By Bill Heusinkveld - correspondent
Whoopee! Hallelujah! My epic task has been completed. My book entitled “The History of Coal Mining in Appanoose County” has been printed off in quantity by Arrow Graphix and you can purchase a copy at either The Shoppes at Bradley Hall or at The Columns for $25. You can also purchase it at the museum, now open on Saturday mornings. Or, for those of you who do not live here, you can send a check to Bill Heusinkveld at 840 South Park Ave., Centerville IA 52544 with $2 added for postage, and I will mail it to you.
The book is divided into two parts with the first section of 24 pages devoted to a description of mining in general, including sections on coal formation, mine construction, mine operation, the role of the railroads, advances in mining methods, mining hazards, the typical day for the miner, mining camps, labor unions and finally the eventual decline of this huge industry.
The latter portion, which is the bulk of the book, is written about each individual mine in turn, arranged in an order that follows each of the railroads across the county. I have included details about location, years of operation, type of mine, depth and operation personnel where possible. I have also included descriptions of mining fatalities using articles Gary Craver laboriously retrieved from microfilms of old newspapers. I have visited the sites of as many of these mines as possible, often together with an old-time miner or son of a former miner. It has all been a wonderful experience, and I have learned so much that I must try to pass it on.
The book is a synopsis of my weekly articles about railroads and coal mines, written for the Iowegian for the last year and a half. It is 130 pages long and includes 45 maps and 183 pictures. About half of the pictures are old pictures showing individual mines as they once existed or depicting some of the miners at their work, digging the coal or in other activities. We are very fortunate that so many of these pictures have been preserved.
The other half of the pictures were taken by me with my digital camera in the course of visiting the remains of all the mines that can still be located. These pictures are of the fragments of old shale piles or of the sunken shaft or sometimes simply the area where the mine once operated. Cost of printing did not permit me to have these pages reproduced in color in the book, so much of the beautiful scenery is lost. A few of the shale piles were still a deep orange or a delicate pink from the long smoldering fires, but these colorful tints can not be detected, much to my regret.
In the course of revisiting the few pitiful relics of our once powerful industry, I sometimes thrust myself back in time such as one can do in a time capsule. For instance, I might stand on the windblown hill that was once the bustling community of Diamond. The time is a winter day, one hundred years ago in 1907. The square four-room homes of the miners are scattered all around me. One of these is that of Joseph Kauzlarich, who first came here from Croatia in 1903. I can see the mine at the bottom of the hill with its engine room, smokestack belching smoke and the dirt pile rising high in the sky. The railroad cars stand idle, ready to be filled with coal.
I can visualize the wintry snow-covered scene at daybreak as the smoke streams from the chimneys. The mine’s 6 a.m. whistle signals that the miners should be up and getting ready for the day’s work. The husband eats the hearty breakfast that his wife has fixed for him. She also fills his lunch bucket and perhaps adds a slice of apple pie. He is dressed in his pit pants with padded knees and fills his carbide pit lamp. He says goodbye to his wife and starts out on his long walk through the snow and in the dark, joining others along the way.
The miner’s shift is from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The men gather around the elevator shaft at 7:30 to be lowered into the mine. The cage holds only about 10 men, so our miner might have to wait for most of an hour before it is his turn to be taken to the bottom, about 70 feet down. It is much warmer there. Then he walks his long hike in a half-mile tunnel to the coal face, about 30 feet long, which is his particular responsibility. He strikes the flint to light his carbide light attached to his cap, as it is pitch black without it.
When he arrives, he first checks the roof. He taps it with the handle of his pick and listens to the sound to decide if the slate is tight. If it sounds loose, he props the roof with additional timbers and tops it off with a wedge shaped cap. He usually finds that the coal at the face has broken away from the seam because of his pick and shovel efforts to undermine it on the preceding day.
If the trackmen have done their job, the rails have been extended, and a mine pit car is available. The miner uses his pick to break off chunks and loads them on to the pit car. He attaches his round brass tag to the car to identify it for the weighmen up top. Then the mule driver takes it away together with a string of cars, and an empty car is provided for the miner to continue his work. After the 30 foot stretch has been loaded, he uses his pick to undermine another stretch for the next day.
At the end of the day, each miner has to wait his turn for the elevator to hoist him out of the mine. He emerges with hands bruised and calloused, his face blackened and his back aching and stooped from the constant bending over. He finishes his day with the weary walk back to his home, again in the darkness of early evening.
Really, it is impossible for me to visualize all of this activity accurately. Too much has changed in 100 years. But we know it was a completely different world.
In 1907 there were about 70 mines in operation across the county, and there were over 4,000 men laboring down in the mines. Coal mining was truly king in those days.