When Andy Van Ornum bought his house on S. Adams in 1980 he didn’t figure Red Lodge’s mining history would come up to haunt him but lying beneath his backyard are two 100-year old coal shafts once belonging to the Red Lodge Coal Company. Over the years the shafts, one 80 feet in length, the other 50 feet, and running eastwards away from the property, have caused some subsidence. Now Van Ornum has had enough and called in the Montana Department of Mines and Reclamation to help end the problem once and for all. But there is an added twist in the tale. The 1907 Sanborn Fire Rating map shows the surface plat and the location of the Red Lodge Coal Company. On the 1927 map, the mine is gone and there is a house on it. “No body ever knew about it,” said a bemused Van Ornum. “I got documentation from the state verifying in 1912 there was a producing coal mine, called the Red Lodge Coal Company but it was never disclaimed or disclosed and never on my deed.
I bought the house as an empty piece of property.” Van Ornum contacted the Montana State Department of Mine and Reclamation who agreed to rectify an incorrect reclamation and hired both Hayward Baker, North America's leader in specialty geotechnical construction, and Spectrum Engineering, to oversee the clean up project which involves a pressurized grout injection (15 percent cement, 15 percent dirt, and 15 percent water) into the mine shafts.
So far they’ve used up over 150 cubic yards of dirt. Mick Murja, a representative for the state and the engineers, expects the project to run for another two weeks. According to a report from Billings-based Spectrum Engineering, the Sanborn map provides the only known documentation of the shaft location. The report clarifies some of the history of the mine stating “W. E. Hymer was the manager and one-third owner of the Red Lodge Coal Company and developed the Hymer Addition, which ran from 16th St. W down towards the south end of town. Hymer acquired the coal rights to the area where the shaft was to be developed and in April of 1904, the Red Lodge Coal Company awarded a contract to have the 8’8” x 16’2" double compartment shaft sunk on the No. 1 coal vein.
The shaft was to be 200 feet deep and was to be lined with 10"x10" timbers and 3"x12" lagging. By Aug. 25, 1904, a 24'x 46' hoisting plant had been constructed and the shaft had been sunk to a depth of 50 feet. On June 10, 1905, Clarence, the 25-year old son of Hymer, was killed while working on the shaft-sinking project. The shaft was about 100 feet deep at the time of the accident.” It is believed the mine closed after this incident although the report does add that the Northwest Improvement Company (NWI) began mining the No. 5 Bed 800 feet north of the shaft on Dec. 20, 1905. NWI eventually got most of the coal rights in the Hymer Addition and mined this general area during the period from 1908 to 1918. But, all of their workings skirted around the Hymer Shaft. Van Ornum makes light of the situation, and is happy to see that everything is “working out for the best.” “I’m thankful for the state doing this and appreciative to the community,” he said.