At this time in 1908, company men and drivers received $2.56 for an eight hour day, six days a week. The spragger received $1.40 and the trapper $1.13 for an eight hour day. The top men were paid $2.02 a day, while the miner had to load from three to three and one-half tons of coal to equal the wage of the company men, $2.56. This was not all take-home pay, for from his pay check would be deducted the house rent which was $7.50 a month, if they lived in the company houses, the coal purchased, the union dues, blacksmith dues, miners checkweighman’s dues, and a company doctor 50 cents a month.
The work day of a miner commenced at 5:30 a.m. when the mine whistle blew three times warning the miner and his wife that it was time to get up. As the miner was getting ready for work, the wife would get breakfast and fixed his lunch pail. The pail, either aluminum or granite, was composed of three compartments. The lower part or bucket for liquid, either oatmeal, water, tea, coffee, etc.; the middle part for the lunch, and the top tray was for dessert, if any.
At 6:00 and 6:30 a.m. the whistle blew once, warning the miner it was time to leave for work depending on the distance his home was from the mine. On a dark, velvety, wintry morning as the miner walked to work with his oil or carbide pit lamp attached to his cap, the light flickered as it bobbed up and down at each step he took.
Many a miner had to walk about a half of a mile or more from his home to work in light or dark, warm or cold, rain or snow, and a about a mile or so when he reached the bottom of the shaft down an entry to his work room.
At 7:00 a.m. the last whistle blew, the last of the miners had been taken to the bottom by cage and the engineer was ready to hoist coal. The cage held twelve men. As one cage went down another came up.
The miner with his lighted pit lamp on his cap, carrying his lunch pail and perhaps a tool or two that had been sharpened, walked down a dark entry toward his room to his place of work. The room had a frontage of 42 feet and was 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 feet high. As he worked on his knees, he moved in to break into the clay, rock and coal.
The miner’s tools which he purchased consisted of five to eight picks, a shovel, wedges, sledge hammer, iron bar, saw and a hatchet. As the tools became dull he would leave them at the company’s blacksmith shop, located west of the shaft, to be sharpened.
The mining of coal was done overhead with pick and shovel to loosen clay, rock and coal. If the mining didn’t soften, he had to cut into the coal. Sprags (one-half of a prop about two feet long), were used to hold up the ceiling so it wouldn’t cave in while mining. Sometimes the sprag would give way and before the miner could get out of the room, the ceiling of coal would fall upon him injuring him badly or fatally and sometimes burying the unfortunate miner under several tons of coal or rock. If the sprag held up the ceiling of coal overnight, the weight of the coal ceiling would break loose and the sprag would be knocked out to bring down the coal in the morning.
Each driver handled the empty and loaded pit cars for twelve or fourteen miners’ places or rooms. The driver brought empty pit cars, pulled by a mule over the track, as close to the miners’ rooms as possible to be loaded by the miner. Generally at the end of these rooms there was one room or place which had been worked out or was a dead place. The driver placed the empties on the track of this place to remain until the miner needed an empty car. The driver then went up the tracks of the main entry picking up loaded cars of coal or rock from all of his places. As he added cars he added mules, two or three, if necessary to help pull the larger load. He was then on his way back to the bottom of the shaft, where the pit cars were put on the cage and taken to the top of the tipple. Meanwhile, the miner built a temporary track with short pieces of rail into his room so he could push his empty car closer to the rock or coal for ease in loading. The track layer laid the main switches. When the miner’s track was long enough for a longer regular length of rail, the track layer would replace the short rails with a regular length of rail.
If the car was filled with a level box, it held about one ton of coal more or less, but if the room was high enough to build up the sides of the car with chunks of coal, the car would hold two or more tons. Sulphur and slate had to be removed from the coal for if much of it was found mixed with the coal, the miner would be docked on his pay check. The dirt, rock and brushings had to be loaded without pay to keep the room clean and get height for the room.
The employees inside of the mine consisted of the coal miners, the track layers, who laid the tracks; the company men, who cleaned and kept the roads clean; trappers who opened and closed the doors, to keep the air circulating to hold air in the rooms and give signals; spraggers, who kept one car at a time from moving too fast toward the cage after the mule had been unhitched; cager, who belled the cage and caught the cars as they came to the cage: the engineer, who was licensed, hoisted the cage after it had been belled; mine manager, mule boss, face boss and night boss.
