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Falkirk Coal Mine Complex

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1885 Falkirk townsite; 1970–present surface mining operation. U.S. 83 between Underwood and Washburn

Extracting fossil fuels has been an important aspect of North Dakota’s economy from the early twentieth century. Thirty-five years of surface mining and continuing coal extraction with massive excavating equipment have yielded a landscape with moveable features. The clamshell dragline excavator compares in scale to the state capitol building, and the truss boom is comparable to many single-span bridges. Every ninety seconds, each of two dragline buckets (named “Old Ironsides” and “Prairie Rose”) gathers 105 cubic yards of overburden or lignite coal in a single pass, which is then delivered to 110-ton trucks or a system of conveyors extending across U.S. 83 to unit trains. The coal feeds a number of nearby power plants adjacent to the Missouri River, which delivers electrical energy into the national transmission grid. It is nearly impossible to travel past this setting without lingering to try and get a sense of the scale and magnitude of it. Falkirk was originally the site of small-scale mixed farming by Swedish American immigrants, who brought distinctive architectural traditions with them from their homeland. Their modest initial constructions have been documented in the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) as mitigation for the coal mining enterprise that consumed them.

Writing Credits

Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay



Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay, "Falkirk Coal Mine Complex", [Underwood, North Dakota], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Cover: Buildings of North Dakota

Buildings of North Dakota, Steve C. Martens and Ronald H. L. M. Ramsay. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2015, 133-133.

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