Luzerne County Memories
* The Mine at Susquehanna #6
* The Mules
* Before the Shift Began
* The Lamps
* The Shifting Shanty
* Saturday Showers
THE MINE AT SUSQUEHANNA #6
In answer to several requests, I'll continue with my explanation of the mine at Susquehanna #6. Although I never worked at the mine, I lived just a few hundred yards away for over four years. (BTW, Cat, I worked for a few years at the Duplan Silk Mill).
The shaft had two cages each connected by a large steel cable which went over a wheel high above the cage and into the engine house a few hundred feet away where they were connected to a huge drum or cylinder. One cable went over the top of the drum while the other went under the bottom. As the hoisting engineer manipulated his levers causing the cylinder to turn, one cable wound up while the other cable unwound. This caused one cage to come to the surface and the other to descend. The man stationed at the surface was called the head tender while the man at the bottom of the shaft was called the foot tender. They would signal by bell to the engineer as to what the cage held at the time. For example: one bell might mean "men aboard", two might mean "mules", three might mean "mine car".
When a full mine car came to the surface, it was pushed off the cage and replaced by an empty. The full car would travel by gravity down a slight incline where a man would stick a wooden sprag through the spokes of one wheel to slow it down and stop it. He then would hook all the cars together, and when there were enough for a trip, the lokey (sp?) would pull them to the breaker in Glen Lyon, then return with empties. (A lokey was a small coal burning steam engine not unlike the larger locomotives used on the railroad). This process was repeated all day.
The mine car held about 4 tons and the miners were expected to load 4 cars during a shift. (Hence, the song "16 Tons" by Ernie Ford.) The larger railroad cars held from 50 to 80 tons. They were called gondolas.
There were times they brought the mules to the surface. Although they were using electric motors to pull the cars inside the mine, they still used mules in certain places. I always felt sorry for those mules. My father used to sing a ditty with these words:
"My sweetheart's the mule in the mines.
I drive her without any lines.
On the bumper I stand
with a whip in my hand
and spit on her behind."
(My apologies for sounding crude.) However, the ditty was wrong. Those men would do nothing to abuse those animals. They loved them and would take treats for them when they went to work. Sometimes, the mules were taken to a mule barn and yard at Susquehanna #7 in Nanticoke. As one came into town by bus or trolley, the animals could be seen roaming around the yard. I don't know why they were sent there. Maybe they were sick or just getting a little R&R.
BEFORE THE SHIFT BEGAN
A few hours before the shift began at Susquehanna #6, the fire boss would make his rounds to determine if the work sections were safe. He checked possibilities of danger including gas. He carried with him a safety lamp (Davey lamp) which used naphtha for fuel. It was tall (about 10-12 inches) and about 4-5 inches in circumference. The flame was surrounded by a mesh and then a glass enclosure. When the light went out, it indicated a lack of oxygen and the presence of gas.
The men would pick up their battery-operated lamps at the lamp shanty. Each man had a designated and numbered lamp. The lampman would hand them out in the morning, collect them after the shift, then put them on a rack and charge them for the next day. (Many lampmen were men who had lost a leg in the mine and couldn't go below to work.) The men would affix the lamps to the front of their safety helmets, put the cord over the top of the helmet and down the back to the battery pack which was connected to his belt at the waist. He wore a piece of leather between the pack and his body for protection. The lamp was turned on when it was put on the helmet and stayed on until the shift was over.
Instead of going down on the cage, some of the men would walk past our patch of houses and through the woods to a slope. A slope was an entrance that went into the mine at an angle and the men would walk down instead of taking the cage. From our kitchen window, after dark, we could see the lights coming through the woods as the men returned after their shift. Watching the bobbing lights at night was an eerie sight.
THE SHIFTING SHANTY
Some men showered and changed clothes before going home after work. Others preferred to go home in their work clothes and wash at home. Those who "shifted" went to the shifting shanty. The shifting shanty was a large building with a shower room at the end. As I recall, the shower room was about 10 x 10 with shower heads on the walls. There were no lockers for their clothes. The ceiling was very high and there were many pulleys attached to it. Through each pulley ran a chain that came down and was able to be fastened to the back of a bench. The men fastened their clothing to the chain by means of a hook or, in some cases, a very large safety pin. They would then pull the chain taking the clothes to the ceiling, fasten the chain to the back of a bench and put a padlock through the links so nobody could steal the clothes.
The shanty was very dark, smelly and dirty. There were long electric wires that hung from the ceiling and came below the clothing. There was an incandescent bulb at the end of the cord. I don't think the lights were ever turned off. They just replaced the bulb when it burned out. The windows were translucent but turning opaque with the dirt. The benches and floor were always dirty with coal dust. I guess someone cleaned the building once in a while, but it was a never ending job.
On Saturdays, when the mine wasn't working, I would go down and get permission from the hoist engineer (Mr. Morgan, Mr. Brush or Mr. Poltrock) to take a shower. Usually, my friend, Jack Campbell, would go with me. The engineers knew we were from the mining patch and they never refused us. We had to take newspapers with us to spread on the bench and on the floor. If we forgot to bring them, we couldn't sit on the bench or walk barefoot on the dirty floor. Sitting or walking without the benefit of the newspapers meant a dirty "bottom" or dirty feet and required another shower. It sounds like a lot of trouble, but it was better than the alternative which was taking a bath in a round galvanized tub in the middle of the kitchen floor and having my two older sisters tease me by threatening to open the kitchen door and throw cold water on me.
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Mary Ann Lubinsky, County Coordinator