Nacmine is a former coal town in the bad lands of Alberta, only a few kilometres west of Drumheller. At one time there were many mines here and in fact the town was even named after one of them (North American Collieries Mine), but the subject of this report however is the Commander Mine (earlier called the Stirling Mine) at the east end of town. What drew me in on this visit was the remains of the operation which I noticed as I drove past on the highway.
There is not much to be seen – no foundations, no mine entrance, nothing much really – except for a large number of old coal cars. These are a very interesting subject none the less and there were dozens of them scattered throughout the site, some stacked in an orderly fashion and others strewn here and there.
These cars would have been used within the underground workings, being pulled either by horses or small compressed air or perhaps trolley or battery electric locomotives. They would be loaded at the coal face and then dragged to the lifting hoist (this was a shaft entry mine) where they would be brought to the surface and weighed and dumped. Once in the tipple the coal would be cleaned and sorted and then loaded on to rail cars or into trucks for local delivery.
The body of these cars are wood which allowed for quick and easy repairs. Over the life of a car the planks would be replaced countless times as they wore out. They were abused! The metal and mechanical parts of the cars, with a little maintenance that is, would last pretty much indefinitely however. So it’s possible these cars were, at the time of my visit, seventy plus years old. They have four wheels and could hold perhaps a few tons of material, give or take.
The Commander mine dates from the period 1914-1956 making it one of the longer lasting operations in the Red Deer River valley. By sheer volume of coal mined, 1.7 million tons or so, this mine was by no means a small affair. Looking at the site however, one would be hard pressed to believe those production figures. There is nothing left, just some modest coal slack piles (fines and junk material left over from processing). Interestingly, these coal cars were dumped atop the waste dump.
This operation was served by the CPR’s Langdon Subdivision, coming in from its namesake town and travelling easterly to the town of East Coulee. This line carried considerable grain, however coal was the real reason it was built and in addition to this mine, it served a number of others in the valley – for example the abandoned Murray Mine and historic Atlas Mine both east of here (and both places we’ve visited). The line was pulled up in the late 1970s/early 1980s (conflicting data), concurrent with the closing of the last coal mine, the Atlas. It’s a museum now, the last complete mine left standing, and is worth a visit.
This rail line was built in stages passing through here in early 1923. Since the mine dates from roughly a decade earlier one can only assume that coal was transported to the nearby CNR line at Kneehill (right beside Drumheller) prior to the CPR showing up. Or maybe there was a CNR spur line serving the mine which seems plausible since that railway is only a kilometre or so away (ed: photo proof seen in 2013 confirms the latter).
In the immediate area there is no evidence of the tracks now and it appears that the highway was built over top of the grade since space here is tight. Between the valley walls and the river there is only a few hundred metres of flat land.
One thing I have noticed about Drumheller area coal mines and that is little remains after they close. Was everything completely salvaged in each case? From my perspective, it sure seems so. And then even if little bits and pieces were left behind, it seems like they are swallowed up by the ever slumping valley walls. They move a lot especially after a rain and seem to almost adsorb everything.
Coal from this mine, as was the case with most coal being mined in the Red Deer River valley, was used for domestic heating and cooking. It was loaded into boxcars, using a conveyor type system, but unloading at the customer end was typically done by hand – a lot of work! And dirty!
These pictures were scanned from 35mm prints taken in the early fall of 1992.
In time it’s likely that Nacmine will be swallowed by Drumheller, which is slowly encroaching on the quiet town. As mentioned only a couple kilometres separate them today.
Update: June 2013. This report has been revamped as I had mistakenly called this the Nacmine Mine (aka Red Deer River Coal) earlier. I messed up my research and this other operation was actually a kilometre or so west of here. An honest mistake.
The coal cars sit on the old mine waste material dump, but we only found this out recently. These piles are covered in thick vegetation and look natural. On a visit in May 2013 we see that some machinery had been digging into the piles, for some unknown reason, exposing the slack.
I have confirmed that storage battery locomotives were used in the mine, at least in the 1940s, as this author has seen a dated photo showing this.
Not far from here and along the same Langdon Subdivision branch line is a town called Sharples and to see my report on it click the link below…
Sharples Alberta ghost town.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: September 1992.
Location: Nacmine, AB.