Sunday, January 13, 2013

Massa Recalls Coal Mine Days

Ad-Express/Daily Iowegian - 24 September 1993
Industry employed more than 10,000 men 
in county in 1917
By Debbie Hickman, Associate Editor
  Recognizing Centerville's mining heritage, the theme of tomorrow's Pancake Day is "Coalminer's Hometown."
  Newcomers to the area may not realize that at one time there were many small coal mines in operation around the Centerville area, which employed many men.
  Frank "Chesco" Massa of Centerville is one of those former coalminers.
  He was born in Italy in 1913, and a couple years later his family moved to Jerome. He said they had a relative and other people from their Italian town who were here.
  His father worked in the mines, and when Massa was about 16 years old he joined his father in the mines. Massa said his three brothers also did some mining.
  Then in 1940, the New Gladstone Mine west of Centerville began operating, and Massa was one of the miners in the new mine.
  He worked at the New Gladstone Mine for about 30 years before it closed in 1971. At the time of the closing, Wayne and Doyle Arbogast and Massa owned the mine. 
  The mine was the last pony mine to close in the nation. Because the seam of coal was only two or three feet thick, the tunnels were also very short, and small ponies and mules were used to pull the cars in the mine.
  The New Gladstone Mine may have also been the last mine in the nation in which the advancing longwall method was used, according to the May 1970 issue of "Coal Mining and Processing."  This method involved cutting under the main part of the seam and having the pressure from the roof make the coal break off and fall to the floor.
  Massa said when he started mining, the experienced miners would take the young ones under their wing and teach them how to mine and how to stay safe.
  "Our fathers taught us or we wouldn't make it, Massa said.  
 Although mining was dangerous job, the New Gladstone Mine was relatively safe.  Massa said they never had to use the stretcher that was kept above ground.
  He did have a couple near misses, though.  Once a rock fell and would have landed across both legs but he was in a low spot, and the rock didn't even touch him, Massa said.
  When he started mining, Massa said, there weren't many jobs around here then, and there weren't any factories.
  "You had to work in coal mines or go to the city," Massa said.
  He added his three daughters all went to Chicago and worked for the Burlington Railroad for a while.
  In 1917, more than 10,000 men were mining in the county. There were also 93 mines open.
  Massa said that at one time a person could just about go from Mystic to Centerville underground.
  Although mining was not an easy job, Massa said the miners liked it.
  "After you started working there, you were always ready to go back in the fall," Massa said. They usually mined during the fall and winter.
  He said the temperature in the mines was the same year round. Massa said a person would need a coat if they were just sitting down there, but if they were working the temperature as comfortable.
  But, coal mining in Iowa is nearly non-existent now. The thing that really hurt the coal mining industry was the use of the diesel motor, which took away a lot of the need for coal, Massa said.
  The New Gladstone Mine closed because part of Highway2 was being moved and it was going to be very close to the mine opening, he said.

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