The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

June 10, 2014

Wagner: Ironmen have meaningful school colors

DANVILLE — The Danville Area school District probably has the coolest reason among local school districts for its Ironmen mascot and school colors of orange and purple, according to Van Wagner.

Dressed as a Danville iron man from the 1870s, he spoke Friday to students in the Danville Primary School.

He will present a program about the coal region Tuesday to sixth-graders in the Danville Middle School.

A teacher, musician and historian, Wagner told the primary school students some people believe the school colors result from orange and purple appearing in rocks in Danville. Others say the orange symbolizes melting iron ore and the purple emerging when it cools.

He said Danville area rocks containing iron ore are 400 million years old or twice as old as dinosaurs.

“Every living thing has iron,” he told the group during two sessions in the gym.

He showed the students a four-pointed drill used to drill holes in iron ore. Second grader Luke Huron was chosen to swing a 10-pound sledgehammer to hit the drill.

“Imagine hearing that drilling all day long and choking on dust,” Wagner said of the miners of long ago. He said the air they breathed was “like little crushed glass dust” with them wearing handkerchiefs over their mouths.

With dynamite not yet invented, they would use black powder to blast iron ore loose. “They made black powder on Powder Mill Road,” he said, adding the mill there blew up three times and wasn’t rebuilt the last time.

Kindergarten student Amani Noll helped with a demonstration of inserting a rod in a tamping bar.

Wagner explained miners would push clay, shale and dirt into a small hole and pull the rod, or needle, out so as to not collapse the small hole or to create a spark. They would then ignite black powder to loosen the iron ore.

“They had to yell to other miners, ‘fire in the hole,’ three times and that law is still in effect today,” he said as he had the kids yell “fire in the hole.”

A miner was lucky if he found one ton of iron ore in a day, he said.

A buggy, made by expert woodworker Herman Jones, containing one ton of iron ore, can be seen in front of the Montour County Courthouse, he said.

For one ton of iron ore, a miner was paid $1 and he worked six days a week.

To show iron ore melt, second-grade teacher Angie Gibson assisted with Wagner’s blowtorch. “It starts melting with its bright orange,” said Wagner of iron ore that melts at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit.

He also showed a piece of pig iron he found in Penns Creek he figures was in a boat that sunk.

Wagner concluded by telling the students Danville is famous for rolling out the first railroad T-rail in America.

Email comments to kblackledge@thedanvillenews.com.

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