Wednesday, May 26, 2010

From the Archivist's Desk: A 1915 State of the Mines Report

By Gary Spurr

The Texas & Pacific Coal & Oil Company papers record the history of the corporation from the 1880s through its sale in the 1960s. Over the years, employees compiled annual reports, publications, tax files, coal and oil exploration data, maps, and ledgers filled with financial accounts. One particularly valuable item in this collection is W. K. Gordon’s 1915 “Report of Inspection of Mines.” Through tables and narrative Gordon described the condition of the company property demonstrating his dedication to maintaining a safe and productive work environment. Gordon served as Secretary, Vice President, and General Manager when he conducted this survey of the conditions at Mines Nos. 10, 11, 12, New No. 1, and New No. 3. Management restarted the mine numbering system to avoid using the unlucky number 13.

W. K. Gordon

Gordon filed the report in August 1915 though he collected the data for this periodic statement for the board of directors in June of that year. He provided assessments of the surface condition of each mine as well as the shaft bottom, distance from the shaft to each working face, distance from the working face to the nearest mine, thickness of the coal vein, footage of the mine front being worked, amount of coal produced by the mine, and other statistics. He included a small-scale (1” = 400”) map for each mine.

The general manager revealed his commitment to quality in the narrative portions of the document. When he discussed the surface condition of the mine, he praised mine bosses who stacked spare pit car wheels, timbers, and rails neatly to prevent deterioration of the materials and to make them easily accessible. They received Gordon’s scorn if useful equipment was scattered about with debris. He spoke very proudly of the boss of Mine No. 10, the oldest shaft still in production, because he kept it in good order on the surface and below.

A page from Gordon's 1915 report

Gordon demonstrated his concern for the safety of the workers and proper care of equipment in several ways. He requested improvements to the screens to protect the cagers and elevator operators from falling coal and rock. He assessed the ventilation in each of the mines noting that New No. 1 required an upgrade to accommodate future expansion. The condition of the underground rails that carried the pit cars also caught Gordon’s eye. He expected workers to keep the roadbed clear of rock and dirt to prevent derailments that could result in coal spills, equipment damage, and personal injury. A table listed the number of unusable cars at each shaft and measures the cost of repairs in pounds of coal. Gordon tallied the number of workers by ethnicity at each mine stating that there were 600 “Italians,” 337 “Mexicans,” 270 “Polanders,” and 90 “Native Born.”

The self-made railroad surveyor, civil engineer, and mine manager’s analytical mind is evident in this report. The combination of Gordon’s personality, varied skills, and attention to detail allowed him to rise from surveyor in 1889 to Secretary, Vice President, and General Manager in 1899. He retired from the company in the early 1920s from to become an independent oil and gas producer and later became a director of Southwestern Life Insurance Company in Dallas. However, Gordon kept his seat on the Texas & Pacific Coal and Oil Company board of directors he held since 1892. He served as chairman of the board from 1934 until his death in 1949.

A map from Gordon's 1915 report

The Texas & Pacific Coal & Oil Company records which include W. K. Gordon’s 1915 report on the mines are available to researchers at the W. K. Gordon Center for Industrial History of Texas in Thurber. The finding aid for the records is available here. For more information contact the Collections Archivist.