Mining Four Pounds of Hard Coal
Published 3 March 1949
I have always wanted to go dawn into a hard coal mine, and I realized my ambition at Scranton, the other day. After I had addressed the Scranton Kiwanis club, I expressed a desire to visit an anthracite mine. Willies W. Jones, general secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, said he thought it could be arranged, and I had as my deluxe chauffeur, guide and friend. Sol E. Lettieri, who runs the Airline Petroleum Company at Clarks Summit, which is just north of Scranton.
We went to the Delaware and Hudson Coal Company's office, and there were fitted out. For us no old clothes, although before it was over, my grey pants looked a little the worse for wear. Sol Lettieri's fancy fawn coat probably also would have to be cleaned. They gave us miners' hats. Then they hook on the lamp. One carries a battery back around the bustle some place, and the wiring runs up your spine, onto the back of your hat, and is attached to the front. We were now ready to descend.
The shaft we descended lies right near Highway No. 11, and is about eight hours of good motoring down the road from Ottawa. Across the road, ugly slag heaps were burning, all around us were signs of a vigorous hard coal industry. But above all, what I most noted was the relentless pursuit of safety. The foreman, for instance, wears a white hat. If there is any accident in his part of the mine, he loses his white hat for a month. Again, I watched the pink cheeked, good looking engineer working the hoist, listening intently to the whistle sounds. He moved slowly, deliberately, with super caution, giving signals himself, taking all kinds of time before he swung the levers to hoist or lower the mine elevator.
Hanging On Straps
Finally, we went down, hanging on to the steel straps which are like those in Ottawa street cars except a bit less dainty. At the level we were to disembark, not so far down, the safety gate was opened, and we stepped out.
Being down a mine is not what many think it is. The miner has to protect himself from all kinds of hazards. They take them for granted. It kept me watching all the time. For instance, there is a live trolley wire running along the mine, and if you hit it. you are in for a shock. One stumbling step, and you would get quite a charge of power. Then you have to pick your feet carefully over the ties. Water lies in places, and while the foreman splashes unconsciously through it, you try to avoid it. Projections stick out, head high. These you watch for, dodge. Beams are low, and you tramp with a half stoop. Then there are the safety doors. Behind one of these, we left the live wire.
By now, no lighting system, you march in darkness, and if you are alone, in silence. Nothing but blackness, intensified, if that could be, by the walls of black coal. By now, there was a conveyer belt, to haul the coal from the face of the mine. It so happened that once at least, we had to crawl over that. The miners take it in stride, but for an awkward person like myself, I had to gasp across it.
Finally, there was the face of the mine itself, only 10 minutes or so from the elevator shaft. There were four of us, all with our lights going. Since they were going to mine this seam, we had to unscrew our lights, while a miner used his safety lamp to test for gas. If there had been any, out we would have to go. The tiny flame indicated there was no gas. It was safe.
A Hard Coal Miner
I grabbed a shovel, told the boys to stand back, and I went to work. I knocked off some coal with my, shovel. Clarry Gillis, miner MP for Cape Breton South, would have been proud of me. Then I scooped up what I had mined, and threw it on the conveyer. I had mined four pounds of coal. I was a hard coal miner.
My return was the same in, reverse. But I want to say something about mining. If you ever go down in a coal mine, you'll think more of the miner's problem. There they are, alone, in the dark. Worse they are alone in their thoughts. They must think of that fine world on top that they are destined never to see, never to enjoy. For them no sunshine at noon, no perfume of apple blossoms in spring, no glow on the ripe tomatoes in fall. For them, coal, coal and coal.
They mine kneeling, they mine lying on their sides, they mine twisted like a contortionist. They lie in water, they breathe dirt, they live in the dark. Then at the end, what?
Well, they'll point to an old cripple, they call Dad. He'll be a sweeper, or something. They know that if they are lucky to live that long, some humble job like that is the best they can get. I am not saying the miners' philosophy is right, or it is perfect. I merely say that if you ever go down a coal mine and I have been down two you can appreciate the miner's viewpoint, warped though it might seem to some. But the miner's attitude usually is; if you don't like the way we do it, come and mine the coal yourself. There will never be any takers on that deal. After you have been down a coal mine, you wouldn't mine coal for $100 a day.
Anyway, I think going down a mine is not so much a sight-seeing experience as it is a psychological experience. Not only do you see how the other half lives, but how they think. They brought us up to the surface quickly, and in a trice, we had our hard hats off, and were back In the D&H office. In summer, going down a mine, you find it cold, quite cold. Going down a mine in winter, you find it warm. That is because the temperature below varies little during the year, and what seems cold in summer naturally seems warm in winter.
Anyway, I am now a hard coal miner, and when Clarry Gillis, and I get together, we'll have a lot to talk about. He's a miner too.