Coal Mine Terminology

Commonly used terms from the Appalachian Coal Mines and what they meant.

  • Afterdamp- Toxic fumes that occur after an explosion within a mine. Residual gases often include: carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, often hydrogen sulfide and other poisonous substances.
  • Blackdamp- Carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, a combination of suffocating gases found in mines.
  • Coke- A product produced by burning off volatile elements in coal. Coke was shipped to steel and iron mills.
  • Company Store- A general store or mercantile where goods were sold to employees at mining camps.
  • Coal Dock- Small mines sent truck loads of coal to the trainyard. The dock was used so trucks could unload their coal into the train cars.
  • Coal Dust- Flammable particles of coal created by blasting and general mining. Coal dust often caused many catastrophic explosions when ignited from fireshot or open flame lanterns.
  • Fireshot or Shot- Black powder- When mine walls were cut (a.k.a. undercut) miners would then drill holes into the wall. The openings would be stuffed with black powder and detonated. The explosion blasted out new coal.
  • Firedamp- Methane gas. This highly explosive gas is often hidden in pockets when mining.
  • Lantern- Kerosene lamps were often taken into the mines when no electricity was present.
  • Scrip- Method of pay for coal miners. Each company had its own coinage or “scrip” given to workers. Scrip was used for currency with the company store. Companies often deducted from miners’ pay for medical treatment with the company doctor. Pay was often given per production as opposed to per hour. In 1897, miners in Appalachian regions earned around .30 per ton. It was common for a miner to find he was in debt so far he owed the company on payday. Hence, the lyrics from the old mining song 16 Tons: “16 tons and what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt, St. Peter don’t you call me ‘cos I can’t go… I owe my soul to the company store…” Scrip could be given in either paper tickets or metal coinage form.
  • Tipple- A conveyer system that loads coal onto trains. Tipples cleaned and sorted coal into several grades prior to loading.
  • Trip- A mining car load of coal.
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