I come from a long line of colliers - Part 3

PART three of Joshua Calwell's family tale of coal mining in the US.

Angie Tomlinson

To read yesterday's installment click here.

Out of Charles and Julia’s four children, two of the boys would become coal miners. My father Daniel and my uncle, Joseph, began at the Shannopin Mine in 1973 and 1974, working for their father on the section. That is a topic of discussion all in itself!

Uncle Joe learned how to operate all face equipment, on both development and retreat sections, but spent most of his time as a roof bolter, before obtaining his fire boss certification, and later, his mine foreman’s certification. He also learned all outby work. Joe was the mine foreman when Shannopin shut down in 1992. He had worked in the union for 10 years before becoming a section foreman, and then on up the ladder. He now works for himself and represents several different vendors (his retirement job as he calls it) and has been in mines all over the United States.

My father worked at Shannopin for seven years, and during this time he learned how to operate all face equipment, work on the belt lines, run motor, and do mine construction. He worked on both development and retreat sections. Dad eventually got his fire bossing papers, and later, his assistant mine foreman’s certification. He was upset by the frequent striking in the late 1970s (the reason his brother elected to go company instead of staying in the union), but he remained a faithful steward in the union.

Dad was intemperate in his youth, to say the least, and he was usually the unofficial spokesman for the picketers. He recalled being on the picket line during one of the many strikes, and a Pennsylvania state trooper came onto the scene to quell the festivities. Dad walked over to let the officer know that the men were not doing anything wrong. Dad was asked to present his identification card to the officer. When the officer tried to snatch it off of my father, Dad would not let go. Dad met a cocked pistol pointed at his forehead as a result; however, he would come out of that situation without harm.

In 1980, Dad went to work at Cumberland Mine. He performed the same jobs as at Shannopin. Shannopin was not a longwall mine, so Dad learned to work on the longwall at Cumberland. Dad eventually got a river man bid at Cumberland’s tipple. He never cared for the mine, but was happy during the four years that he worked outside at the harbour.

A realignment sent him back underground and in the mine as a fire boss. One evening while making his run in a hurry, Dad slipped, fell off an overcast and severely injured his back. This would end his career as a coal miner, after 18 years.

Daniel Caldwell (my father) married Marilyn Haney (my mother) and had six boys (I am the oldest) and one girl. My mother’s father, Paul Haney, worked for Duquesne Light, New Warwick Mine for a short time. Pap was assigned to a shot fire for the first two years of his mining career. He had a bad experience during a premature ignition and quit the mines altogether. Pap’s father, Clarence C Haney, worked at the Valley Camp Coal Mine, first as a miner, then as a machinist. Clarence was a reputable machinist. He worked at Valley Camp for over 40 years before retiring. Pap’s grandfather, on his mother’s side, Isaac Tanner, was also a coal miner as listed on the 1880 US Census.

My grandfather (Paul Haney) married Mary Ann DeRigo, who’s grandfather, Joseph DeRigo, came from the Northern Alps region of Italy to work in the coal mines of America. He migrated as a young man and found work in a mine located at Elizabeth, PA.

Joseph married Virginia D’Agostino (a native of Morgantown, WV) and had children. The family moved to Morgantown and Joseph went to work in the old Osage Mine. Joseph called off sick one day, something that he never did, and this spared him of being at work when the mine exploded. He was very upset, because he lost many friends and neighbours to a fate that he said he should have shared. Grandma said that he always felt guilty after this. He retired from the mines as an old man.

One of my younger brothers, Nathan, just began a career with Foundation Coal Company. He is currently assigned to Emerald Mine.

Story continues tomorrow.