Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

August 3, 2006

Liberty Coal Co., Drum and Monkey Mine

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the past several weeks I have discussed the towns and coal mines on the Milwaukee Railroad going west from Moravia through Mystic and Diamond in 1886. The next railroad mine on this route was the Liberty Mine. The Liberty Coal Co. was located near the center of Section 25 of Johns Twp., about a half mile north of Hwy. No. 2. It was commonly known as the Drum and Monkey Mine because of a visit by an itinerant salesman who had a monkey that played the drums.

There were 95 acres undermined. At that time there were about 20 houses and a service road coming in from the east. In 1928 Fred Kauzlarich, father of Leon, was running the grocery store.

There was a fatality in this mine in 1916. Paul Butkovich, aged 25, an unmarried Croatian miner living at Brazil was killed instantly when he came in contact with a bare strip in the electric wiring at an electrical mining machine. He and his two comrades, his brother Valentine Butkovich and Fred Powell had come back from lunch following the noon hour, three men being required to operate the machine. No one saw the accident as the other two men happened to have their backs turned at that moment. Paul’s brother, upon turning around saw him lying in a huddled position across a wire, and when he got to him, life was almost extinct.

Mr. Butkovich’s companions called for assistance and the victim was removed from the mine. Doctors Tillmont and Harris were called from Centerville, as was Coroner Miller. Late in the afternoon, an inquest was held. An examination of the body showed no burned spots as is usually evident, and it was thought that Mr. Butkovich’s heart may have been affected beforehand and may have been the cause of death. To settle the question, the three physicians performed an autopsy revealing that his heart and lungs were in sound condition. Later it developed that the unfortunate man showed some signs of apoplexy. It was said that the wire carrying 220 volts should not have caused death in itself, many workers with mining machines having experienced such shocks without serious result.

There was a truck mine in Section 30, southeast of Brazil and about a mile east of the Liberty Mine called Seddon Bros. Coal Co. This was originally the Fred Kauzlarich Mine for the Sunny Slope Coal Co. It operated from 1934 to 1942. James Seddon was involved in several mines around Mystic as well as in the civic affairs of Mystic. I have described his family in a previous article. James “Zack” Seddon Sr. of Mystic was a third generation coal miner.

When interviewed about the dangers in the mine Zack Seddon related the need for extreme care to prevent the roof from falling in. Even the solid rock over the miners‚ heads would sometimes begin to bow. Some of the excavated dirt would be packed in the center as a brace. Still, pieces would fall.

In a story that recalled the dangers of the job as well as the hardiness of the workers, Seddon related how Cat Buban from Brazil was hit on the head by a piece of falling slate. Buban was said to have been unconscious for three days in the hospital. The first thing he did when gaining consciousness was to sit up and spit out a piece of chew he’d had in his mouth for the entire time.

There were two truck mines one mile east of the railroad crossing of Highway No. 2. The one on the north side of No. 2 was Corby Coal Co., later called K & K Coal Co. It operated from 1937 to 1958 and covered 10 acres. K & K stands for Judive and Troy Kauzlarich. There were two fatalities in this mine. In 1937 Joe Corby was killed when the mine cart got out of control and cornered Corby, throwing coal in his face. In 1941 Charles Owens, age 63, was killed by a fall of coal.

The other mine on the south side of No. 2 was Big Five Coal Co. It was in operation from 1933 to 1963. It had a 127 foot shaft and undermined 23 acres. This is one of the few mines that I remember seeing the tipple before the mine was sealed.

There were also four mines along the old route Highway No. 2 (before relocation north) going west from the railroad crossing. They were, in sequence, D.C. Coal Co., Douglas Coal Co., the Stepnoski Mine and Walnut Coal Co. The D.C. Coal Co. was 62 acres with a 70 foot shaft and operated from 1941 to 1966. D.C. stands for Dooley and Cathcart, and Johnny Cathcart ran the mine. The Douglas Coal Co. was a ten acre slope mine and operated from 1934 to 1942. Originally it was known as the Hog Farm Mine, as it was located on the old Hog Farm Corner, later the scene of so many automobile accidents. The Stepnoski Mine was 2 acres with a 60 foot shaft and operated from 1935 to 1942. It was connected underground to the Douglas Mine. The Walnut Creek Coal Co. was 27 acres with a 75 foot shaft and operated from 1934 to 1943. It was just south of Walnut Creek.