The employees on top of the mine consisted of the hoisting engineer, who hoisted the cage after it had been belled; top cager, coal dumper, rock dumper, rock engineer, car loader operator, block loader, run loader, who ran empty flats to be loaded; boiler fireman, machinist, maintenance workers, blacksmith, carpenters, team drivers, prop loaders, company checkweighman and top boss.
The miner used a large washer with his number stamped on it, which he hung on his coal car when it was loaded. When the car reached the top of the tipple, it was weighed by the checkweighman. He took the check or washer and hung it on a board with pegs, near his office. Near this was a large sheet with the listings and weights of the coal of each miner’s car. As the miner went down from the tipple, passing the checkweighman’s office, he could check the amount of coal he loaded daily. In the morning, on his way to work, he picked up his checks to be used during the day.
As 11 a.m., the whistle blew once reminding the top men it was lunch time and at 11:30 when the whistle blew it was time for them to resume their work. Only the cagers at the bottom of the shaft heard the whistles. The miners and other workers below carried a watch. They attached a leather strap to it so it could be hung in their place of work. At times they were busy filling a car or the car was filled before 11 a.m. and they didn’t have another to fill so their lunch time was irregular.
At the 3:30 p.m. whistle, the miner after working eight hours, picked up his lunch pail and started down the entry toward the bottom of the shaft to be taken out of the darkness into the light on his way home. Sometimes the cage was out of order for hours or the miner was delayed and was unable to reach the bottom of the shaft before the last cage was hoisted. Under such conditions the miner would have to walk up the steps of the escape shafter after a hard day’s work, winding his way up, round and round ten or twelve steps and a platform, ten or twelve steps and a platform, until he reached the top. At 9:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. the miner could have a cage to come out in case his room was squeezing or he wasn’t well.
Generally, two men worked on room or place as buddies, dividing the pit cars of coal loaded daily between them. If four cars of coal were loaded in one day each miner put his checks on two cars, but in case only three cars were loaded, one miner would get two cars and his buddy one car. His buddy on the next day would put his check on the first car loaded. If perchance the miner had his son or his friend’s son (generally a sixteen year old) whom he was responsible for as an apprentice, the miner put his check on two cars to the apprentices one, until he became a full-fledged miner. The miner generally did all the difficult and dangerous work while teaching and being responsible for the apprentice.
There were few or no washrooms and no bathrooms in the miners’ homes. The miner’s wife would place a large kettle of water on the coal stove, if she was not on of the fortunate ones to have a reservoir attached to her cook stove, which would keep the water warm at all times. A wash tub was placed back of the kitchen stove and this was his bathroom.
Supper time was the only time the family was together. Then the miner at Hayslip heights would go out, meet some of his buddies, and together they went to the Monkey’s Nest where they met more friends and would spend the evening.
Monkey’s Nest was the eastern section of Mark, North of the company houses and west of Division Street. A saloon was opened in a small room of the home of a man nicknamed Monkey Tom. It was the German people living in the company houses that named Monkey’s Nest, for to them this small room was a nest. To this day this section of Mark is called Monkey’s Nest.
The miner’s wife lived a life of hard work, anxiety and fear; nevertheless, she was happy in her scantily furnished home, stretching the few dollars to make ends meet for the necessary needs of the family. Her humble home was her castle.
As soon as her husband left for work, she awakened the children, gave them their breakfast and prepared them for school. She still had to take care of two or three children at home. This being wash day, she would set out her tubs and washboard in the kitchen. The water was heated in a boiler, on a coal stove, which she had to feed continually with coal that she carried in, in coal buckets from a coal shed situated in the rear of the yard. A spoon of lard added to the boiler of water helped soften the water for the well water was hard.
The water had to be carried by pails from an outdoor well sometimes located a block or two from the house. These wells would sometimes dry out or they were low in water so they had to be primed. She would save enough water to pour back into the well to start the water flowing. On a cold, winter day the handle of the pump was so cold that her hands would stick to the handle while pumping.
Bent over the wash tub she would rub the clothes on the washboard. She would hang the clothes outdoors on a clothesline, even in winter when they would freeze as stiff as boards. In the late afternoon she would stretch clotheslines in the kitchen, hang the frozen clothes to thaw and finish drying. Then she scrubbed the bare wooden floor on her hands and knees.
Her ironing board was a padded flat board which she placed from chair to chair. She had a set of sad irons which she placed on the stove to heat. When heated, she picked the iron up with an iron handle which clipped into the iron. When one cooled off she would replace it with a warm one.
