North Taiwan Coal Mines Pt1: Wenshan Mine

Wenshan mine

I got interested in old coal mines. A friend has been showing me a few, and I hope to visit a lot more. I was working pretty much all the time from Aug - Dec 2015, which is why this blog has been quiet. Now I'm on new schedule for 2016 and looking forward to getting around Taiwan more. 

Mining in Taiwan

Coal mining on a large scale started in the Japanese era. There are several rich coal seams buried in the mountains of northern Taiwan. Most mines are long tunnels, with various smaller tunnels branching off, rather than the open pit style. Some went many kilometers under the mountains. Almost all the mines closed down in the 1980's and 90's, though a couple clung on until the early 2000's. There is still a lot of coal, but it's not worth extracting anymore. For a while, many retained their machinery and tracks, but as the price of scrap metal rose a lot of the more accessible mines were stripped, and the tunnels were sealed up. Most are located in the Keelung River Valley, Pingxi area, and the Northeast coastal mountains. There are also a number of small mines around south Taipei. 

While many have been sealed, there are some which were impractical to seal, or too remote for anyone to bother. Most of these lie forgotten in deep forests. A minority of others are unexpectedly close to busy public areas. For some of the forest mines, visiting has felt like stumbling across an ancient ruin. The following are the result of the first few trips. With a couple, I'm going to leave off the exact locations and names, as they have machinery and artifacts in them that could be easily damaged. I will however leave enough clues for those who are interested. 

Wenshan Coal Mine

Mine head building and a grasshopper.

This is a long abandoned coal mine in the Wenshan District of Taipei. The mine is more recent than many, starting operations in 1949, and there is still a fair bit of interesting machinery left. It reached peak output in 1969 and employed about 500 miners. After a few flooding disasters in the 1970's, where people were trapped but no one died, the mine was closed. It still had 180 workers. This site is well and truly hidden, despite being not particularly far from the brown line MRT. According to this blog a slightly more inaccessible mine called Wanfang exists on the other side of the same hill. 

The open main hoist building

There are two main sites: The mine head buildings are clustered around a buried entrance on the summit of a small hill. A lower site has a hut, a small electricity room, and some miners homes. They are linked by the tracks of a cart railway. It is unusual to find the shaft entrance on top of a hill. Most other mines cut into the mountains from the base. It seems this mine had a near vertical shaft. A calendar in one of the houses suggests they were abandoned in 2005, but the other buildings have been unused for many decades.

Most of the buildings here have maybe a couple more big earthquakes in them.

Entrance to the area is overgrown and difficult and I never would have found it without my friend's help. I think the land here is still owned by a mining company, but some has been cleared by farmers.

Air pump room.

There is still a lot of interesting machinery in one of the buildings. It looks as though air compressors and pumps remain, including one from the Mikuni Jukogyo company made in 1959. This company is still in business and was founded in 1894. The main hoist room has a lower chamber. A number of octonoba spiders have weaved distinctive spiral webs across the holes leading down to it. I dropped down into this lower level, but was surprised to find no mine entrance or evidence of one. The entire chamber was bare, so I'm assuming the entrance was a little further in front of the hoist room. The hoist building itself has some old equipment in it too, and a generator room full of broken bushings. 

The web of an octonoba spider.

The empty lower chamber, where I expected to find the entrance.

The empty lower chamber, where I expected to find the entrance.

Following the tracks down the hillside there's a red brick hut, which was probably used as an office. The building was empty inside and locked up. Further along the wall of a new housing development there are a few dormitory buildings. These are full of personal items left by the former inhabitants, even photo albums. Similar to a lot of abandoned places in Taiwan the people here appeared to leave in a hurry. The homes and furnishings reminded me a lot of the abandoned military community houses I've seen. There are a few more rusting tracks around here and the remains of a cart turntable.

The exteriors of the miner houses and the office hut