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This is Coal Mining Country

April 6, 2010 - Michael Palmer

Like so many of the residents here in the Ohio Valley, I come from a coal mining family. Both of my grandfathers were coal miners, my dad was the fifth generation of his family to work underground. I can recall sitting by the radio on my great-grandpa’s lap and listening to WWVA out of Wheeling for the Mine Bulletin Board.

They would run through a list of announcements for coal miners telling them if they had to report for work; "Powhatan #1, third shift, will work. Powhatan #1, third shift, will work." It was always repeated twice.

The this morning the news headlines read, “Massey Energy Company is confirming twenty-five fatalities at its Upper Big Branch Mine, resulting from a tragic explosion. Additionally, two miners were transported earlier to hospitals and four miners are still missing at this time. Rescue efforts are currently suspended due to conditions underground. Rescue efforts will resume as soon as conditions allow.”

Grandpa used to tell us how dangerous the mine was. When he started in the Midvale Mine after immigrating from Austria, the miners used a canary to detect dangerous gas in the mine and an open high voltage copper wire ran along the roof of the small, wet tunnels. Great Grandpa always said that his father told stories of the mines in his homeland, Wales and said that the mines here in America were much safer than those. Plus the wages were great here, a dollar a day.

Conditions and safety for miners have much improved in the last century, but mining is still a very dangerous occupation.

The United States Mine Rescue Association keeps historical data on Mine Disasters in the United States.

November 20, 1968 Consol No. 9 Farmington, West Virginia; 78 dead, Explosion.

December 30, 1970, Nos. 15 and 16 Mines, Finley Coal Co. Leslie Co., Hyden, Kentucky; 38 dead, Explosion.

January 2, 2006, Sago Mine, International Mines Corp. Tallmansville, West Virginia; 12 dead, Explosion.

Now added to the list is Upper Big Branch.

Ohio has been fortunate, the last mine disaster to make the list was in 1940 when on March 16 there was an explosion in the Willow Grove No. 10 mine near St. Clairsville that took the lives of 72 miners.

West Virginia has had the misfortune to be on the list too many times. The worst coal min disaster in our country’s history took place on December 6, 1907 when an explosion rocked the Monongah Nos. 6 and 8 mines in Monongah, West Virginia killing 362 coal miners.

Country singer Dwight Yoakam wrote the song “Miner's Prayer” and dedicated it to the memory of Luther Tibbs. A Kentucky coal miner for 40 years, and his Grandpa. It was a favorite of my Grandpa before he died.

When the whistle blows each morning

And I walk down in that cold, dark mine

I say a prayer to my dear Savior

Please let me see the sunshine one more time

Chorus:

When oh when will it be over

When will I lay these burdens down

And when I die, dear Lord in heaven

Please take my soul from 'neath that cold dark ground

I still grieve for my poor brother

And I still hear my dear old mother cry

When late that night they came and told her

He'd lost his life down in the Big Shoal Mine

Chorus:

When oh when will it be over

When will I lay these burdens down

And when I die, dear Lord in heaven

Please take my soul from 'neath that cold dark ground

I have no shame, I feel no sorrow

If on this earth not much I own

I have the love of my sweet children

An old plow mule, a shovel and a hoe

Chorus:

When oh when will it be over

When will I lay these burdens down

And when I die, dear Lord in heaven

Please take my soul from 'neath that cold dark ground

Yeah, when I die, dear Lord in heaven

Please take my soul from 'neath that cold dark ground

Our prayers are with the families of the coal miners, both in Montcoal, West Virginia and all across the country.

 

 

 
 

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