Friday, June 10, 2011

The Easy Bake Eternal Oven

Tom cooked us a delicious breakfast and drove me back to the Glouster library late in the morning. My footsteps took me out of town on Highway 78 and I soon learned that just because I had passed over the coal barge did not mean I was done with the world of coal mining.
Buchtel, which I visited in the late afternoon, was the location of the Millfield Mine #6 disaster of 1930. The shaft's collapse caused the death of 82 workers, the greatest tragedy in Ohio mining history.
Another town I just missed to the south, New Straitsville, has a more unusual tale. An impasse over wages between workers and the New Straitsville mining company led to a long strike. With ownership refusing to give into their demands, a minority of the strikers decided to throw the baby out with the bath water. Late one night they pushed burning coal cars down into the mine, causing a tremendously powerful fire that led to its permanent closure.
One hundred and twenty five years later that conflagration is still lit. A massive United States government attempt in 1939 organized by the Works Progress Administration was unable to contain the blaze (the smoky image above dates from 1961). The seam the angry workers had inflamed turned out to stretch for an incredible fourteen miles. Well water came out of the ground already boiling for many years later, a boon for lovers of Earl Grey in a hurry. In certain parts of Wayne National Forest smoke can be seen rising from the ground, evidence the "Devil's Oven," as a recent documentary named the blaze, still burns furiously underground.
My day was pretty routine up until the end. Fourteen miles from Glouster brought me to Nelsonville. In between I visited Murray City, where I met Michelle, who plied me with ice cream and watermelon, some road money, and a lot of motherly love. I promise to be safe Michelle!
A good day quickly unwound in Nelsonville. Google had placed my campsite of the night, Happy Hills, about a mile north of Highway 33 on 278. When nothing immediately materialized I asked someone about the place, only to discover it was two to three miles south on 278.
Once I got going in the right direction I called Happy Hills to let them know what happened. They assured me I would be there in five to ten minutes. Thirty minutes later I was not there and the sun was a bare sliver above the surrounding hills. No one answered my frantic calls to the campground.
Soon thereafter I ran into a man named Ralph who said I still had another six plus miles to go! The woman I had spoken to must not have understood that I did not have a car! There was no way I could make it. I convinced Ralph to drive me up there, which he kindly did. I have trusted Google Maps' location of things too many times - I can't afford to be burnt again by their eternal fire of errors.

16 miles/606 total miles


Anonymous said...

I watched an interesting documentary about the town of Centralia, Pa a few months ago. That town was all but abandoned because of an anthracite coal fire under the city in 1962. Below is the link. Its a good watch...


Alastair McCandless said...

Ironically Mark, I learned about Centralia by reading "Walk in the Woods" to prepare for this journey.