Longtime MHA member, and good friend, Bill Derrick recently sent in this story from Bill Sullivan, who is his wife Ginny's cousin.

Bill was a U. of Michigan Chemical Engineering grad, and spent most of his working years with Chicago based Abbot Labs.
He retired as VP of Engineering, and that reponsibility offered many rich experiences

Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2007 11:33:26 -0700
From: bill sullivan
Subject: Fw: Coal Mines

As we watch that tragedy in the Utah coal mines, I watch something very familiar. In the 1970's as new clean air laws were enacted by the federal government and many states, we at Abbott had a problem. We had coal fired boiler plants at North Chicago and Abbott Park, our two headquarters plants. We burned 100,000 tons of coal per year.We had traditionally burned low sulfur coal from southern Illinois. However, with Illinois new law, even that had too much sulfur. So we went looking elsewhere. Of course all coal burning companies were doing the same thing.

The boiler plants were managed by Bill Hayden, who reported to me. In the flurry of activity, seeking new fuel, I worked very closely with Bill. We searched everywhere. There was good coal in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, but the demand far exceeded that supply. So we went looking out west in the Rocky Mountains where there is much coal with very low sulfur content. After much looking, Bill and I focused on a mine in central Utah, a few miles north of PRICE, UT. The owner of this fairly small mine did not answer our calls or our letters. So Bill and I got on an airplane and flew to Salt Lake City. There we rented a car and drove the 100 or so miles south to Price. The Swisher mine was a Mom and Pop operation, which we found the next morning. Just a mile or so off the hiway, we found the Swisher tipple alongside a branch rail line. Closest to the entry road was a trailer, containing a weigh station for trucks. We went in and found one fat old lady running the weighing equipment and collecting money.. That was Mrs. Swisher. We asked for her husband and she pointed toward the tipple, about 1000 feet away, where we saw a bulldozer pushing coal around. The guy on the bulldozer was Urah Swisher, her husband, the owner. A tipple is a big rectangular structure for storing coal at a high enough level so that train cars and trucks can be loaded from it by gravity.

Bill and I waited for Urah to come to the weigh shack. When he did, we introduced ourselves and told him we had tried to call him to buy coal. He said he knew. He had not answered us because he didn't want to sell us coal. We would take more than half his capacity and he had enough customers already. After awkwardly standing around while he ignored us, he finally got down to brass tacks, and said he would sooner sell us the mine, for $ 8,000,000. It was a good buy and we explored this with him then and on subsequent trips. That is a whole other story.

The actual mine was about ten miles further west up in the same valley. We drove up there with Urah, where he took us in the mine. The mine entrance was a hole in the hill , on the north of the road. You entered horizontally and walked down a tunnel which inclined somewhat to the north. There was a set of small rail  tracks for the cars that brought out the coal. We proceeded about a mile or so to the site of current mining operations. At that point, we were about 1500 feet below the surface of the mountain above us. They were mining by typical drill and blasting. The drilling operation was in a grid pattern, driving tunnels to the right, left and straight ahead. As they drilled, they left large columns of coal on each side as they proceeded. This pattern of large columns, at least 10 feet on each side was left there to support the roof. In addition to this they would drill deep holes in the roof, each about 2 inches in diameter, and then drive long bolts with expansion joints to further strengthen the roof. These bolt supports were installed in a rectangular pattern.

After blasting, the crew would go in with their push cars, load them with the broken debris of coal and then push them back to the mine entrance, where the coal would be loaded onto 10 ton trucks which would the deliver the coal down the valley to the tipple. I was in this mine several times in the following months. We became good friends of Urah and his wife. We used to lay on the floor in his family room, during some evenings, studying large maps of the underground layout

The Crandall Valley mine where this disaster is occurring, is about 15 miles south of Price, and no doubt some distance west in a similar valley extending  from the hiway.

 It is the practice in some mines, that when all useful coal seems are extracted that they begin mining out the columns as they back out toward the mine entrance. A very dangerous operation.

Incidentally, Abbott chose not to buy the mine. However we helped Urah find another buyer. We bought coal from the new buyer for years. We essentially financed the purchase by our annual contracts for more than half the capacity of the mine.