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Tuesday, April 28, 2015


By Caroline Clemmons

Readers may not realize that the more books an author has written, the more difficult finding a fresh story idea/twist becomes. Which is why in my work in progress, my ranch hand hero, Finn O’Neill, 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 of 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 Mine, 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 of
The beauty of changing the name of the town in fiction is that the town has whatever buildings I choose and/or need for the story. 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 gets 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 Mine 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.

Coal Miners
The community of Coal Mine 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 Mine 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 Stella Grace Clayton and her sister Nettie Sue Clayton teach.

Stella Grace Clayton, heroine
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.

Ho hum, that part was kind of boring, but I am compelled to inflict the knowledge on you. By the 1940s my model for Lignite, Coal Mine, 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.   


  1. How very interesting, Caroline. Love how research leads you on, and the images you found to go with this are great.

  2. How very interesting, Caroline. Love how research leads you on, and the images you found to go with this are great.

  3. As always, I got an education from your post. My respect for you as an author continues to grow! You amaze me with the amount of research that goes into your stories. That's what makes you such a successful author!

  4. Fascinating history! Your meticulous research comes through in your stories.

  5. I believe strongly in research. Have read too many books from authors who don't do their homework.

  6. I believe strongly in research. Have read too many books from authors who don't do their homework.


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