Howard Rees - Consolidation Coal Company
Consolidation Coal Company
ERG: I wanted to ask you about the reference to Consol. You say people almost cursed when they said it?
ERG: Tell me about that.
HR: Well, that's about all I know, that Consol controlled the miners and controlled the conditions of the miners. And the conditions were not the best, to put it mildly. And the miners knew that their very existence was in the hands of a group of men who were in an office miles away, deciding the future of the individuals. Their very futures were being dangled in a board room by the executives who were doing all they could to cut down the salaries or cut down the wages so that they could make more money. And the miners knew they were the victims and that's why—which was in a sense a good thing because that got them out of the mines. It was the same reason that they came to this country.
'Cause the miners over there had such rough times, they came over here. Although they were told the streets were paved with gold; that was the truth. They were actually told they could walk down the street and pick up a piece of gold. They didn't have to work; the gold was lying in the streets waiting to be picked up. And the steamship companies over in Liverpool, from which most of the coal miners left, would have all sorts of attractive ads of the kinds of vegetables, the kinds of gardens they could all grow, the kinds of houses they could all be living in so to get these suckers on board, get their money, and get them over here.
Just before my mother's mother landed, my grandfather was in a coal mining accident. He was blown up.
HR: John, yes. So when my grandmother came to Welsh Tract expecting to be met by her husband, she was met by friends who said that John was very busy and couldn't get there, but they would take her to him. Of course, they took her to the hospital and ...he was in this long row of casualties from this big accident. And of course they were all swathed in bandages. You couldn't tell who they were. His face was all disfigured. That's why he grew a beard. You see, he has a beard. That's to cover up the scars.
ERG: How did the accident happen?
HR: It was ...somebody had misfired the dynamite, which was happening all the time. They'd get a couple of drinks and ...well, how could they escape from their existence except by a couple of drinks? I mean, the coal miners were notorious for drinking. That's the way they released all their fear 'cause every day they knew that you walked to your death or losing an arm or losing a leg and not being able to work for the rest of your life. Every day of your life you lived with that. Women would see their sons going the same way, wondering will he come home all whole tonight or will somebody bring him home? So that the sense of death was there. So it was not unusual that the sermons in those little chapels related and the hymns related. Here's a book here, if you want to see what Wales was like about 20 years before my grandparents came; this is the one you'll want to read. This is Tom's (HR's son and ERG’s brother, named for HR's favorite Uncle Tom).
ERG: Flesh and Blood by Emyr Humphries.
HR: Uh-huh. It's just, I'd say anywhere from 30 to 40 years before my grandparents came. Now, I'm just guessing, but it's the Wales that they knew and boy, the hymns that the little children sang, about getting ready for death. 'Cause that's the way they lived, in the midst of death. And the chances of getting some compensation, oh boy, were very rare. Losing an arm was very standard. All through the community you saw one-legged men or you saw the one-armed men, and you knew exactly, you didn't ask any questions, you knew what it was.
ERG: And in Frostburg, how would they say Consol?
HR: It would be Consol...the Con-sol, the Con-sol, the Con- sol , the damn Con-sol. The damn Consol controlled their lives and it did. One thing that would happen, least the miners said this, the Consol would buy cheap wood, would buy cheap wood to hold up--see when you went into the coal mine, you'd dig and then you had to put up a frame so the roof wouldn't collapse. You had to have wood.
So the miners, whether it was true, I don't know, they would accuse the company of using cheap wood so that the roof would collapse, or would not cooperate in making conditions where it was safer for the miners. They were always doing what they could to make another dollar, so the coal miners ran a greater risk. In other words, the mine owners weren't risking anything, they just wanted more profit. And they saw themselves as victims, and they hated them. What could they do? They were the victims.
Howard Rees and Elizabeth Rees Gilbert
Elizabeth Rees Gilbert
The photograph is from the Consolidation Coal Company's report, Domestic and Smithing Coals, 1923.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980