Colorado Fuel and Iron: Company Mines

Primero Coal Mine

Location: Las Animas County, Colorado
Years of Operation: 1901-1928

Total Production (tons): 8,177,567

Alternate/Previous Names of Mine: "Smith Canyon Mine" "Purgatory Mine"

     Located 15 miles west of Trinidad, the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company began construction of the coal camp of Primero in 1901 on a seam of coal that averaged six feet in thickness. The opening of the Primero Mine was in part, a response to anticipated rise in fuel consumption at the steelworks. Through the Rocky Mountain Coal and Iron Company, CF&I acquired all of the land in the Maxwell Grant in Colorado. This land encompassed an area West of Trinidad and south of the Purgatoire River. The first mine was called "Smiths Canyon Mine" as it was located in Smith Canyon, north of the Purgatoire River and eventually had six openings, all with their own haulage systems. 

     The town of Primero was an early planned town by CF&I's Sociological Department. It became the company's model town, a way to showcase the higher quality of living for the miners and their families. The town of Primero contained schools, churches, a company stores, and neat rows of comfortable looking houses. Another reason Primero was a model town was the use of steam engines for the mine and their use of modern safety equipment.

     As CF&I built other towns and opened other mines, Primero quickly proved to be a high producer of coal in the area. During its first twenty years, Primero set new production records. During its peak years of production, the mine at Primero produced 3,000 tons of coal per week and employed 600 men. The "Main North" was the largest producer of the group of shafts that made up Primero. The original parallel shafts made their way over 4,400 feet into the earth almost due north and then changed to about 30 degrees to the west and then expanded upon as the years went on.

     Primero Mine experienced two very deadly explosions, the first in January 1907 which left twenty-four dead and a second three years later that left seventy-five men dead. The second explosion occurred in the "Main North" mine. The explosion, caused by dust buildup and a lack of adequate sprinkling within the mine, caved the haulage way although the main shaft was left relatively intact. The fuel department responded to these explosions and others in the Trinidad Mining District by strict enforcement of their safety rules and implementing new ventilation fans and ways of detecting dangerous amounts of methane gas. 

     Another implementation of CF&I that occurred because of the explosion at Primero was the creation of a mining rescue car; a railroad car equipped with safety equipment and personnel. The U.S. Bureau quickly saw the merit in mobile rescue units and soon deployed their own rescue cars. The railroad car outside of the Steelworks Center Museum is one of the last of its kind and remains a testament of the impact that the explosions at Primero Mine had on the industry. In the late 1920's coal production declined and in 1928, the company closed the town of Primero and the mine. 

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