When you want good news coverage, it helps having a treat to tempt the media. Access to forbidden places qualifies.
My assigning editor asked if I had a problem with confined spaces. I said no – while thinking “How confined?” – and the story was assigned: tour the Windsor salt mine and listen to mining people talk about a fuel tax rebate.
If you think you’re not claustrophobic, watch a mine safety video right before being lowered a thousand feet into the ground. My favourite part of TV show we watched up top was when they said the personal emergency breathing unit you were supposed to stuff in your mouth if the air went sour might heat up – like, enough to burn your lips – but don’t stop using it.
Safety glasses and hard hats, coveralls and gloves. I had my own boots.
Reporters and hosts gathered outside and waited while the elevator ascended to the surface. A film crew was there, as well as other reporters.
It was a tight fit in the elevator – a steel cell that dropped at a high rate into the earth. Other than a moment when we first lost sight of blue skies, the minor apprehension I’d been experiencing about the outing had stabilized at a low-grade nervousness.
We exited into a narrow, high-ceilinged chamber and crossed to a door, through which we passed. Beyond the door was the mine proper.
Forget the cramped quarters of the coal mine tour in Springhill. The salt mine is a vast cathedral. Ceilings are mostly 40 feet tall, in some places 80, and the sloping avenues are wide enough to let lumbering trucks easily speed through.
We piled onto benches on the open bed of a Toyota truck. I think I was still a bit nervous because I compensated with inappropriate wisecracks. At least I had the good taste not to be the first one to mention Chilean miners.
The pickup moved briskly through corridors as we passed from 800-odd feet to our destination below 1,100.
The end of the road. We stepped off our transport and got a view of the machinery at work. A massive earth mover drove its shovel into a crumbling salt face, then dumped its load into the back of oversized trucks.
Some of the sections of tunnel on the drive down were fairly illuminated, but it was dark here, save for the floodlights and headlights on the vehicles. The trucks came and left quickly. At one point, looking back the way we came, the glow of an approaching truck shone off a bend in the corridor. I was reminded of the first Lord of the Rings movie, when the Balrog in the Mines of Moria appears first as a glow of flame off a wall.
Questions were asked. The equipment paused – no doubt at a cost of thousands of dollars in missed revenues – so we could get close and take photos. The film crew set up their camera and interviewed the mine’s manager, as well as the mining association’s director, while other reporters watched and listened: a miniature press conference in the bowels of the earth. And then it was over.
The manager was eager to get his machines back to work. We loaded back onto our pickup. I sat at the very back and watched the salt road race by as the truck climbed back to the bottom of the elevator shaft. The size of the open spaces still impressed me. And then we were back to the cramped elevator and blue sky.
We had what we came for. A news story for our readers and a cool experience for ourselves.
A slideshow can be viewed at: http://www.cumberlandnewsnow.com/Slideshow/7470/Windsor-salt-mine/1