I got a call yesterday. Apparently the father of some friends of mine was using his tractor in his farm field when suddenly the front wheel sunk into a hole that opened up beneath the machine. It took another tractor to pull it out, and once the tractor was out of the hole, they could all see that the hole was actually subsidence into a long-closed coal mine beneath their land. Visible at the bottom of the hole: a tunnel.
Didn't take long for my phone to ring. They wanted it checked out for possible salvage or mining artifacts and they only knew one person who might be willing to drop down and reconnoiter a bit: Yours truly.
So this morning, I fired up the plane and took off, destination, Somerset, PA. The whole area is honeycombed with old mines and it's notable for the rescue effort that freed nine trapped miners a short distance away at the Quecreek mine in 2007.
I had a nice flight over. Took about an hour thanks to a headwind. (Click on the pics to make them bigger.)
A short drive to the farm, then after I changed into my working gear, it was just a couple of minutes up to the mine.
Now let me pause the narrative for a moment for a bit of background. I've done this sort of thing before. A lot. In my younger days, I used to haunt several fairly extensive old mines in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. During one summer of grad school, I worked week-ends for a fellow in Colorado who owned a mining museum and he paid me pretty good cash to head out to old mine locations, find or make openings into the mines, and scavenge the tunnels for anything recognizable as a mining artifact. It was hard work and dangerous, but I relished playing Indiana Jones every week-end and I got a real kick out of exploring those old mines, some of which were last worked by men whose kids and grand-kids are now likely dead of old age. I got pretty good at recognizing that hazards in these mines, though not without a few very close calls alone in the dark, sometimes hundreds of feet below the earth or half a mile back into a mountain. These old mines are always dangerous and even if you're wide awake and paying attention, there's still the good chance of finding an unstable timber, a covered winze (vertical shaft in the floor) or a pocket of bad air with your name on it. Old mines are deadly and smart people stay OUT of them.
That said, even though I'm older and ostensibly smarter myself, I couldn't pass up at another trip down the rabbit hole. We shook hands on a deal for a 50/50 split if I located anything and I was gone.
After lift-off, I just had to go see the Flight 93 Memorial, just 4.5 miles from the airport.
I was at the first temporary memorial back in 2007. I have to say that I think that I liked that one better.
Then it was homeward.
I passed over this abandoned airport.
Windmills, just east of Somerset. They're everywhere in this area. Cessna-swatters.
Tailwind. I be whipping.
Someone's private grass strip.
A small church and it's graveyard.
Sideling Cut, where I-68 passes through the mountains in the WV Panhandle.
Berkely Springs, WV.
I came in and got cleared for landing just as "Decoy 01 Heavy" called 10 miles out. That's one of the Air Guard's C-5 Galaxys, and they come in a lot faster than I do. He was already gear down in final as I touched down, and he landed just as I turned off of the active runway, before I could even think about getting him on video.
But here he is, stopping.
It was a good day, even if the mine was a bust. But I had to check it out and see, otherwise I'd be lying awake tonight wondering what treasures and adventures I'd missed.