John Ayers working in the mine
Gail Herman: Can you take me on a memory tour of what it's like to go into your mine? Here that is pictured. What would it be like to go in it, and do a day’s work?
John Ayers: Well it's a, well working on your knees you put some knee pads on when you went in to get into one of these cars, and you got to watch your head that you didn't hit a rock, all the time. I liked it in the mine, you go in there in the winter time, it would be zero outside, well you take your shirts clean off to your undershirt working in there -I mean it's always about 45 or so degrees in there year round. I liked that part of it in the winter time, because you didn't have to dress that warm in there. But it was all just shovel and it was hard work, there wasn't nothing easy about it. Now, they say these modern mines it's hard to find a shovel, they just do everything with buttons today; to what they do back then.
G.H.: Well if you were to go into that mine in the old days, let's say when you were first starting out in the mines, what would it be like to get ready to go into the mine that morning? What would it be like, how would you get there? What would be the first thing you see when you walked in, or what would be the things you had to do to prepare?
J.A.: Well you just a… mostly just go down… well you always walked because it was always close enough you walked to work, we didn't have a bus to ride then. You just walked to work, and a… well a lot of them you go in your car by, you go in before daylight you would be going in the mine. Well you would always ride the car in. Like you would get the pony and had 3 or 4 miners, well they would get in the cars and you would take them in with you. Then you would get the… the pony can only pull you right in the headings, right in the trackway, because you had to shoot the rock over him, because he would be that high. Then you would have to get off and you would have to push the cars up… you would have switches, and they would call them rooms off. One guy would have this room, and he would have the coal up near where you would have to… you would push the car up there in that room, and then he would load it, he would be, well the driver, and then he would take the next guy up and give him the car. Then they would load them and then run them back out down the heading whenever they got it loaded and then they would bring them back out. That's what I did first, I drove in the mine. Just pulled the cars and stuff like that.
G.H.: You mean you pulled them yourself?
J.A.: No, the ponies. Yeah, the pony did it, but you had to have a guy on the back to work the brake, this is the brake, and there were things like that.
G.H.: So you would work the brake?
J.A.: Yeah, but then you would only load 3 or 4 cars a day, maybe 5. Pretty good days work for a man, he get 5 tons loaded. Well that was a good day’s work, and that's about all he would want to do then. Well there was some big coal loaders but…
G.H.: So when you first went in you did the pony, you drove the cars?
J.A.: Yeah took the car, took the cars out, and then a, well you would shoot your coal in the night, and have the coal practically all shot loose. See there really wasn't enough air in there, the smoke would stay in there so long that you shot… well you would just shoot in the night, then it would be all cleared off and be nice in the morning. Then you would load all your coal up, if you had 4 or 5 cars, and then you would have to get ready for the next day. You would have to get ready to shoot, like mining coal, or doing whatever you where going to do, and then you would shoot your coal down that night, and then you would go home. But the place you had, see, that was your place, nobody else went in there, the way we worked ours. You didn't have no night shift coming after you or anything, whatever you did the day before was left there the next day for you. If you didn't get it done the day before, you did it the next day.
G.H.: What was it like when you went home when you were a child, not a child, but a young person in the mines?
J.A.: Well you heated your water and put it in a tub and bathed. That' s what you did. You heated your water, put it in a tub and took a bath.
G.H.: When you got home you did this?
J.A.: Yeah, we never had no facilities to do it anywhere else, you had to do it at home.
G.H.: What kind of tub was it that you bathed?
J.A.: Just a metal tub. A metal wash-tub.
G.H.: And where was it located in the house?
J.A.: You moved it. Your knee-deep, sitting on a chair or stool. I mean it didn't stay there all the time, it wasn't permanent. I mean it was just a tub. You bathed, and you would wipe and you could go outside I guess if you wanted too, I mean it was just sitting on a stool or a chair, is what you… what it was.
G.H.: Did you use the tub in the kitchen or the bedroom or…?
J.A.: Usually the kitchen. No, usually the kitchen, yeah.
G.H.: Was it hard to get…
J.A.: No, coal dirt comes off easy. It does, yeah, it don't, it's nothing like grease, I mean coal dirt comes right off.
G.H.: So you didn't get in the tub then?
J.A.: No. Yeah, you just washed. Yeah, you didn't get in the tub, no. Well if you got in it, you would have to set it on the floor or something like that, so… no, it wasn't like in the shower or nothing like that.
G.H.: What did you wear at work in those days?
J.A.: Just over-alls. We wore them to the mine, and I told my wife, I wore it to the mine all my life, and now it's what they’re wearing on television. I did… that's what I used to wear to the mine. I don't go out in these at all, because I don't a…
G.H.: Were they blue like this?
J.A.: Yeah. Yeah, just blue-jeans, yeah, that's what we wore in or about the mine. Well they were so much heavier, I guess they kept the coal dirt out too. You take another pair of pants probably go right through it. And I seen a lot of them, where they worked on their knees, they had sewn 3 or 4 patches on there. Rather than wear knee-pads, just to make thickness there for their work on their knees. Sewn right on their pants. My Daddy used to do that all the time.
G.H.: Your Dad?
J.A.: Well my Mother did. Sewed his pants up like that.
G.H. : What did she sew to make it so it was easier on the knees?
J.A.: Just taking a bunch of cloth, old over-alls or something, just double four or five times and sew it on there, like. Just to make a thickness of… I'm not saying it was over-alls. Anything padding like that, you would sew it right on there.
Jack Ayers, Gail Herman
This photograph of John Ayers with his pony Red was made available by Dan Whetzel. Mr Whetzel interviewed Mr. Ayers for the Coal Heritage Trail, a cultural survey sponsored by Maryland Historical Trust, 2001.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980