All day long as she worked, she listened for the whistles, the noises and the bells of the mine. When the cager belled once, it was the signal for hoisting cars of coal, three bells was for hoisting men and more bells, a slow signal, for carrying to the surface a sick, injured or fatally injured miner. If any of the workers were instantly killed, the whistle would blow and the mine was closed for the day.
If by chance, it was the slow signal bells, all the wives with fear in their hearts, their children hanging on to their aprons, would come out to the stoop to see if someone was being carried toward their homes. Soon four stretcher bearers, bearing a stretcher with a form wrapped in blankets, would be seen coming over the knoll toward their street. Filled with anxiety and tension they were relieved when the stretcher bearer passed each home. With heavy hearts they went into their homes as they saw them stop at a neighbors home.
There was a spirit of friendliness in those days and soon they were ready to help the distressed family in all ways, caring for the younger children, taking home the washing and ironing, cooking meals and keeping the home in order, while the injured miner’s wife devoted her time to the care of her injured husband.
At 5:30 p.m. the miner’s family would listen intently for the whistle. If three whistles blew it meant work the next day but if it was one long whistle, no work the next day and a smaller pay check.
After the evening meal, the dishes washed, the house set in order and the smaller children put to bed, the miner’s wife would sew and batch until late at night. She had earned a good night’s rest.
Kindling had to be chopped the night before, taken indoors to start a fire in the kitchen stove in the morning. Generally two buckets of coal were filled to be on hand to feed the stove to keep the fire burning during the day. In the morning, the ashes were shaken into the ash pan of the stove, and taken to the ash pile. The fire would then draw and burn more readily.
The homes were lighted by kerosene lamps and a daily chore was to fill the lamps with kerosene, clean the chimneys and clip the wicks so the lamps would burn brightly to give as much light as possible. Kerosene lanterns were used when going outdoors after dark.
Coal was delivered to the miner’s home by a wagon drawn by two horses. On a cold, snowy, wintry day, one could hear the creaking of the snow under the wheels, see the vapor from the horses’ nostrils, and the driver sitting or standing as he drive the horses, clapping his hands together or throwing his arms about him to keep warm.
The St. Paul Coal Company now erected a temporary hospital at the shaft and fitted it for an emergency. It was steam heated and sanitary. Cots, stretchers and an ambulance were kept in the building. Persons injured would now be given first aid before taken home or to the hospital.
On election day, the mine closed at 1:00 o’clock so the men would have time to vote.
On Wednesday evening, in December 1908, between 6:00 and 7:00 o’clock, the B.F. Berry Coal Company washer at Mark was totally destroyed by fire. The watchman had checked the water in the tanks and had fixed his fires, when he smelled smoke. Going to the third story, he saw that flames were breaking out in the northeast corner. He ran down the steps, turned on the steam to the hose pump, hurried back to the third floors, but the fire had made too much headway, and there was nothing he could do. He tied down the cord of the whistle so it would continue to whistle warning the village of the fire.
It was a wooden structure and in less than one-half of an hour, it was burned to the ground. This was $25,000.00 loss with $12,000.00 insurance. Fifteen men were out of work and the community was without the best kind of cook stove coal.
The slack washer had been handling screenings from Granville, Standard, Cherry and Toluca and was running full time.
The Berry Coal Company rebuilt the washer out of corrugated steel sheeting and by the first of April 1909, it was ready for work. It employed about fifteen men, during each shift. Among these were three shovelers, and one unloader, one reloader, a rock engineer, who ran the car up the dump; a maintenance man, and an upstairs operator, who regulated the coal in the wash tub. The washer was working two nine hour shifts. Mr. Herman Wirtz, Sr. was the boss.
Before the workers left for home at 4:30 p.m. they were informed whether there would be work the next day. This all depended on whether there were cars of screenings which had been pushed by an engine on tracks up a grade to the west of the washer or whether the boss had been informed beforehand that the screenings would arrive by morning.
At 7:00 a.m. when the work day began, one at a time the cars of screenings came down the incline to the unloader, a piece of sationary machinery on the ground floor operated by one man. A coil rope was attached to each car. One car at a time, as the operator released the lever, the rope gradually pulled the car into the unloader as the rope was being coiled. One man sat on the top of the coal in the car, pushing the coal gradually into the unloader to prevent too much coal falling in at one time.
Three shovelers shoveled the coal out of the cars that was left after the unloader had taken as much as possible. Each shoveler shoveled two cars, then rested the third car so one in turn rested as two shoveled. The coal was then taken by a chain of bucket elevators to an upstairs bin on the top floor. Here an operator regulated the coal into a ten foot coneshaped tub, which was about ten feet deep.