Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Memories of Jerome, Iowa - Part IX - Life of the Miners

  During the time when the mines were in full swing, the miner's and his families lives were practically ruled by the mine whistle.  At six o'clock in the morning, the whistle blew to warn dwaddlers they should be up and getting ready for a day's work to begin.  The seven o'clock whistle meant time for the day's work to begin.  At noon the whistle not only signaled lunchtime for the miners, but school children tossed their books into their desks and hurried home for lunch.  A three o'clock whistle in the afternoon was a warning to the housewife that her husband would soon be home.  In a few minutes every house had smoke swirling out from its chimney as the wife started the evening meal.  One long blast at four o'clock meant work tomorrow; three blasts meant no work.  When the whistle wailed day or night, it was a frightening sound because it was a danger signal.  It might be a warning of a fire so that everyone would grab a bucket and rush to the scene.  At night the wailing sound might warn of an approaching storm so people could seek the safety of their caves.  However, the sound that was seldom heard but could send shivers up ones spine was the six long sad wails that told a miner was dead.  All the men came out when the body was removed and no household breathed easily until they learned it was not their bread winner that had been the victim of one of the many underground dangers.
  A miner's work was hazardous and unpleasant.  Often he went for days without even seeing the sunlight.  In the Mystic seam, the miner worked in rooms about 2 1/2 feet in height so that he must lie on his side to mine the coal.  Because the falls of coal or slate, many workers had broken arms, or legs, slate colored scars on their faces, and ofter stooped shoulders or hunched backs.
  In the earlier days, the miners usually had to lift bottom, load dirt, or do other extra jobs without extra pay.  It was a necessity for the men to form some kind of organization to obtain better working conditions.  In 1882, when John L. Lewis was only two years old, his father led a group of miners in a strike at Lucas, Iowa.  He was evicted from his home and put on a black list so he could not be hired elsewhere in a mine.  It was nine years later in 1891, that unionism came to Appanoose County.  There was not one, but two unions existing here.  In 1894 these two combined to form the United Mine Workers of America.
  Most of the men worked during the winter, but were laid off during the summer months.  They must depend on the company store for their needs and for credit.  It was true that they practically "owed their souls to the company store."
  In addition to the Big-4 Mine, other mines in Jerome included The Purdy Mine, Walnut Creek Mine and The New Gladstone #2 Mine. 
[From Memories of Jerome, Iowa, 1989 published for the 1989 Jerome Reunion.]

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