John Grant - mining accidents
John Grant: Myself, I was just another kid who had to prove himself in the mines. And I think one of the times I really got my comeuppance was when I dusted off the cross bar, 'cause I was looking for a number, a station number for survey, and I came up to the words, "God is light." And I turned to this fellow, who was with me, and I said, "Gee, it looks like somebody's got religion down here," like an eighteen year-old would say.
He said, "Well, son, let me tell you." Then he gave me a five-minute lecture about how miners always work in the dark-- in the winter time, they go to work in the dark, in the winter time, they come home in the dark, and that most of their life is spent in the dark. And that when these fellows joined a church that had brilliant lights in it, they really understood what it meant, "God is light." And a lot of them were “Born Again Christians”, Pentecostals, whatever you want to call it. And so their tendency toward me was, "This smart kid has to learn something."
Andrea Hammer: One of the things that the popular imagination associates with mining is accidents. Were you ever involved in any accidents?
John Grant: Yes, I was. One very minor accident at the mine at that time; and then several years later, I was involved in an explosion. The minor accident was that a shot had gone off, and as soon as the smoke cleared, I had set some points up in this one room and the mining engineer said, "Go up and see if our points came down." This explosion blowing coal out.
So I went up and I looked around and saw that our survey point was still there. I realized that the roof was sagging from this explosion. And I was fascinated by that. I could hear ... they say you could hear a “squeeze” I could hear a noise. I was fascinated by that the way somebody would be fascinated by a snake. And I was sitting there and kept seeing this crack in the roof getting wider and wider and wider.
Next thing I knew, my boss said, "John, get the hell out of there." He could hear a squeezing too. I turned, and as I turned, the whole thing caved in and one of the cross bars caught my heel. Didn't really injure it, but it fell down, and then I scrambled up real quickly. That's the closest I ever came to an accident then. It just scared me very badly; I wasn't really hurt.
The time I got involved in the other explosion some years later though was ... I think I mentioned that I worked in mines up in Crellin and over on the Potomac River, and this was a mine on the Potomac River. After World War II, when I was going to engineering school, I, in essence, became a mining engineer because there wasn't anybody to keep up mine maps. The prevailing mining engineer in the area, that is the government engineer, said he would accept my maps.
So I was working in a mine, this was about in 1949, over on the Potomac River, and I had set some survey points in a room for a miner who spoke very broken English. The survey points were done in this manner. You would set two of them very close together, and then the miner would hang a string down from each one of the points, and he'd sight the way you'd sight out a gun barrel across the strings, to make sure you were digging in a straight line. Once in a while, these miners would pull a string tighter or accidentally pull down the whole thing, and we'd have to reset them for him.
So I was up in another heading, and this fellow came out and shouted something to me. I said, "Oh, golly. He'd pulled down his points." So I finished putting my transit readings down in my book. Very fortunately, I didn't walk down right away. I put the readings down in my book, and then put my book down. I walked back to see what the trouble was.
I turned and walked up the heading and perhaps was 20 feet up the heading when the explosion went off. It blew me right over backwards. I laid there in the tracks for a minute or so and thought, "Am I dead?" And I realized that I could feel the rails and so forth, and I realized it was pitch dark. The words that Stoggie had told me years earlier about "God is Light”, I understood what Stoggie was talking about. And I felt panicky for a moment, and then I thought if this blew me over backwards, my hat ought to be behind me. So I crawled down the heading holding onto the rail and putting my hands left and right, left and right. Probably about 20 feet or so I came across my hat. I lit my lamp and then looked at my hands, my face, and decided I wasn't bleeding anywhere. My ears were ringing.
So I walked back up to where I left my transit and my books and decided that that was about it for the day, that I'd quit. And as I'm going back down the heading, I met the miner who had yelled to me. I realized that in his broken English he had yelled, "Fire in the hole!" And I hadn't understood what he said to me. “Fire in the hole” was a warning that an explosion was going to go off. I hadn't realized that.
I never went back into that mine again. I don't know why. I guess I'm like my friend who got shocked by the electric trolley wire. I decided once in there, that was close enough. And I never went back in there again.
John Grant and Andrea Hammer
Photograph is from the Library of Congress collection, Photographs from the records of the National Child Labor Committee, by Lewis Wickes Hine, taken in West Virginia in 1908.
Title - Entrance to a W. Va. coal mine: a "drift" mine. The live-wire was only shoulder-high in places inside, and unprotected.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980