The Saratoga Sun -

Mining landmarks disappear

Arch Mineral demolishes/removes mining equipment, buildings from Hanna


On July 13, the huge coal dragline that could be seen for miles from US 30 as a driver neared Hanna junction was dismantled. Although Hanna mines have been closed for a few years, the goliath machine was evidence that at one time these mines supplied much of Wyoming’s coal back in the late 1970s.

The Hanna Herald, the town’s now defunct newspaper, released info that Hanna Basin in 1982 had provided only 4.6 percent of Wyoming’s coal production, down from 46 percent in 1978. Cheaper coal produced in northeastern Wyoming’s Powder River Basin was cited as a major reason.

The population of the town changed dramatically in conjunction with coal production falling. In 1980, the town’s population was 2,294 and in 2010 the inhabitants numbered 841.

Although the population decreased, the dragline reminded all who saw it, how important coal had been in the area.

“The skyline of Hanna is very lonely without the dragline,” said Nancy Anderson, recently retired as Hanna Museum director and one of the founders of the Hanna Basin Historical Society formed in 1982.

Anderson is originally from Virginia. She came to Wyoming in 1956 to teach on the Beer Mug Ranch, owned by the Ellis family, about 13 miles from Hanna.

Anderson has been involved helping establish the Hanna museum, was on the original board of the Grand Encampment Museum andwas also on the Carbon Cemetery Board. Anderson was the first librarian in Hanna and saw the need for history in north Carbon County to be saved for future generations the same way Encampment was doing with their Grand Encampment museum.

To get an understanding of coal culture in north Carbon County, Anderson said Carbon, the town, must be recognized. Situated between Medicine Bow and Hanna, the cemetery of Carbon is the most recognizable feature still left.

In the 1890 census, Carbon had a population of 1,140. The railroad ran through it and coal was not difficult to mine. The problem, Anderson said, it was a town of it’s own mind. Union Pacific Railroad could not control it, so the railroad moved.

“There were several reasons,” said Anderson. “Union Pacific found really deep coal seams around Hanna in 1899 so there the advantage of better coal and then there was the advantage of creating a company town where they could control the miners.”

Hanna was born at the turn of the century as a company town with homes, baseball teams and stores controlled by Union Pacific.

The houses were built to the same specifications and the lots were all the same size with the exception of an area called “Jap Town,” whose residents were Japanese.

“Ralph Penman, who recently passed away, told me one house was like the other, he thinks they (Japanese) were out there because they could have gardens and they could have a bathhouse which was larger than any lot Hanna could accommodate.” Anderson said. “There are Japanese buried out in the Hanna Cemetery and a translation of the stone’s are at the Hanna museum.”

The Hanna Museum and Hanna cemetery pay tribute to the catastrophic mining disasters that occurred June 30, 1903 killing 169 and March 28, 1908 exterminating 59 lives. The majority killed in the second disaster were in the mine to rescue 18 miners trapped from an explosion earlier. The second explosion killed all inside, making 31 widows and orphaning 103 children. Anderson said an excellent book on the families affected by the coal mine disasters was written by Lynn Kurderko. She also recommended going to the Hanna Basin Museum website.

“Much of this information can be read on the website,” Anderson said. “Bob Leathers did an amazing job on the website which was all volunteer on his part. It has so much to offer anyone who wants to learn about Hanna’s history.”

She credits many people from old families in the area for helping get the collection at the Hanna museum started. It was 1990 when the museum was founded and she mentions Muriel Crawford Kitching as the person who contributed a large collection of items she had accumulated over the years. Kitching came from the Crawford family that was an early family in Wyoming. Her husband was a coal miner and Anderson said he was a major collector of everything.

“Muriel was like Vera Oldman in Encampment. She was the counterpart of Vera in Hanna,” Anderson said. “She had so much from so many years of Hanna boom to bust years.”

In February of 1954 Union Pacific Coal Company’s Hanna mines closed. Diesel was replacing coal as the railroad’s primary fuel. Many people moved away.

Strip mines started in 1937, but it was not until operations at the Rosebud Mine in 1959 did strip mining really start to pay off for the town. Rosebud lasted years.

The real boom started when Energy Development Company began strip mine operations in 1970 and even created underground mines. Arch Mineral was the largest employer with 600 workers in 1979. By 1982, the boom was over. Mines started shutting down and the population halved by 1990.

The town hoped for the best said Anderson. In 2013 Medicine Bow Fuel and Power’s gasification plant held promise for the area, but it floundered.

Many residents of Hanna had always hoped there would be some sort of reprieve for coal in the area, but it was not to be.

Anderson hopes even with the disappearance of the drag line, Wyomingites will not forget the important place Hanna held in the state’s history.

“I don’t think coal miner culture has ever been given the credit for being the real foot soldiers of the industrial revolution and beyond,” said Anderson. “I hope people today don’t discredit coal in such a way to demean miner’s place in history.”

Anderson pointed out that many of the homesteaders, ranchers, lumber workers and coal miners were the same people. Coal mining was entrenched in such a way, it was a culture.

“Miners literally built this country and I don’t want to see the loss of a culture. That is what coal mining has been. It was culture, not just a livelihood,” Anderson said.

Wyoming reveres the cowboy, said Anderson, but he was a blip in time compared to the miners time in the state’s history. Anderson hopes people will visit the website, read the books on the town, but she feels the real way to remember Hanna’s time as a premier coal center is to go to the Hanna Basin Museum. She is extremely happy with volunteers who help with the museum.

The Hanna mines don’t exist any longer, but coal mining culture of the town will be remembered, as long as people like Anderson, Leathers and Kurderko continue to remind us this culture once thrived in Carbon County.


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