My Life as a Coalminer
This is a story that my mother, Margaret G. Bromfield Easterling wrote to the Coal Edition of the Welch Daily News, Friday, March 29, 1991. The story was written up by Cathy Patton.
Mother's story is followed by my father's story, which was also carried in the Coal Edition of the Welch Daily News on the same date.
Memories of Being A Coal Miner's Daughter by Margaret G Bromfield Easterling
When Margaret Broomfield Easterling reminisces about her late father, Luther J. "Peanuts" Broomfield, she usually does so with a light and a mist in her clear blue eyes.
Her Daddy's gone but his memory lives on through the Paynesville resident and her two brothers, James and Dewey Bromfield.
Edged from Easterling's childhood memories, she recounts them with a wistful smile, which betrays the fact that some of her happiest moments were spent in the coalfields of yesteryears.
Easterling is one coalminer's daughter who can recall the pre-Union coalfields with an enviable clarity.
"There's no doubt about it," she said. "Times were rough, but that doesn't mean that we weren't happy."
In comparing her family's station in life to others in the coalfields, Easterling noted that some had it "better." Others, she said, had it "worse," but everyone blended together because of the work that bound them.
In those early days, miners had to be resourceful and as rugged as the hills and hollows out of which they eked an existence. That the Broomfields, and the multiplicity of others like them, survived is a tribute to their fortitude.
May we be ever mindful of and thankful for those courageous souls--the early coalminers.
"My mother, Lena E. Williams, met my father on a train while he was traveling to Christiansburg to visit some relatives. Mother was from Christiansburg, but Dad lived in Hemphill. Mother said that she'd always had a dream about meeting a man on a train who wore a certain kind of hat. Dat always wore a slouch hat, tilted to one side of his head. "When they got married, they moved to Hemphill and rented a four room company house for $10 a month. It was pretty nice for a miner's house in those days. It had running water and a commode, but no bathtub. The store manager and the coal company officials lived in the biggest and nicest houses, which were located where the old clubhouse used to be. I heard someone once call that section of Hemphill "Silk Stocking Row".
Easterling laments that she didn't get to see her father often enough during her formative years.
"A lot of times, I didn't get to see him from one Saturday to the next," she said. "He'd go to work before I got up in the morning and he'd come in after I went to bed. Dad didn't talk a lot. He didn't even own a car until 1942. He was just happy to get to come home and take a bath in a No 3 wash tub." "Mom was just a country girl, a real homebody." Easterling said. She always kept a garden behind our house. I remember when I started to school in 1927 that she sent me to Welch school instead of the Hemphill-Capels. Because of where we lived, I would have had to walk down by the river and she wouldn't let me do that."
"We were very poor, but I didn't think anything about it. I didn't even notice it much until I went to school in Welch and saw kids there who were better-dressed than me. I didn't have many clothes but mom always made sure that we were clean."
But her protective mother couldn't shield her only daughter from all of life's harsh realities.
"I remember one time that we owed a $1 electric bill and my parents couldn't come up with the money to pay it. They cut our juice off and we used kerosene lamps until it got turned back on."
An even more painful event occurred a few years later when her parents overextended themselves at the company store.
"I was about 12, " she said. "Dad came home one day and said he didn't draw any money. I must have wanted a dime or something because I got real upset. Dad, I said, that can't be right. You've worked two whole week's they've got to pay you. He handed me a statement with a zero on it. Sis, he said, if you don't believe me, take this (statement) down to the Shaft Bottom company store and see for yourself. I stood in line a long time just to learn that my father was right. That hurt me so bad, especially for Dad."
There were other paydays, however, when life was brighter.
"It used to be a big thing to walk to Welch on paydays, Easterling said. There'd be cars parked all the way down both sides of the street. We'd go to Murphy's and sometimes Dad gave us a dime and we'd go to the Pocahontas or Tempic Theater and watch a Western. It like to have killed me when they raised the admission to a quarter. I hardly ever got to go after that."
"Life got better for us after the Union came in. Dad drew more, and Mom, who was always thrifty, could even save a little bit. She saved money by never spending anything over $100 that Dad made."
During WWII, Easterling's father joined the Navy but the war ended before he was ever shipped out.
"He never got to do it, but Dad always wanted to travel," Easterlling related. "I remember him saying that he wished he had $1,000 extra just so that he could see the world."
After working 38 years underground, Easterling's father retired and moved to Corpus Christi, Texas where her brother, James, lives.
"My parents had a better life after they moved," Easterling said. "They used to love to go fishing in the Gulf. Their health improved and Dad opened a little store on Padre Island. Dad was the unofficial first-aid man on the island. When anyone got stung by a jelly fish or needed minor medical attention, they always came to him."
"Dad didn't want to apply for his black-lung benefits, but we finally talked him into it" she added.
Easterling said that she made her father the proudest when she graduated from school in 1940.
"Dad only went to the fourth grade," she said. "I was the first person in his family to graduate. For somebody who only had a fourth grade education, I think my Dad did pretty well for himself.
For a long time, I didn't even know that Dad had written about his life in the mines. I think he wrote his story because he wanted people to read about it. Please don't change his grammar."
Editor's Note: Easterling's father's unedited story, "My life as a Coalminer," is in today's Coal Edition. Because of his daughter's request, this story is unedited. A copy of the original transcript was furnished by Margaret Broomfield Easterling and was compiled by Cathy Patton.
My Life As A Coalminer By Luther Jennings Broomfield
I was born and raised in and around the coal mines comunety. as a boy I only went to School untill I passed 4th grade. My parrents wanted me to go to School but I went to work in the mines at the age of 13 yrs. at that time there was no age limit for boys to work.
