Barbara Angle - introduction
Carol Jean Niland: Barbara, You’ve been a coal miner for a few years from June 1975 till...?
Barbara Angle: April 1978. I was forcefully retired due to an arm injury,
CJ: Would you like to tell us about your arm injury?
BA: No, but... I was driving what they call a shuttle car which is basically an underground Mack truck. It is designed with consideration for the amount of coal that can be hauled and not too much for the driver. The driver has a 13 inch seat area and as much as I would like to be petite, I do protrude a bit from 13 inches. My arm was caught between the rib and the canopy of the car and basically it just chewed up my arm. I was being decapitated...that’s the only way I can describe it...and I ran over my power cord on the base of the rib which stopped the car. At the same time it pinned me under this piece of equipment and the guys were afraid to turn on the power because they thought it might go forward and decapitate me. They couldn’t find a jack on section which is against all Federal regulations. It was two guys with crow bars; they pried a space big enough for me to fall back. But I’d just been telling them “Take me from one side and get the arm from the other", because I was pretty sure it was gone.
The main thing I was thinkin’ about was my kid. My baby was about a year old then. I was a single mother and that still carries a certain stigma in West Virginia. I knew if I cried they were going to talk about it. So I started crying, "I want my baby.” I just kept saying that. And the guys said, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of your baby. It’s gonna be alright.”
They ended up sending me to Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. I have a screw in my elbow. I have 19 inches of nerve graft. I have skin graft and muscles from my back. And little kids stare at me in my bikini. But I still have my arm.
I was given 78% total disability which is, itself, one of those little political maneuvers because 80% is total. Even though the legs, the arm and the back were affected, they’re saying that because I have a college education, I can still think. Despite the fact that I can’t write or move around very well, because I’m educated I’m not eligible for any benefits.
CJ: Does this make you bitter towards the mines?
BA: Not the mines. Not the guys. It makes me bitter against the company but I think we all know that this is the way companies have been programmed to operate. They’re always going to put production first and the men second.
I’m just another casualty of that thinking. Like at my mines, another boy was hurt right after I was. Of course with me the first cry was “What do you expect...woman driver.” About 2 months later at my mine another guy was hurt. Identically. And we got ourselves a lawyer and this equipment had not been redesigned since 1952. It was not going to be redesigned until someone raised hell about it. These people are litigation responsive. Since then I’ve heard they’ve put sheet metal to protect the individual on that side but nothing is going to get accomplished in the mines until these companies feel the bite in their pocketbook. That’s the way they operate.
CJ: Do you feel the men cooperate with the mines as far as safety regulations?
BA: I think they do so far as they are allowed. In a Union mine we have a certain advantage in that we can refuse to work if we see an unsafe condition. But don’t think they aren’t going to remember this. Sooner or later they’re going to remember and they're going to hold it against you. In a nonunion mine, you refuse to work and you're down the road. As I said, we have a kind of dubious advantage in working in the mine, but today with the mining industry and job conditions as they are, these men are tempted to go into dangerous conditions to feed a family, and many time that’s the end of them. It is the most dangerous industry around. People say, “But you get high wages.” Think of factory workers in Detroit in nice clean hygienic conditions who are making more than your miner underground.
Barbara Angle and Carol Jean Niland
Barbara Angle died in 2011. Photograph from Barbara's obituary in the Cumberland Times News, June 6, 2011. More on her life and writings can be found at Barbara Angle, Allegany County Women.
Gary Angle, Barbara's brother, gave permission for this interview to be made available.
Garrett College, McHenry.
Coal miners--Maryland--History; Coal miners--West Virginia--History; Garrett County (Md.)--History; Allegany County (Md.)--History.
Western Maryland, 1930-1980