Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

February 22, 2007

Truck mines in NE Centerville

By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent

In the last couple of weeks, I have described the truck mines in the northwest part of Centerville.  Continuing clockwise around the city, the remaining mines are the Centerville Coal Co., the Ragona Mine, Silver King, Neal Coal Co., Rock Valley Coal Co., Shamrock Coal Co. and the New Rock Valley mine.  Most of these mines were along Highway 5 or Old Highway 5, now called Shamrock Lane running into East Haynes.  Delbert Engle showed me where all of these mines were.

The first mine was the Centerville Coal Co. started in 1929 by Joe Ragona and Jim Pancrazio.  . It was a slope mine located on the north side of the lane leading west from the junction of Hwy. 5 and Old Hwy. 60.  This lane is now is a private drive leading to homes of Jack Walker and Teddy Clark.  

The mine was sold to Thomas Maletta, who acted as superintendent.  In 1947 Roy Blazina met an accidental death in this mine.  The mine closed in 1952 after 44 acres had been mined.   Some of the shale pile is still evident.

Then next mine was the Ragona Mine, also known as Appanoose Coal Co.  Joe Ragona started it in 1936 after he left Centerville Coal Co.   He went across the road and about 1/4 mile to the north, up on the hill north of the Hospital.  It was a slope mine with a shaft of 110 feet for the fan.  The tipple for loading coal was just a few feet west of where the Clark Coal Co. propane tank now stands.  

The entrance to the slope mine was to the north about 300 feet.  A winch and tail rope were used to bring the coal cars from the mine entrance to the tipple.  A depression in the ground and a few rocks indicate the location of the slope entrance.  The underground workings went all the way back south beyond the hospital to the underground area being worked by the Silver King mine.

The Ragona story starts with Paul and Lucy Ragona, who came from Sicily in 1896, along with a number of other Italian families.  They had worked in the sulphur mines there.  When the King of Italy took over the mines, that left them out of work and the king gave them enough money to obtain passage to America.  Some of the families that came to Centerville were Belloma, Casale, Cossolotto,  Franko, Grasso, Lamatea, La Paglia, Montegna, Pancrazio, Zuccarello and more.

Paul Ragona went into the grocery business and had a store at Sunshine.  Two of his sons, Andrew and Joe worked in the Rosebrook Mine.  Andrew was to die there in 1926 at age 34 when a coal car ran over him.  He is buried in the Oakland Cemetery, and his grave is marked with a special stone, sent over from Sicily. Joe was crippled up and lost an eye in the same mine, when caught by falling rock in about 1927.

Some time after Joe Ragona started the Ragona mine, he suffered a heart attack and could no longer go down in the mine.  He then supervised the top operation as hoisting engineer and weigh boss while his son, also named Andrew, was the foreman down below.   One day after some dynamiting, loose rock was blocking a passage.  Andrew went in to clear it and got into some black damp. It seemed to suck all the air out of his lungs.  He was rescued and taken to the hospital, but one of his lungs was collapsed and the other partially collapsed.

Dr. Owsa told Andrew he should get out of the mining business.  Since his wife had started running the Dairy Bar, he decided to join her.  Since he had closed his mine rather suddenly, all of the mining tools and equipment were left down in the mine.  This included a mining machine, several hundred feet of rail and 30 rail cars loaded with coal.   The mine was soon full of water.  It was closed in 1965 after 32 acres had been mined.

I visited with Andrew Ragona recently, and he told me the story as described above.  He said that the Ragona Mine had a cap rock above the coal that had to be blasted to get to the coal.  It produced exceptionally good coal, and the Centerville Brickyard bought all their coal from the Ragona Mine for their kilns.   Andrew proudly showed me his father’s certification by the Board of Examiners as Pit Boss, which meant the supervision of everything that happened below ground, abiding by safety rules.

Andrew also told me about the miners’ pensions that were available in the later years.  This was a separate deal from the Black Lung payments. To receive the pension, a miner had to have worked for 20 years in the mines.  He also had to have worked for the last two years or eight quarters.  Some of the older miners, who lost their jobs because a mine had closed, had moved away so did not meet the latter requirement.  This forced them to come back and work in another mine for a short time to be able to receive their pension.

The next mine was the Silver King Coal Co. on the east side of Old Highway No. 5, immediately north of Cooper  Creek. There is a trucking operation there now.   It operated from 1935 to 1942 and covered 18 acres.  The Silver King was a Swedish operation with many of the miners coming from Swedetown.  Being so near Cooper Creek, the mine developed severe water problems, which ended the operation.