Apr 252013
Mine cars Commander Mine

Scattered about in a haphazard fashion these abandoned coal mine cars soak up the sun in the early fall of 1992. A gorgeous setting for a gritty industrial subject, the turning trees add splashes of colour to an otherwise brown and grey scene. Having sat here since the mid 1950s these mine cars slowly rot and rust away.

The setting here is the Stirling/Commander mine site, near the a town of Nacmine Alberta.

On this report we look at the old mine site, actually the mine car dump in particular, located on a small flat parcel of land a little above the eastern edge of town. In the background all we see are the turning trees and the badlands further behind, with occasional glimpses of the Red Deer River in between.

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What you see here are fairly typical looking coal mine cars for the region. Wide and low with four wheels set close together and a simple (and dangerous) link and pin coupling system. These cars look much like others we’ve found at other mine sites in the valley.

They were low profile as the coal seams here tended to be fairly thin and the tunnels built low. Making them wide allowed them to carry a sufficient volume of material however. The arrangement of the wheels permitted them to negotiate sharp curves and rough track. The link and pin couplers were cheap and simple in practice but were however a pinch point and it would be easy to loose a finger or two when coupling cars together. A chain mean there was slack between cars and sturdy metal bumpers took care of any run ins.

The wooden sides, which wore down quickly, could be easily and cheaply replaced with the addition of new planks.

In spite of heavy loads (perhaps a few tons or more) and rough handling, these cars were amazingly durable and it’s quite possible they could have dated from when the mine opened – meaning in 1992, when I visited, they may have been roughly 75 years old – the Stirling Mine (later Commander) having opened in 1914 , It’s also possible they are much newer as the overall pattern of these cars changed little over time.

The cars would be loaded at the coal face and then coupled together in groups and brought outside, the only time they’d see fresh air, for dumping at the tipple. Cars may have been pulled by horses early on, but in latter years mine locomotives would have likely been used (powered by compressed air, batteries or electricity).

These cars were end dumped, and have hinged end allowing the coal to slide. Rotary dumping is more desirable but it was not used here.

It’s not clear who made these cars. They many have been home built or they could have been supplied by any number of companies who made such things. The Riverside Iron Works in Calgary is one interesting possibility since it’s local (to me) and they were known to have supplied coal cars to mines in the Drumheller area in the 1920s. A photo at the Glenbow Museum shows a CPR flat car at the plant loaded up with brand new coal mine cars.

Seen near the cars is some loading hoppers (small ones used perhaps to load local delivery trucks) and a large bull wheel. The latter is a large pulley and a cable attached to it acted on a hoist, a large elevator essentially, bringing loaded coal cars to the surface and sending empty ones back down. It was also used to haul men and equipment in and out of the mine.

Rules of exploration: show respect, don’t trespass and take only pictures.

This mine used a vertical shaft (straight down) entry. Most of the mines in the area seemed to be driven directly into the hillside or at an angle a so called incline. Of the three, a vertical shaft was the most challenging to manage from an operational standpoint.

Outside of these cars and those other few parts and some coal slack too, nothing else from the mine could be found. There must have been at least two dozen cars here, if not more.

The Commander mine (named Stirling 1914-1930s, Commander 1930s-closing) lasted from 1914-1956, making it one of the senior coal mines in the Red Deer River valley. It was also one of the bigger producers.

There are lots of old coal mines in the region, although remains are often hard if not near impossible to find. One that’s interesting is the abandoned Murray Mine and right next door to it is Historic Atlas Mine, a museum you can visit.

These pictures were scanned from 35mm slides.

Update: June 2013. Initially, I mistakenly said this was the Nacmine mine site (North American Collieries Mine – aka Red Deer Valley Coal) but I have since found information proving otherwise. Yes, we were wrong! The shame!

I visited here in May 2013 and confirmed at that time that these cars sit atop the old mine dump – a place where slack (waste material, fine coal) was discarded. Fitting I guess, the cars are dumped at the dump. Someone has been digging into the vegetated piles exposing the dump material – without we’d have never known this.

Also regarding motive power in the mine – this author has a seen a photo dated 1944 showing a storage battery locomotive in service pulling a string of the coal cars just like those seen in this report.

I visited this place two other times and to see those other report, click the links below…
Commander Mine (Nacmine).
Stirling Mine – Commander Mine – Nacmine Alberta.

To see some other coal mine related reports, follow these links…
Hosmer Mines Ltd., Hosmer BC.
In search of Mitford part 3: Bow River Coal.

If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!

Date: Fall 1992.
Location: Nacmine, AB.

Mine cars Commander Mine

Cars at the Commander Mine site.

Nacmine AB mine cars

The wood sides could be cheaply and easily replaced as they wore.

Commander Mine coal cars

I did not count but there must have been at least a couple dozen cars here.

Commander Mine Nacmine

They used a simple link and pin coupling system to string them together.

Nacmine Commander Mine

They spent most of their life underground, emerging only to dump their loads.

Mine hoppers and bull wheel

Some form of hopper and a large bull wheel used to drive the hoist.


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10 Comments on "Abandoned coal mine cars"

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Coal Man
Coal Man

I noticed that mine cars in the Drumheller area were quite shallow, no doubt as you say, due to the relatively thin seams and resultant low clearances. I’ve seen pictures at the Atlas Mine and the workings were just high enough for an average sized man to stand up. The seams appeared 3-5 feet at most. Here is Sparwood, we have some that are several stories tall.

Mr Harold Bulna
Mr Harold Bulna

The coal seams in the Red Deer River valley are quite thin and in most mines would have been considered uneconomical. Only the ease of mining and close markets in Calagry allowed them to turn profit. In my area (Sparwood), anything less than ten feet is considered marginal at best.

Todd Rand
Todd Rand

Way cool!!! Beautiful photos!!!

Angie Bloomfield
Angie Bloomfield

Omgosh!!! I love these pics!!!! that is so kool!!! Thanks for sharing!!!

Bonnie J Nagel
Bonnie J Nagel

(via Facebook)
Great photo! Textures, colours, just beautiful! Thanks!