area.

Since it was a timber operation accidents occurred often from cutting and hauling the logs from the woods to loading them on to the railcars. Below are some incidents of Delmar people being killed when loading mine props.

From The Bi-State Weekly December 20, 1940


Edward T. Conoway, 65 year old farmer living north of Delmar, was killed instantly early Friday morning, while loading logs onto a railroad car in the north yard here. Fellow workmen stated that Conoway was standing under the derrick and aiding in keeping the logs on a course towards the car, when the chain holding the log broke, causing the log to crash to the ground striking him on the head. A physician was called and pronounced the man dead. He was working for Edward Dickerson, owner of a saw mill west of Delmar.

Funeral services were held Sunday afternoon at two o’clock at the St. George’s Methodist Church, west of Delmar, with Rev. Walter Pritchard, pastor of the church officiating.

Mr. Conoway is survived by his wife, Mrs. Florence Conoway, and eight children: Edward C. Conoway, one of the first Delaware draftees at Camp Upton, N. Y., Lonney G. Conoway of Laurel, Andrew Conoway of Parsonsburg, Md., Carlton J. Conoway, Miss Mildred V. Conoway, Miss Evelyn M. Conoway, Miss Nellie Conoway and George A. Conoway, all of Delmar. Interment was in the Delmar Methodist Episcopal Cemetery.

This article is of interest to me because my father had told me about the accident a number of years before I came across the Newspaper article. My father was working with Ed Dickerson the day it happened. Ed Dickerson ran a logging operation and sawmill west of Delmar. He and his wife, Maude, had a number of children (Hazel, Helen, Hattie, Noah, Joe, Martin and Paul) and they lived on St. George’s Road. Their descendants are still in the area. Ed Conoway was a farmer who like many farmers in the winter took part time work to bring in hard cash. As the article said they were loading logs (actually my father referred to them as “mine props’) on to a rail car. Joe, Ed Dickerson’s son, was working a tension line to move the logs and the line broke resulting in the death of Ed Conoway. Now logging is a mean business and there are not many older loggers who don’t have crushed fingers and toes and a number of broken bones. This death was viewed as an accident. In 1940 there was not many small business that would carry insurance on their employees nor make any accommodations to the survivors. My father said Ed Dickerson did want to pay for the funeral but his wife Maude refused to let him. Ed Conoway had, beside his wife, five children living at home with him. The youngest was George at age ten, Nellie was 12, Evelyn was 15, Mildred was 18 and Carlton was 22. After a few months Florence Conoway could not keep up the farm and the family was broken up and parceled out to relatives to be raised. It was a Christmas story without a happy ending.

DELMAR  Feb 5 – Noah W. Majors, a prosperous farmer and lumberman residing near here was instantly killed yesterday, while loading mine props at Hebron Station on the B. C. & A. railroad.  One of the logs fell on him and crushed his skull.

Above from News Journal 05 Feb 1908.

As the newspaper article stated Noah Wesley Majors (1860-1908) was a successful farmer. He married in 1891, Elizabeth “Lizzie” Jane Goslee (1860-1937).  They had as children; Mildred Goslee Majors (1896-1988), Nellie Earl Majors (1897-1997), and Newell Wesley Majors (1905-1971) .

Sometimes you did not even need to be involved in loading the mine props as in the below newspaper clipping;

W. H. Melson, about 35 years old, of Delmar, a brakeman in the employ of the New York, Philadelphia & Norfolk Railroad, was killed in a most unusual manner Friday night.  While riding on the top of a box car in a south-bound freight train, running at a rapid rate, he was struck by a mine prop guy wire which was strung across the tracks near Oak Hall Station.

The wire caught the man about the head and threw him headforemost into the cabin of the engine against the boiler, killing him instantly.

Above from the Evening Journal 23 Aug 1909

It is always difficult to determine who people are when only the initials are used but this could be William H. Melson (1871-1909) who was married to Ida Lena King (1868-1942).  They moved to Delmar from Seaford.  They had for children; William Stevens Melson (1896-1983), Joseph N. Melson (1904-1977) and Elizabeth Ann Melson ( 1899-1979).  Ida would remarry to William O. West. Both sons would work for the railroad and retire from the railroad.

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