Coal camp chronicles
March 22, 2004

True Stories By J.T. Knoll
Columnist's Note: In support of The Miners Memorial in Immigrant Park planned at Second and Broadway in Pittsburg, I am sharing two narrative poems that reflect life in the coal camps.

The poems are taken from "Goats House," the collection published in 1986 by former PSU special collections curator and southeast Kansas treasure Gene DeGruson. Gene, who died unexpectedly in 1997, grew up in a coal mining family in Camp 50 and Weir.

The first poem is an example of the personal pride the coal diggers felt in their work despite its danger and drudgery. The second reflects the numbing grief that was all too common to coal miners' wives.

NO PRIZE

For Janie Chiolino Caput

We worked in pairs, called ourselves brothers (recalled Frank Caput, who wished he could get the Western Coal & Mining Co. books to prove his story of No. 23 Western at Minden). There was me and Mike Chiolino, the Harrigans of Girard, John and Louis Paffy of Franklin, a couple guys from Frontenac, and two Austrians - one of them, John the Bachelor, weighed 300 pounds, lived at Edison. Mike and me got our early one morning and Jim McQueen the boss said, "Ain't you boys in the race?" "What race?" we asked. "The one to see who'll do the most work today," he said.

We got to it. John the Bachelor in the straight entry picked up a car with his bare hands and put it back on the track. "(Expletive)! We got no chance!" said Mike. "Let's give it a try," says I. And believe it or not, Mike and I won. Jim McQueen measured that entry four different times to make sure, but we had 96 foot of bushing, 36 foot of crosscut, 351 thousand of coal (about 150 tons), and 60 cars of rock we wheeled. I'd go in, Mike would take care of the empties and bushing. I'd drill an eight-foot hole, shoot it, and get eleven foot of coal Š 100 and eight feet in all. No prize. But we won!

AFTER THE CAVE-IN

For Barbara LaSalle

The great loneliness he promised her,

But which she knew would never come,

Has come Š she is its city,

Her avenues posted

With new standards of desire,

Her limits expanded

Beyond hope.

A silent city.

She cannot

Adjust to this numbness

In the voice of things: everything

Muted, disembodied from source, even

The summer bees not yet divorced

From autumn fields.

Confidence

Tatters in silence.

Everything scuds by unnoticed

As she idly touches each grain of salt

She spilled upon the table cloth.

The Miners Memorial will feature a life-size statue of a miner accompanied by granite monuments inscribed with the names of miners who worked in the Weir-Pittsburg coal fields.

A mining registry is being established with information and family stories like the ones above being collected. The cost of having a miner's name inscribed on one of the granite monuments is $100.

Anyone wishing additional information may call 232-1728 or 231-7419. The Miners Memorial now has a Web site where you can read more about the planned Immigrant Park and memorial and submit your family's coal mining stories. It is www.minersmemorial.org.


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