Exploring Drumheller’s Atlas Coal Mine, and a bad road choice

Continuing on our Drumheller-area wander, our next stop after the East Coulee Hoodoo Park was the Atlas Coal Mine National Historic Site. Although I’d been to Drumheller a few times, this was my first time going down the Red River Valley, and I was thoroughly enjoying it. This would be a great place to bring the motorhome for a few days.

It was 1:15 when we reached the mine, which is located along the Red Deer River, 20 minutes southeast of Drumheller on Highway 10.

Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
None of the tour times worked for us, so we opted to just do a self-guiding tour. Admission is $10 per person.

Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
The plaque on the left, erected by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, reads:
Atlas No. 3 (1936-1956) played a central role in the coal industry of the Drumheller Valley, a leading area in the production of Canadian coal. The mine employed skilled miners and used mechanized equipment to produce large supplies of coal mainly for household use. The surface plant is exceptionally well preserved and the tipple is the best surviving example of the kind of preparation facility common in the Drumheller field. The managers were housed on site and the miners lived across the river, indicative of the social divisions in Canadian coal towns of the period.”

Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
The ramps transported coal into the large building, the tipple, where the coal was sorted into various sizes before being loaded into railway boxcars for distant transport, or trucks for local transport.

The tipple at the Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
Welsh and Shetland ponies moved the coal from the working face to the main haulage tunnel, where an electric locomotive took over. The ponies lived underground, many for their entire lives.

Pony at work in the Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
Conveyor belts inside the ramps moved the coal to the tipple.

Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
Some of the trucks used for local haulage. Poor families could often find enough coal spilled along the tracks to heat their homes.

Trucks at the Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
Some places at the mine, like this office, look like the next shift should arrive to start work any time.

Office at the Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
Here at the wash house, mine workers would change before their shift, and shower and change before going home. The tin-lined shower gave me the creeps, looking very much like the “showers” from the 1940s that I saw at the Dachau memorial site.

Wash house Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
A wall of batteries for the headlamps that came into use after carbide/acetylene lamps were phased out.

Headlamp batteries at the Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
I really would like to go underground again. The experience of working underground at the Granduc copper mine 40+ years ago is still vivid, and I recreate a bit of it every chance I get.

Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
A final look at another one of the trucks used to haul the coal.

Truck at the Atlas Coal Mine, Alberta
From the Atlas Coal Mine, we retraced our route back to Rosedale, then headed south on Highway 10X to see the famous curvy “11 Bridges” route to the former coal town of Wayne. Each of the bridges is different. This is a very popular route for motorcycle tours.

The famous 11 Bridges route to the former coal town of Wayne, Alberta
One of the few remaining buildings at Wayne is the Rosedeer Hotel, which houses the Last Chance Saloon. A peek in the door made a stop for a drink an easy choice.

Rosedeer Hotel and the Last Chance Saloon
Beside our table at the Last Chance was the wicket and box area of the former Wayne Post Office, which operated from 1915 until 1983. In those 68 years, there were only 6 postmasters, all of them women after the initial man.

Wayne Post Office, Alberta
There is all manner of memorabilia and “stuff” displayed around the saloon, which is very motorcycle friendly.

Last Chance Saloon at Wayne, Alberta
In what used to be downtown Wayne is this memorial for the Wayne Cemetery. I initially thought that the empty field behind it had been the cemetery, but it’s actually high above – access is difficult and visits are discouraged.

Wayne Cemetery, Alberta
Life was hard in Wayne some years – look at the number of babies in this list of burials in 1923 and 1924.

Wayne Cemetery, Alberta
A look at Highway 10X and Wayne from the memorial.

Wayne, Alberta
We had heard a woman ask what the best way out of Wayne was, and she was quite dismayed when the bartender told her to go back on that curvy road. Andrea and I had enjoyed the road, but decided to see what the road to the south was like. Within a few hundred meters it turned to gravel Range Road 195A, and we spooked a couple of deer.

Deer on Range Road 195A at Wayne, Alberta
Conditions on what became Range Road 195 weren’t great, but they weren’t bad either, and it was interesting to see what was back there – pretty much nothing 🙂

Range Road 195 south of Wayne, Alberta
It’s pretty country, though. We were certainly surprised to see this much snow remaining from the blizzard.

Along Range Road 195 south of Wayne, Alberta
The road has obviously been impassable not long before.

Range Road 195 south of Wayne, Alberta
When the road turned west and became Highway 569, conditions got worse instead of better. Alberta apparently uses the term “highway” as loosely as we do in the Yukon and Alaska! Andrea’s new Honda Civic was bottomed out often, and it was a struggle to keep moving in places like the one in the next photo.

Highway 569 south of Drumheller
Andrea pulled over at a wide spot when she saw a big pickup coming on what was now Highway 841, and when he fishtailed through the mud we weren’t exactly encouraged at the likelihood of getting through successfully, but pavement couldn’t be far away.

After just a couple of kilometers of deep mud, we could see pavement starting at the bridge ahead.

Taking a breather at the pavement, checking for damage, and getting a photo of Andrea’s appropriate “hero” pose! 🙂 We had actually only been on the gravel roads for 30 minutes but it felt like much longer – it would have been great fun in either of the Jeeps that our spouses drive!

Andrea and her Honda Civic after a lot of muddy Alberta road
When we got back to Highway 9, we were only 3km west of Drumheller. It was a nice calm drive back home from there. It had been an excellent day of exploring!

Highway 9 west of Drumheller


Exploring Drumheller’s Atlas Coal Mine, and a bad road choice — 7 Comments

  1. Good side trip. Speaking of trucks, did you have the time this year to get more involved in the restoration of that neat little Austin truck at the museum?

  2. Granduc was actually a copper mine and I remember the residue on the coveralls was very hard on the washing machine!

    • The way you phrased that made me go back and look at what I wrote. I can’t believe I wrote that Granduc was a silver mine! Yes, it certainly was a copper mine. Thanks, Linda 🙂

  3. I visited the Atlas mine this summer too with my cousin Stephen. There was no snow that day 🙂 and no mud like that!! I agree about the creepy showers too.