Luzerne County Memories

Part 5

Part 5:

* The One Room Schoolhouse

* Black Creek

* Picking Coal at the Culm Bank



The children from the mine patch and surrounding farms were required to attend a one room schoolhouse. What we called farms were really plots of one or two acres at the most. The residents at that time were: Wojciechowski, Presnal, Comorowski, Legas, Kepnach, Bucci, Kolacj and Smith. Not all, however, had children in school.

The school was not a wood structure as depicted in the old movies. It was made of brick and had an electric bell rather than an old time hand held bell.

Entering the school, there were steps going up to a foyer, through a cloakroom and into a large classroom. Stairs going down led to the tile restrooms for boys and girls and to the furnace room where the janitor stayed during school hours. There was one full-time teacher and a full-time janitor. I never remember more than 14 students in all of 7 grades. The janitor's room contained a table, chairs and a couch. The couch came in handy for the janitor or the teacher to take a nap when things were going slow.

I was the only one in my grade level. There were others in the same situation. Some grades had more than one student. The teacher (always a male) spent little time in instruction for each grade. It was impossible to spend a lot of time with each grade. Fifteen or twenty minutes, a few times a day, was about all that he could handle. Hence, there was a lot of busy work. There was no playground, but there was a lot of woods surrounding the school. A dirt road ran right in front of the school with woods just beyond. A farmer's field lay to the east with woods on all other sides. The wide range in pages made it difficult to play any organized games, so the woods came in handy for the boys to climb trees and play tag.

Whenever the teacher told one of the older boys to fill the inkwells, I knew I was in trouble. The penmanship teacher was coming. The boys put the filled inkwells in a hole in the desk. There was a hole in the upper right hand corner for right handed students and a hole in the upper left hand corner for left handers. When the penmanship teacher arrived, she distributed those old pens that held a replaceable pen point. When you pressed too hard on the pen, the point spread and you wound up with a big ink blot on your paper. It happened frequently to me. The pen did not lend itself to the big circles, small circles, tall up and down lines and short up and down lines that we were required to write across the paper. Then, we had large letters to practice and small letters to practice. All in all, it seemed stupid to me.

Every so often, the art teacher would come. Mr. "D" would usually come on a Friday afternoon. He'd bring a lot of construction paper and scissors that wouldn't cut. We'd wind up making a lot of silly things that didn't make much sense to me. I loved to draw and wondered why art class didn't include drawing. The best art class we ever had was a sort of field day. Popinki (sp?) were in season and both Mr. "D" and our teacher Mr. "Y" liked mushrooms. The kids didn't know a popinki from a brussels sprout, but we all tramped through the field anyway. Eventually, the teachers had us bring all of our mushrooms to them and they sorted out the edible ones, put them in a paper sack, and we all returned to school in time for dismissal.

The school board realized that the education taking place was not the best. The solution was to send the 8th grade to town to a regular school. An above average high school dropout rate will do that.

Walking to the one room schoolhouse was a pleasant experience for me. There was an opening in the brush just across the road from our house. The path led through the woods, across an old footbridge, up another path and through a field to the schoolhouse. Now, since I was in eighth grade and going to the new school, we had to walk for long distances on the road. The total distance to school was about a mile and a half or just a little more. However, the people in the patch, if they were going out at the time, would give us a ride part or all of the way to the school. The milkman would take a detour and drop us off, or my uncle, who had only one arm, would drive his motocycle with a sidecar down from Wilkes-Barre for a visit and give us a ride to school. (There were two of us going at the time.) One day, one of my teachers told me they would wait at the windows just to see what kind of conveyance would bring us to school.

All in all, it wasn't a good education. As any discerning reader can see, I still don't know where to put my commas.

Going to and from school through the woods was always a pleasant experience for me. I loved walking along those old paths, enjoying the thoughts of being a woodsman. However, I hated school and have no fond memories of that one room schoolhouse in the 30's.



In a recent letter, I mentioned the mining patch in which we lived was close to a black creek. Black wasn't the name of the creek, it was a description.

The refuse of the breaker came in solid form which was deposited on culm banks. Later in the process, the coal was washed and this refuse was dumped into a creek. This creek carried it, in our case, to the Susquehanna River. The breaker used huge amounts of water for this process. Sometimes, they used the water which they had pumped from the mines for this stage of preparing the coal.

Just as a natural river, during flood stage, carries large amounts of dirt in suspension giving it a brown look, so the black creek carried large amounts of coal dust or culm in suspension. During spring floods, this culm was deposited alongside of the creek in small flood plains. It was a creek of death since nothing, animal or vegetable, was able to survive in the culm. The only exception I found to this was the birch tree. For some reason, many birch trees were able to survive the acid soil.

Nevertheless, the creek provided some recreation to the two boys living in the patch. We used it for target practice. In those days, we made our own sling shots. (We never, however, used these weapons to shoot at or attempt to kill wild life.) We filled our pockets with stones from a nearby, abandoned sand pit, scoured the local dump for bottles with tops, threw the bottles in the creek and used our sling shots to break the moving target. Since no one would venture into the creek, there was no danger of anyone being cut.



The solid waste was carried from the breaker to the culm banks by cars the size of mine cars. The dump moved forward, over the years, engulfing all of the vegetation. As the culm bank moved forward, new track was laid across the top so the cars could reach the end of the bank.

After my father was unable to continue to work because of failing eyesight, we were evicted from the company house and moved back to town. We, like many others, began to pick coal at the culm bank. We had a special wheelbarrow on which to haul the coal from the dump to our house. (It was estimated that about 10 percent of the waste was good coal.) My father and I, during the summer, would get up before dawn and start out hoping to be at the culm bank at dawn. I'd find a place among the trees for him to sit with a large rock on which to crack the coal. I would take a bucket and climb the bank to look for the elusive pieces of coal. (The bank was about 40 to 50 feet high.) I'd bring the large pieces of coal to him to crack. It was wise to crack the coal there because of the dirt it left. It left too much dirt when we cracked it at home. When we had about two or three burlap bags, we loaded them on the wheelbarrow and with him pushing and me pulling and guiding, we made it home.

At times, if there were a lot of people picking, the coal and iron policeman would ride the car out to the dump. He would give a yell and jump menacingly off the car brandishing a club. We knew it was just a show, but we obligingly walked off into the woods until the car returned to the breaker. Other times, if there were only one or two pickers, he'd call out a warning and then roll down some choice pieces of coal for us to pick up. He didn't seem to care if anyone picked the coal since it was being discarded, anyway. It was a "people helping people" type of gesture.

This page copyright 1997-20162010 by Bob Howells. All Rights Reserved.

On to page 6 of Luzerne County Memories.

1997-2016 Mary Ann Lubinsky for the PAGenWeb Project, and by Individual Contributors