Echoes from the Past, April 22

Coal miners of the Rockhill Coal Co. appeared in front of the legendary “Robertsdale Slope” No. 5 deep mine in the late 1940s. Discover the history of the famed coal mine portal in today’s Echoes from the Past.

Part 1

Of all the deep coal mines of the Broad Top, the Rockhill No. 5 “Slope Mine” stands out as one of the most productive and profitable portals operated on the east side of the bituminous Broad Top Coal Field. In this short series the Echoes from the Past columnist will briefly outline the history of the notable mine and some of the people who worked in that mine.

To help tell the story, I will refer to some informative notes shared by the readers whose ancestors worked in the Slope Mine or had other connections with the mine and the East Broad Top Railroad (EBT).

The portal, located on the southern end of Robertsdale near the EBT right of way, was opened in 1889 by the Rockhill Iron and Coal Co. and closed in 1952. Also referred to as the “Robertsdale Slope,” the deep mine replaced the smaller mine numbers one, two and three. Over the decades, the mining complex employed a countless number of area colliers.

The mine was located a short distance south of Robertsdale’s premier deep mine, Rockhill No. 1, which original opening dates to the mid-1830s when it was known as the Billy Houck Mine. At the time, the town did not exist, the only connection with present-day Robertsdale was the Trough Creek stream which originated a few miles south of present-day Wood.

By the time, the coal hauling EBT reached the new mining hamlet of Robertsdale in the late fall of 1874, the No. 1 mine had been revitalized, employing numerous miners from the immediate area. With the arrival of the EBT and the opening of a new, two-story stone-block “company store,” the village of Robertsdale quickly sprouted roots as several new mines were sunk on the southern part of the town. They included numbers two, three and four.

The opening of No. 5 soon equaled the production of the nearby No. 1 mine and in a decades to follow, the No. 5 “workings” connected with other deep mines including the new No. 6 “Shaft Mine” opened in 1891 at Wood, a mile south of Robertsdale. Still later, No. 5 would also make connections with other mining operations in the direction of Broad Top City.

Much larger than the No. 1 mine, the “Slope Mine” included a large tipple from which the coal was dumped down a metal opening into waiting EBT coal hoppers. Also, a part of the No. 5 mine was a complex of various buildings which played important roles in the operation of the mine. Situated just northwest of the mine was a large stable which served as the home for the mules once used underground.

Several sets of narrow-gauge train rails past the eastern side of the vast “Slope Mine” complex, closely trailing Trough Creek to the southern-most end of Robertsdale. Here, the rails sidled into one set on their journey south to Wood. Miners who lived along Robertsdale’s South Main Street, including my grandfather, the late John Watkin, walked to No. 5 by crossing a make-shift wood/cable “swinging bridge” that was once located below the columnist’s home.

The pedestrian bridge mounted a rocky Trough Creek shoreline where the miners crossed the EBT rails (“stopping, looking and listening” for EBT trains) before climbing a bank which connected with a narrow roadway leading to the No. 5 mine portal.

An electric transformer complex was located on the opposite side of the EBT rails and Trough Creek near the miners’ bridge. From the transformer site the overhead wires mounted a high ridge overlooking Trough Creek and South Main Street on their journey west to Broad Top City. Also situated high atop the ridge across from my home is the less-known “Indian Rocks” where the “South Main Street Gang” romped during the 1950s.

Camouflaged by weeds and trees, the foundations of several miners’ houses and stone fences can still be found today just west of the Slope Mine. This part of Robertsdale was referred to as “Africa.”

Over the decades, the “Slope Mine” employed a countless number of miners who were members of Local No. 1018 of the United Mine Workers of America. The miners often walked to the portal from the Robertsdale, Wood and Broad Top City area, while other miners traveled to work on the EBT from southern Huntingdon County. Still other colliers motored to the mine in cars from other communities located on the Broad Top Coal Field.

As a child I remember seeing the long line of coal hoppers between the “Slope Mine” and the EBT Station located on the “company square” at the center of Robertsdale. Here, the coal hoppers were weighed on a scale before departing on their trip north to Rockhill and Mount Union.

I was fortunate to have grown up in Robertsdale during the early 1950s when the EBT was still hauling coal from the No. 9 mine located south of Wood. Each morning when the children of Robertsdale left their homes to attend school “on the hill” (and returning from school in the late afternoon) the “coal trains” of the EBT could be seen and heard as they passed the “company store” and post office.

March 31, 1956, the sound of the EBT trains slipped into the pages of history when Ole Easty made its last trip to Robertsdale and Wood. I shall never forget those exciting boyhood days growing up in the mining town that served as the southern terminus of the railroad from 1874 to 1891 and the headquarters of the East Broad Top mining mecca that came to an abrupt end during the mid-1950s.

COMING UP: Larry Steninger of Landisville, Pa., remembers his grandfather, Orlando Ross Cornelius, who worked in Robertsdale’s “Slope No. 5” mine for many years.

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