Monday, April 27, 2015


As writers know, the more books you've written, the more difficult finding a fresh story twist idea becomes. Which is why in my work in progress, my ranch hand hero goes undercover in a lignite coal mine to earn money to buy his own ranch. This required research into coal mining in 1885 Central Texas—fascinating in some areas and not so much in others.

I was aware of the large coal mine at Thurber in Erath County in North Central Texas and nearby smaller mines in Palo Pinto County. Thurber’s location is too far from this hero’s home base. With research, I found the perfect place, the town of Coal, Texas southwest of San Antonio. In my story, the town is called Lignite after the type of coal mined there. Also in my story, someone is causing deadly “accidents” at the mine and the owner wants to determine who is guilty. For this, he hires my hero, Finn O’Neill.

Finn O'Neill, hero
The beauty of changing the name of the town in fiction is that the town can then have whatever buildings I choose and/or need for the plot. Instead of Lytle, in my book the next town is Spencer for the same reason. That’s one of the fun things about writing historical fiction. The author is free to build the setting and only has to be true to the period in customs and dress. I love making up my stories and their settings and I hope you enjoy reading them!

The actual town of Coal was on U.S. Highway 81 and the Missouri Pacific line in southeastern Medina County. Coal mines, worked by as many as 500 people at a time, precipitated the growth of mining camps in the 1880s. In 1881 the International-Great Northern Railroad built a rail line from Austin to Laredo that passed through Lytle southwest of San Antonio.

The community of Coal developed on this line a mile southwest of Lytle and just north of the mining camps. The high-grade lignite produced at the mines was sold to the railroads until the advent of oil-burning locomotives. In 1888 Coal consisted of a store, a bandstand, a main plaza, a dance hall, a Catholic church, and at least two schools. Hmmm, in my story, Lignite has a store, both a Catholic and a Protestant church, and one two-room school where the heroine and her sister teach.

Heroine Stella Grace Clayton

Lignite, often referred to as brown coal, is a soft brown combustible sedimentary rock that is formed from naturally compressed peat. It is considered the lowest rank of coal due to its relatively low heat content. It is used almost exclusively as a fuel for steam-electric power generation, but is also mined for its germanium content in China.

Lignite has a high content of volatile matter which makes it easier to convert into gas and liquid petroleum products than higher ranking coals. Unfortunately its high moisture content and susceptibility to spontaneous combustion can cause problems in transportation and storage. The efficient processes that remove latent moisture locked within the structure of brown coal will relegate the risk of spontaneous combustion to the same level as black coal, will transform the calorific value of brown coal to a black coal equivalent fuel while significantly reducing the emissions profile of 'densified' brown coal to a level similar to or better than most black coals.

Lignite can be separated into two types. The first is xyloid lignite or fossil wood and the second form is the compact lignite or perfect lignite. Although xyloid lignite may sometimes have the tenacity and the appearance of ordinary wood it can be seen that the combustible woody tissue has experienced a great modification. Dark black lignite, or jet, is where the term 'jet black' originates.

Gated adit mine

Although later lignite mines were those defacing strip mines, at the time of my story, they were slant/adit mines with tunnels underground. Better for the environment, but not for the miners.

By the 1940s my model for Lignite, Coal, consisted of a Catholic church and several dwellings, situated mostly north of the railroad tracks. Lytle annexed Coal Mine in 1969, and there were about 100 people living at the Coal Mine site in 1983.

Caroline Clemmons writes western historical and contemporary romances. Her latest release is WINTER BRIDE. The book containing Lignite, Texas is O’NEILL’S TEXAS BRIDE, and will be released mid-May 2015. You can keep up with Caroline’s releases by signing up for her newsletter. Her books are listed on her website at and on her Amazon Author Page.   


Unknown said...

Very interesting post. Sure shows you research your info. Winter's Bride is on my TBR list.

Paty Jager said...

Fun information about Texas. You're wiser than me. I tend to use the real towns and not fictionalize them. So I have to keep things as close to the facts as I can.

Shanna Hatfield said...

Awesome post, Caroline! Love all the detailed info you share!