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Article Comment
Re: Underground Surveying (Appeared in 2000)

I just read your article on underground mine surveying, which brought back a lot of memories. I spent many years as a crew chief in the coal mines of the bituminous coal fields of Southern Appalachia; more specifically southwest Virginia, southern West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky. I had started surveying for a construction company as a rodman at 22. I then went to work at a pretty large engineering firm as a rodman. I was immediately trained as an instrument man and promoted to crew chief of a three-man crew in six months. My wife and I lived in Roanoke, Va., at the time and both of us wanted to move back home where we were from in southwest Virginia, right on the border of southern West Virginia in the coal fields.

My uncle was a coal salesman at a mid-sized coal company and had been watching for an opening in the engineering department for me. A crew chief job finally opened up. In the mines, the crew chief is usually the instrument operator, as well as in charge, and has a rodman working for him. I got the job and I loved it. I had worked in the mines right after high school as a belt man shoveling belt, but the mines shut down and I had to move on to find work. I think the coal mines were in my blood, as my maternal grandfather went to work in the mines when he was 15 years old and worked his whole working life in the mines until they carried him out. My paternal great grandfather had been a surveyor in the mines at the turn of the century until the early 1940s. My paternal grandfather also worked in the mines, as did most of my uncles.

When I got the job as crew chief for the coal company mentioned earlier, I was in charge of all the surveying for the five to eight mines we operated as well as any outside surveying. However, 98 percent of my time was spent underground. We had two seams of coal on our lease, one was erratic in its thickness and would run from about 48 inches to 6 feet and, in some places, ballooned to 8 or 10 feet (step ladder). The other seam was low, averaging 36 inches, but down to 32 inches in places. It was a lot tougher, as I had to crawl in water and mud while carrying my instrument and short tripod in one arm; and my field book and section map zipped in my coveralls; and my HP-15c calculator, scale and pencil in my shirt pocket under my coveralls.

We used a 300-foot highway chain for all measurements underground, even when we ran check surveys. My rodman and I got so familiar with each other pulling chain that we would start outside on two control points, run all the way to the face across the last spads and back out and check in better than 1 foot in 12,000 feet precision, in low coal. Only 1 foot in 5,000 feet was required by law underground. On that particular survey, it was a tad over three miles inside and out, and we did it all in one shift, crawling the entire way. We finally talked them into buying an old Topcon 2B that just shot slope distance to run our check surveys. But all our day-to-day underground surveying and mapping was done with a 15-second Leitz theodolite that you could estimate to five seconds on and a 300-foot steel highway chain.

I understand that they use laser scanners to do mapping now. That must be nice. After the mines all shut down, I moved to North Carolina and did all types of surveying. I ended my career in the office, building digital terrain models with Terramodel for GPS-controlled construction equipment. I just wanted to share a little of my experiences with underground coal mine surveying and let you know I enjoyed the article. Anything you do in the coal mines is tough, and a lot of these guys have no idea how tough it can be to survey the old fashioned way, especially in a very dangerous and dirty environment.


E. Karnes