Built in 1910 by the U.S. Department of Mines, the Experimental and Safety Research Coal Mines, located thirteen miles south of Pittsburgh, in Bruceton, Allegheny County, were designed to mimic the room-and-pillar mines common in the early twentieth-century western Pennsylvania mining district. Researchers used the installation to test safety equipment during and in the aftermath of simulated mine explosions. One of the facility’s more unusual features was an underground oval track, or “race track,” built 130 feet below the earth’s surface and 1,050 feet from the mine’s entrance. Constructed in 1919, the track simulated conditions in the Holland Tunnel, linking Manhattan and Jersey City. It allowed test cars to drive around the track while instruments recorded carbon monoxide levels, as well as “the effects of temperature, humidity, airflow rate, smoke, and exhaust gases on the drivers.” The research conducted at the complex had broader implications for industry, municipalities, and the military.
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