16 Tons of Number 9 Coal
April 10, 2009 6:24 AM   Subscribe

What is Number 9 coal? It is mentioned in the song 16 Tons:
I was born one mornin' when the sun didn't shine
Picked up my shovel and I walked to the mine
I hauled Sixteen Tons of number 9 coal
And the store boss said, "Well, bless my soul"

posted by RussHy to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Number 9" most likely refers to the name of the mine.

From here:
Fortunately for my father, he had a few successful mining contracts and that allowed him to buy enough equipment to start building roads and highways, his true mission from the outset. In 1950, he received his first highway contract--relocating the state highway that went through a small community, simply-named, "Number 9". The road sign said "No. 9" and the community was the mining village that grew around Fairmont Coal Company's mine number 9 (now CONSOL Coal).
posted by alynnk at 6:27 AM on April 10, 2009

Alynnk beat me to the punch, so I'll just also mention that the No. 9 mine was also the site of an infamous disaster during the late 1960s.
posted by carmicha at 6:29 AM on April 10, 2009

Best answer: Actually, it's more likely the name of the coal seam which the narrator is working.

See here. Geologists number regional coal seams for reference. There is a "Number 9" seam in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Ohio, and it seems likely that some local mines have been named after the seams they work. So if "No. 9 coal" in the song does happen to refer to the name of the mine, the mine is probably named after its coal seam.

The reason seams are numbered this way is, as far as I can tell (IANAG, but this seems pretty straightforward), that each seam possesses unique characteristics, including sulfur content, the type and quality of coal, but especially the inclusion of other useful minerals which may be extracted when the coal is mined. For instance, Kentucky No. 9 coal is apparently rich in vanadium. Seams are numbered in ascending order of depth, so the lowest known seem will be "No. 1," the next "No. 2," etc. See both the "Virginia" link above and this Illinois geological survey for confirmation on that.
posted by valkyryn at 7:08 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

My impression was that the number referred to the seam the coal was mined from. Here's a book that seems to agree with that.

I can't find a better reference but I recently read a book, Lost Mountain, on coal mining - about the practice of removing the tops of mountains - which mentioned number 7 coal and a few other numbers.

I could be misremembering this.

If nothing else, the Lost Mountain book is shocking and informative.
posted by sciencegeek at 7:10 AM on April 10, 2009

I think the previous commenters are right about seam name, but I can't let you walk away from this thread without warning you against taking lyrics from websites that copy each other's data.
*puts on Tennessee Ernie cap*
It's "straw boss" dude. def

Also, if you get ahold of the Rhino Records TEF album, 16 Tons of Boogie, you will NOT be disappointed. Solid Fucking Gold. Every song is gorgeously remastered toe-tappin' country boogie and It has a deviously filthy song called "Catfish Boogie" that would make a saloonkeeper blush.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:50 AM on April 10, 2009 [2 favorites]

*Takes off Tennessee Ernie cap*
If I went to bed with that thing on my wife wouldn't let me get a wink of sleep.
posted by planetkyoto at 7:53 AM on April 10, 2009

Response by poster: Missed that, thanks for the correction.
posted by RussHy at 8:05 AM on April 10, 2009

More on Number Nine Coal.
posted by zamboni at 9:36 AM on April 10, 2009

If we're going to talk about the song, we might as well listen to the greatest version ever recorded.
posted by Ranucci at 10:13 AM on April 10, 2009

Ranucci, that was brilliant. Thanks!
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:42 PM on April 10, 2009

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