A coal mine must have venelitation. in the mines that air is put in the mines vby huge fans. the fresh air is forced in and around the working places. Which in the old days was regulated by Stoppings and doors. but now instead of doors overcasts are used the air that is put into the mine is to furnish octain to the men and take all Smoke and gasses out of the mine. to do this there is a number of passages driven. theyare divided into two separated systems one called intake the other returns.
as a boy in the old days it was my job to open and close the doors that was assigned to me. My first jobs pay was $1.00 per day 10 hours a day and 6 days a week. I will never forget my first payday. at this time the company only payed once a month. I drue a $20.00 bill and I ask my father recon if any one in the town could change it. I was a happy boy. at the age of 15 I was given a job as a mule driver. A mule drivers job was to take the empty cars to the coal loaders and take the loaded cars away. in those days all work was done by hand and mules. the coal was dug with a pick and loaded by hand. My first years in the Mine we used oil lamps for lite. and black powder was used to blast the coal down after the miner put a cut under the coal or over top of the coal. thencarbid lamps came into use which we used for quite awile. Next they put a moor safe lite into effect an electric lamp that was run by a battery that we carried on our belt. With the new lites came other modern machenry. So the first machine that came to the mine that I worked (on) was a locomotor. this motor was used to haul the trains of cars from the gatherings places. where the mules brought coal cars to a place we call a was to couple and uncouple the cars. after a short time I was given the job of opperation this machine. the next machene the company got was a coal cutting machene. this machene was used to undercut the coal so it could be blasted down. I was one of the first men to learn to operate one of these machenes. this was hard and dangerous work. We did our work at night so the men could blast the coal down and load it the nest day. this was before the union came to West Virginia. Safety rules was verry lax and often we had to stay long hours if we made anything. I will explain some of the things a miner had to do before the united Mine Workers union came in.
One of the first things that President Rosevelt did when he was first elected as President of the United States was to give all men a rite to choose a bargainin groop to represent them. Some coal companies fought this but the company that I worked for did not fight. We had no troubal. I was one of the first men to Sign for a charter and I was one of the first officers in our local. before the union came in the miner had no say about any thing no rights at all. I have seen men discharged for no reason at all. We Were Supposed to work 9. hours a day but I have went to work around 6.00 A.M. and woruld get out around 9 or 10 P.M.
If a miner was sent to a place to work and there was watter knee deep he did not get any pay for that. or if a lot of timers was broken he had to reset them. Sometimes it would take 3 or 4 hours. he did not get any pay for that. if at the tipple they found 4 or 5 pieces of rock in a car of coal the miner would be given from 4 to 5 days lay off or a discharge. during the depreshion there would be 30 or 40 men on the out Side Waiting to see how many were fired that day. the mine I worked in was the only mine aroundclose that worked as much as 3 or 4 days a week so if a person had a Job he tried to hold it. these things that I have rote here is true. I worked 6 months at one Period any only drue .5c in cash. We had to buy our food and if We had enough credit in the office We could get a few clothes.
Then after thea union came in things began to get better rite along. first we got a good raise in pay. how proud I was to draw a little Cash money on Pay day. where I worked at theis time after I entered the mine I had to walk too and from my work about 2 miles each way. no Pay. but the union got the company to transport the men too and from work. after the union came in if a foreman ask a man to work in enought watter that he would get his feet Wet or to reset timbers or do any workthat was not in his line of duty he would have to tell this man how much he was going to pay him extry. All so now the coal companys must pay a man from the time hee enters the mine untill he is brought out. besides the number of pay raised there is many more advanges the miners have gotten. there is but little coal loaded by hand. any more machenery does most of the work in the mines any more.
at these times Safety is a must. the coal companys have a Safety foreman. the state of West Virginia has a mine inspector. the union has safety inspector and the United States goverment has a safety inspector. the company inspector does not want the State inspector to find any dangerous hazard and above all no on wants the govement inspector to find any thing.
I have worked and Seen the coal industry mined from hand and man power to mechinazion. I have worked as a trapper boy and a coal loader. a mule driver and timber man. a track layer. a brakerman. a motor operator.wast virginia 9206. I was a foreman when the first coal loading machene was put in the mine that I worked at.I helped to demonstrate the first Steel Pining of the roof in the mines that I worked in. I was the first to help demonstrate the first machene that Set Post and cross bars in the mine that I worked in. I worked in the Coal Mines from 1913 until 1951. I had an accident on Nov. 29,-1951. Was in and out of the hospital for over 2 years. While therethe Dr. found I had Cilicosicis and I cant work in the mines any more.
Machenery has taken the jobs of many men whee it use to take from 90 to 100 men to produce 150 tons of coal in 8 hours before machenes were put in the coal mines. Nov 12 to 14 men will produce 300 tons or more. Where in the old days We worked 10 to 12 hours a day 6 days a week with no pay for overtime now a miner works 40 hours a week and he gets paid for all over time. in the older days before the union came in a man must do all of his storeing at the company Store or he would get discharged. now he spend his money where he Please. I rite this as a true experience. I have heard the coal miners names abused many times. if this is ever put in Print I hope it Will straiten out Some of the People that don'tknow what they are talking about
If my good griends who holds W.Va mine cerftificates #9204 and 9205 reads this they will know who I am.
to show what the coal companys will do I lived in one company house 22 years and one day the head foreman and I had a dissagreement and I quit my job at that mine and went to another mine to work. I had worked for this company for 33 years and they gave me a cort notice to vacate their house in 10 days.
This is the end of the story that my grandpa Luther Jennings (Peanut) Broomfield wrote. I hope this will give the insight of what a coal miner went through many, many years ago.
Editor's Note: Attached is a Certificate of First Aid Training that Luther J Broomfield received from the Department of Mines, State of West Virginia, in 1949.