Ad-Express and Daily Iowegian, Centerville, IA

August 22, 2006

Letter to the Editor 8-22


To the editor:

We always enjoy Bill Heusinkveld’s grasp of regional history, and especially his series on the coal mines of Appanoose County. Perhaps we can add some interesting details to his column last week on the Gladstone Coal Mine.

As noted, this mine was on the John C. Felkner farm, later owned by James and Barney Felkner, now known as the Paul E. Felkner Farms. Many of these added details come from the stories Uncle Barney told. I also have an interview tape in which Barney tells of other interesting experiences in our county.

The New Gladstone Coal Mine, as noted in Bill’s article, had a 90-foot shaft. The ponies that pulled the coal to the top stayed in the mine all winter, during the mining season. Paul and I were down in the mine twice, and I noted the old bathtub that held the water to water the ponies. When the mine closed for the summer, the ponies were then brought up to spend the summer in the old Kingsbury barn. (This barn, now falling down, was put up by Paul’s great-grandfather Kingsbury, using wooden pegs instead of nails. The Kingsbury farm has been a part of the Felkner farm since Barney and Jim’s time.)

One summer some visiting nieces wanted a pony to ride, and Chesco Massa offered Ol’ Bill for a week. Ol’ Bill must have been the meanest mining pony in the world; after he bit the girls a few times, they were glad to return him to the barn.

We do not feel quite sure where the original Marsdenville was, but Barney told about how they got the mail. As the train went by, it was easy for the trainmen to throw off the sacks of incoming mail; outgoing mail was something else. Someone would stand by the tracks holding up the outgoing mail bag. The train slowed down going up the hill from Mystic to Jerome, so one of the trainmen used a long pole with a hook to capture the outgoing mail bag. We can’t help but wonder what happened if he missed. I guess the mail would just have to go the next day.

It was sometime during the depression, which were also some of the years of drought in the 30’s, when food was scarce for the miners and their families. We have a newspaper article that tells how John C. Felkner made a deal with the storekeeper; he would give a beef for the miners to share if the storekeeper would donate flour for biscuits. So the miners’ families ate well for a brief time, anyway.

Another interesting fact about the New Gladstone Mine. For many years there was no automatic switch to turn on the air circulation system. The owners of the mine gave Jim Felkner free coal for his home, and in return Jim got up every morning at 3 a.m. to turn on the switch so the air would be safe in the mine when the miners came to work. Jim and Barney got royalties from the coal mine until it closed in 1971 when the highway was reconstructed.

More research needs to be done, but I believe that the village associated with the New Gladstone Mine might have been across the road from where our house is presently located. For years Jim Felkner complained about the sunflowers that had been planted around the village houses. All the houses were gone by then, but Pop spent many a Sunday chopping sunflowers out of the field where it had been. It was a great year when the sunflowers were finally gone and they didn’t have to watch for those large, destructive sunflowers that were so hard on the combine.

Our daughters when children also spent a lot of time at that location looking for treasures which they really found occasionally. Sometimes it was just broken pottery or dishes, but once they found a small glass doll and a couple spoons.

I’m sure someone, somewhere has many memories and stories about each of the mines and mining days. What a shame if these are all lost for our grandchildren! We must record these while we can.

Myrtle Felkner

Rural Centerville