Friday, May 3, 2013

Flash Back Friday: Lackawanna PA. Carnary in a Coal mine (2012)

Flashback to last summer. We took a trip to PA and stopped at Lakawanna Coal mine.
On our way to our campgrounds we stopped and had a little history adventure by engaging in a trip deep into the earth. (Apologizing for the pictures, mine are still on the old computer).
 We started at the visitor center, where we were provided with a little history lesson on everything coal. I found the fact that the boys we had with us on this trip ages 9-13 were the perfect age to start working in the coal mines. Here they all are surrounding a large piece of coal. (This 'rock" was is enough to heat a house for an entire year). None of them seemed at all concerned that we would put them to work, but what a revelation to consider and what a dangerous job to be doing.
 The loading dock. Talk about an uncomfortable ride deep down into the darkness. As much as I dread my job (today is my last day), I cannot imagine having to go to work in the coal mines everyday. Dirty, dark, scary and life threatening work for just a few pennies.
Descending down into the mine. We learned about how they dig/explode out the sections carefully to prevent cave ins. Our tour guide offered us an opportunity to see just how dark it can get deep down in there. He turned off the lights and you could not even see your hand in front of your face.
 Here is our "fortunate" supervisor. He looks pretty relaxed sitting at his desk in his office her in the ground. Although his job seemed 'cooshie", he had the terrible task of informing family members of any deaths. Each day the coal miners would check themselves in at the post next to his office. At the end of the day, if your post wasn't moved from in to out. That wasn't a good sign. Foreman or supervisor had to search for you, no answers it was assumed the worst. Then it was his job to inform the family. In addition to delivering such awful news, you were expected to get a replacement. If the family had none, they were asked to leave their homes as most families lived in housing provided by the coalmine.
 The boys take turns with explosives. Mary and Brian and their family joined us on this trip. The push box was rigged to make an explosion noise when it was pushed. They all had fun "blowing up" the mine to make new rooms. KABOOM!!!!! You better make sure you were clear of any explosions. The explosions were perhaps the most dangerous part of mining. Anytime you disrupt the earth, there was a chance of a cave in. One could easily be trapped or covered. Additionally, there was always the chance of poisonous gasses that could take one's life. Often many men would carry pet rats, mice or birds to alert to such gases. Thus the term a canary in a coalmine.  Rats crawling in the caverns with you was a good sign that you were not breathing in toxins. They were also a good indicator to move if there were other concerns in the mine. They would be traveling towards an exit if there was danger.
 The "mule boy". These "children" would spend their long days in the mine, running their carts on the railroad tracks gathering coal. In addition to the other dangers of the mine, these kids had to learn quickly how to STOP these carts by inserting a brick into the wheels. If they missed, they could easily be run over by a cart filled with tons of coal and maimed or killed.
 In 1902, these mule boys were paid $.13 cents per hour.  One dollar and 30 cents a day. The general manger of the coal company was often more concerned about the care of the mules then these boys, an injured or dead mule was loss money, an injured or dead boy was easily replaced. In the days before electricity, many of the task were manual, and the caves were much darker. Lanterns on your hard hat armed with candles may be your only light, and if the candle burned out or blew out, you may be lost in pitch darkness. We were informed that if you lost your light, best solution was to stay on the tracks, and deviation could land you in a body breaking hole. The drillers would often have to drill a hole into the earth manually. They would drill for hours before they could get deep enough into the earth to insert a stick of dynamite.
 8-10 hours a day these workers would be in dark, damp ground on their backs, knees or stomach. These workers would sometimes be in tight corners as they chipped away at dark dust.
 This picture is sideways, but if you look close you can see two hands sticking through the earth. Before the dynamite was to go off there would be a Hollar. You got two hollars before the plunger was pushed and KABOOM! Anyone not within earshot would get a surprise. If by chance you were caught in a cave in, we were instructed that you take a deep breath, hold your hand up high over your head and continue to move your fingers. Moving fingers were a good sign that others would work faster to dig you out. Here we are all practicing our EMERGENCY position for a cave in. There were some escape route out of the mine. A single shaft that emitted strong air shot straight up to the surface. I am not totally sure how this worked as we were not permitted to try it. lets put it this way, it did not look like an enjoyable ride up.
A laborer could earn up to $1.50 per coal cart they filled. These were not little carts that you could fill in one afternoon, it could easily take a day or even more. The carts weighed several tons and at the end of the day the foreman would stick his hand down into the cart. If the coal didn't reach his elbow, it was not considered filled. No $1.50 was paid. The cart we saw was pretty full, and according to the tour guide would not have passed the test.
 Upon our completion of the tour we were each given a Miners certificate. Horary coal miners. I guess that means we can now officially work the mines. I asked Gavin what job he would do if he had to work in the mines. He immediately decided none, but if he had to he thought he would be the nipper. The nipper (no picture sorry) was in charge of manning the heavy doors at the mid section of the mine. Although he didn't have as much danger as the mule boy, he often had to sit in the dark for hours alone waiting for a coal cart to pass through. His meager pay was 11 cents an hour. The boys agreed that it was the easiest job, and "he gets to play with the rats." The average worker was paid $.18 an hour a Miner was paid $2.75 per day. Wow what a different time and what difficult work. I cannot remember the numbers or average of deaths loss to the mine per year but I do recall finding it incredibly shocking how many. I know it was somewhere over 100 per year.
When I visit places like this it always makes me think about the fortunate life we have today and how grateful I am to have things like labor laws, minimum wage, and safe environments to work in. I often think about what my life would be like, how awful it would be to have the foreman come to my home and to hear that my child had died in that dark awful place. I think about the daily dangers and again feel blessed with my life today. It was certainly an educational and interesting trip. I was so glad the boys were able to learn some thing about what America once was. The coal mines were one of this country's backbones to who we are today. Despite the truth about these jobs, we all enjoyed the day and were so incredibly happy to see the sun when we ascended from the deep dark.