Collecting Fossil Plants and Animals
in the Pennsylvanian Deposits of the Will County, Illinois Coal Measures
The Field Notes of George Langford, Sr. in the Years 1937-1960.
Prepared and organized by George Langford, Jr., 1973.
Copyright George Langford, III, 2010
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Strip Coal Mining
The spoil heaps covered a large area to the west and southwest of where we had been working.  Thus far we had confined our efforts to the east and north, but one day we went west on Route 52, and looked over the western side.  A big top-stripping crane and an enormous clay digger were at work.  The cut down to the coal was about sixty feet deep.  The top twenty feet or more was fine sand which the first-named crane was removing and piling up on one side.  The larger digging crane with shorter and stouter boom removed the clay and sandstone down to the coal.  In this cut there was much heavy sandstone above the coal, and often it had to be dynamited, as even the big digger was not powerful enough to break up the sandstone. 

There were a good many plant impressions in the clay above the sandstone but very few nodules in the clay and spoil heaps.  These few were either blanks or contained very poor plant impressions.  Everywhere as far as we could see north and south, the spoil heaps were covered with large sandstone fragments, and where there was much sandstone, there were few nodules.  We saw none of the latter in the wall of the cut, although the cold and wet did not permit of any prolonged examination.  The whole western side of the spoil heaps was covered with sandstone fragments, and this continued eastward for some distance.  As far as collecting was concerned, this trip gave us no encouragement whatever.

The floor of coal undulated vertically.  It appeared to be at least three feet thick.  The crane and other machinery were all operated electrically.  They represented a large outlay of money, and the magnitude of the work they had to do was appalling to me, viewed from an economic standpoint.  But we were present at the most difficult engineering condition.  We learned that elsewhere the coal was not so deep and there was little or no sandstone to break through.

In March 1938 we went over all of our previous localities, after melting snows and rains had washed them and exposed new material.  This included Locality No. 1 through Locality No. 8 in the Pig Pen area of Section 28 and Section 29 in Wilmington Township.  At Locality No. 8 we explored the northern slopes on the south side of Long Pond, and we found so many, so varied, and such finely preserved things as to improve matters over Locality No. 3 which had afforded us our best collecting up to this time.

Here was a "Lepidodendron Grove" because of the many tree bark patterns we found there.  Besides Lepidodendron, we found the patterns Asolanus and Lepidophloios and a new one, Omphlaphloios [? spelling - GL,III], besides many Lepidophyllum spike leaves of all kinds, from long and narrow to short and broad.  We found more specimens of the horseshoe crab Bellinurus [Belinurus ? - GL,III] which has been called by two other names Euproops and Prestwichia.  Here were fish scales large and small and some specimens of Acanthotelson.  There were quite number of new plants we had not found before and unusually good specimens of things we had found.  In general the quality and degree of preservation [were] better than elsewhere.  We came upon more and more nut-like seeds.

Locality No. 9 on the north shore of Long Pond meant a long trek westward from the Pig Pen over difficult ground.  A slight rain began to fall, and the wet and cold gave us a disagreeable time.  We worked mostly on the southern slopes and found most of the nodules to be blank shale and claystone.  However, we did get some good things, among which was a large nodule of hard claystone containing a large Pecopteris plant.  We were beginning to learn by this time to distinguish the shale and claystone blanks and to avoid them to some extent, although there was always the temptation to split them open for fear we would miss something good in the occasional productive ones.

We brought back over two hundred specimens from Locality No. 9, and that long journey back to our car with such heavy loads was something to remember.  As usual, George Jr. carried the heaviest load, but mine was plenty heavy for me, and we just about got back to that car, and no more.  As usual, on arrival we were greeted by a crowd of pigs who, in spite of previous disappointments, still hoped that the five gallon pails we carried contained food for them.

There were several little piles of coal near where we left our car, and while resting after the long, hard journey, we were treated to the sight of pigs eating coal.  As far as we could see, it was coal and nothing else, and while none of the pigs devoured much or with their customary gusto, nevertheless they ate some and swallowed it.

Being cured temporarily of extra long walking distances while under load, we attempted to drive across the marsh and meadow westward from Pig Pen Road to Locality No. 8 as this latter, like Locality No. 9, meant a tough return trip.  But we got stuck in the mud, and I had to go to the Pig Pen farm house and get a team of horses to pull us out. 

We turned our attention to Locality No. 5 and Locality No. 6 that day, then Locality No. 3 and Locality No. 4 on other days, and finally to Locality No. 7 and Locality No. 8 again.  We got good stuff at all of these places by keeping hard at it on a high production basis.  Rarely did the casualties fall below ninety percent in the splitting process, so this necessitated a lot of collecting.  We got to looking more and more closely into the washed gullies were we had our best luck finding new material. 

In March and April 1938 we got into Locality No. 7 and Locality No. 8 many times and did well.  This helped considerably on our long, hard trip back to our car.  We even ventured still farther west to Locality No. 17, a continuation of Locality No. 8.  Here we found a "Pecopteris grove." There were many well shaped nodules, and some large ones, but most of these contained the common Pecopteris miltoni, although the quality was good.  The return journey was unusually long and hard.  This, like all of the other collecting localities, was extremely spotty.  There was a tremendous lot of claystone and shale in one small area, not so much in an adjoining small area.  In one length of about a hundred yards we would do poorly; and the next length would give us fine results.  We never could tell until we tried out each small area by collecting five or six pails of nodules and splitting them.  This told the story, and thus we learned where the best places were.  We also learned something of what to pick up and what to pass by, to save ourselves as much as possible from too much unnecessary splitting.  We had further learned to seek inaccessible places, as we found that other collectors had limits and were unwilling to carry fossils as far as we were willing to.  Neither would others do much in the cold and wet season.  So we proceeded to clean up the good places where the snow and rain had exposed new material, and we cleaned them up in a manner purposely discouraging to others.  No doubt we missed some nodules, but as a rule our work was devastating, as we demonstrated by occasional visits to where we had formerly collected.

In the late Winter of 1938 we were invited to make a loan display of our developed specimens at the Illinois State Museum, Springfield.  We agreed to do this.

In the latter part of March and the first part of April 1938 we varied our field trips to Locality No. 1, Locality No. 2, Locality No. 3, Locality No. 6 and Locality No. 7, mopping up former collecting spots as the Spring thaws and rains showed up new material.  We found our first worm at Locality No. 7, and our first winged insect at Locality No. 3.

West of Locality No. 2 and north of Route 52 was a long dump with much weathered nodules.  We had no luck there.

We tried Locality No. 16 on the east side of the Northern Illinois Coal Company's Tipple.  The dirt road there runs between lines of spoil heaps.  The nodules were much weathered and picked over.  We had no luck there, either.  We went to the west side of the Tipple and tried to go northwest, but the road was too soft and muddy, and we were afraind of getting stalled.  We then tried Locality No. 13 and Locality No. 14 on the south side of the Highway 52-Highway 59 intersection and went quite far south into Locality No. 14.  We found quite a number of good nodules, but nearly all of them were "bombs;" that is, they had mineralized cross-seams, so that when split, they burst in all directions.  However, we found one big fish-scale and several good ferns new to us.  Locality No. 15 was somewhat similar, and the nodules were much weathered and picked over.

[unsigned, but in the handwriting of] George Langford, Sr.