Thursday, July 12, 2012

In the Good Old Days When Coal was King

Centerville Daily Iowegian - 8 February 2003
By Ethel Lira, Correspondent
  The Purdy Mine that was located near Jerome sported a double drum hoist and while much of the equipment was mechanized, there was still a lot of "pony power" used to hoist the coal from the bottom to the top and deliver it to customers.
  The miners had a definite pride in their ability to load "a little more" coal, lift "a little more: bottom, etc., than their fellow miners working alongside. Each miner was, in his own way, an environmental expert. They all wore carbide lamps down in the mine for safety reasons. If the flame fluttered or went out, it was a sign to get out NOW, as the air was bad.
  They were engineers because they had learned how to undercut the coal so it would fall for loading and to listen to the cracking of the coal walls because it would often mean that it was preparing to "fall" and, in the local mining history, many miners were seriously injured in not recognizing these sights and sounds. Some even lost their lives and limbs in these accidents.
  Miners became accountants be could they could, over time, know almost to the pound exactly how much coal had been loaded on the mine cars taken to the top. These were hoisted, weighed and dumped into waiting wagons and trucks for shipment.
  The Purdy Mine was another family operation Henry Purdy came to the area as a baby when his father, Frank, migrated from England. Henry's sons, Francis, Bob, David and the youngest, Don, all worked down in the mine from an early age. 
  The original mine was sunk circa 1930 on Walnut Creek, west of Jerome. An old hoist cleaned up the mine, let down to reverse and to ... upon the bottom. Ponies were used underground to pull the coal cars from the miner's places to the hoist to be pulled to the top. The mine closed in 1946 as the three oldest boys had been called into military service by the draft, leaving Don at home at that time.
  He suffered a serious accident when the gas and oil he was carrying down the slope was accidentally spilled and caught fire from the flame of his carbide lamp.
  When his draft number was called soon after, he reported and was sent to the induction center, only to be refused due to the fact his burns had not healed properly. He recalled the doctor examining him, stating, "My, what are they sending me now? This man is carrying serious injuries." Don was told to go back home and report again in 36 months.  By that time, the war was over.
  During his mining career, he found himself being a jack of all trades. He operated mining machines, shoveled behind the machines, loaded coal, operated hoists and, on down days when the mine wasn't working, he would clean up the mining ... grease mine cars and do other maintenance.
  No one thought much about youngsters working in the mining industry at an early age.  "It was a way of life. Just the way it was." He worked around the mines from the age of six. The family of eight consisted of his parents, four boys and two girls. Everyone had a part to do and they did it.
  With the start of World War II and the drafting of able-bodied men, there were not enough experienced miners to keep the mine profitable and it closed in 1946 with the young men seeing more rewarding employment elsewhere. Don moved to Kansas City where he obtained work at the GM motor plant on the assembly line. Later working as the head of sanitation for the City of Lawrence, Kan., then operated a boat marina with his wife, Vera. He underwent open heart surgery in later years and returned from Texas to Centerville May 2002.
  (During this interview, Don and Vera Purdy, graciously opened their photo albums and boxes of coal mining artifacts to share. The photos tell a tale of the coal mining industry in Appanoose County. While it was back-breaking work, those miners who worked underground had a great deal of understandable pride of their efforts. Because of this, many meals were prepared on coal fired cookstoves and home were heated in the cold winter months, keeping the family comfortable.

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