Each boat has charge of her "tow," the
latter consisting of from five to twenty-five big square boats,
holding in all from 50,000 to 600,000 bushels of solid carbon.
This coal is mined along the
Monongahela Valley and up the valley of jaw-racking Youghiogheny.
The coal seams lie in most cases far above the level of the river, and
in the older pits the coal has been removed for a distance of three
miles from the water's edge. The mouths of these ink-black tunnels
show far up the green-walled hill-sides. From these inky spots issue
noisy cars that rush down the "incline," bang against the "tipple,"
and discharge their contents over sloping "screens" into the waiting
boat or barge below. And back and forth in these gloomy pits stalk
the forlornest of mules, solemn visaged, and wearing a bandage
over one eye in a way suggestive of some subterranean difference
of opinion. This bandaging is done for the good of the beast, which,
will "shy" over to one side and bang his anatomy against
the wall, but the drapery does not add to his beauty in the least.
For half a century this
undermining of these everlasting hills has been going on, until they
rest their strata upon posts or upon thousands of columns of coal in
the abandoned mines beneath. An acre of coal, be it understood,
means 120,000 bushels of the merchantable article stored in a
"seam" four feet eight inches thick. A single tow-boat will take
to New Orleans, 2000 miles away, the output of five acres of coal,
at a cost for transportation of four cents per bushel. While this
work is going on along the rivers mentioned, coal is leaving the
Pittsburgh fields by rail at the rate of 180,000,000 bushels per year,
and the supply is practically inexhaustible.
From coal it is but a short step
to coal's brighter and purer first cousin, coke.