They’re loading coal trains in Coleman! Hurray, hurray, coal mining has returned to The Pass and prosperity will soon follow! They are so eager to get going that cars are already being lined up at the old Coleman Collieries plant and it won’t be long before they’re filled and headed to steel mills and power generating plants.
Sadly it’s all make believe and what we see instead is a number of old coal cars on a storage siding siting next to the plant. The angle gives the impression that they’re in line to be filled, but that’s all it is, for Coleman Collieries has not seen a train pass under its loader since the 1980s.
It’s a great illusion!
You may have seen this plant before as we have done a number of reports on it. Those big blue buildings are the remains of the last coal operation in area. While the Crowsnest Pass was once home to dozens of mines over the years, most of them closed by the late 1950s leaving only this operation to carry on. Coal was brought in from the nearby pit mine on Tent Mountain and processed (cleaned, sorted, dried) and then loaded on trains.
There may have one other source of coal, the ridge directly behind the plant (not seen in this series). There is an underground mine entrance there and pits and terraces hinting that it was being mined and not just a coal storage area (as I originally thought).
This plant’s output mostly went to the Japanese Steel industry and trains shuttled back and forth from here to the west coast. This operation closed in the early 1980s.
The coal cars were filled at a device called the loadout, which is that tapered silver concoction on the building on the right. Groups of cars were spotted under it and one at a time they were filled, then moved ahead so the next car could have the same done to it. This would be repeated until they had the number of cars needed filled. This form of loading, stopping and doing each car one at a time, differs somewhat from how they do it today. Instead they keep the whole train together and creep along under what’s called a flood loader. This fills the car to the exact capacity, all the while the trains keeps moving. Much more efficient, this method allows a trains to be loaded in hours instead of a day or two.
To handle the loading, Coleman Collieries had their own little locomotive, a Canadian Locomotive Company (CLC) model DTC-2. The former CPR locomotive (their number #13) was purchased by Coleman Collieries in 1969 and was kept working until the closure of the plant. Looking fairly clean, it can be seen loading cars in 1970. The second picture showing the locomotive and the loadout in operation was courtesy of noted railway photographer Weston Langford.
In addition to this engine, there was a second of the same model, ex CPR #23, used as a parts source to the keep the first running. When the plant closed, these two were sold. Also, there was (and still is) a small GE industrial locomotive at the site as well. Built in the 1940s, it was likely only used as a backup engine after the CLC locomotives arrived. The engine can be seem today sitting on trackage in the plant.
The coal cars seen here are being stored on a siding, They all date from the early 1980s, so it’s likely they have been pulled from service and probably are due to be scrapped. Coal trains still pass by here, instead they are loaded just west of the Crowsnest Pass, in the Sparwood and Elk Valley areas of BC. There a number of huge pit mines there.
You’ll note how much larger the coal cars of today are when compared to the 1970 picture. The old ones seen may have had a capacity of perhaps 70 tons. Those from today can carry between 100-125 tons and can be grouped together in trains that are well over a hundred cars long.
It’s certainly been a long time, but there is talk of bringing coal mining back to The Pass again. A company has taken interest in the old Grassy Mountain coal operation (Just a bit north and east of Coleman). There is an old pit mine that operated here into the 1950s. The understanding is that there are still sufficient reserves within the mountain to make mining feasible again. It’ll be interesting to see what transpires.
Most coal mining in The Pass was by underground methods. The coal seams here can be quite deep, meaning that pit mining is not always possible. There are still huge reserves of coal in the area, as I understand it, but it’s generally cheaper and easier to get the coal just west in BC.
There is talk of demolishing the plant – that would be a great loss since it’s an important historic site and the last such complex of its kind in the area. Let’s hope it gets saved!
The second picture is compliments of and copyright Weston Langford and you can visit his site by clicking the link here…
To see another view of the Coleman Collieries plant, follow this link…
Coleman coal plant then and now.
To see a third report on the plant, which also shows that little GE locomotive mentioned, go here…
Coleman Collieries plant and mine.
To see a report on Tent Mountain where the coal processed here came from, click the link below…
Tent Mountain was torn a new one.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: December 2012.
Location: Coleman, AB.