Growing Up on Cabin Creek
MK Do you suppose your granddad was in a hard way? Why do
you think he would let a nine-year-old son go in the coal mines?
AM I don't think there was any work hardly at all except in
the mines itself. Particularly in that part of Kentucky where my
family was raised. And conditions was so tough then that everyone
in the family that was able had to work in order to make ends meet.
Far different than it is today, 'cause the wages even in the mines
didn't pay much then. I believe my father when he went to work in
the mines got 75¢ a day for trapping. They didn't pay a lot more
than that for full-time adults. My dad opened and closed doors on
the haulage way to direct air to the work faces. They had what you
called airlocks. You opened one door for the haulage motor to get in,
then you opened the other one for it to get out on the other side. You'd
keep the circulation of air going to the working faces, to prevent
such things as explosions and to keep the air at the proper level
so that the men would be able to work.
MK Do you know where your granddaddy Miller came from?
AM Oh, yes, the family came from a little town called Hummel in
Germany, my great-granddad and three brothers. They settled in east
Kentucky. I think perhaps my grandfather, too, was born in the old
country. He lived till he was 96, and he's not been dead all that many
years. The Miller family was raised religiously in the Dunkard belief
that adhered strictly to the Bible as it was written.
I remember my grandfather Miller in his later years owned some property
in Fayette County and it was a problem for my dad and my uncles to keep
him from trying to work when he was up in 80 years of age. He believed
in working, and he didn't believe in using modern conveniences. He
thought very little of walking 15, 20 miles a day, and often as not
we would miss him. We'd go around and check on the land he owned,
and generally found him farming somewhere- it wasn't like gardening.
One time we visited him and he had about two acres of half-runner beans
out, and I asked him, said, "Dad, what are you going to do with all
those beans?" He said, "Well, I'll sell some and give the rest away,
there's nothing wrong with giving them away as long as I find somebody
that needs them." And that's the way he was. He had to be out growing
or he had to be out working. He was up in the 80's before we finally
stopped him from working at the sawmill. He worked in the timber
quite a lot.
One time when I was visiting one of my uncles, granddad come in
one winter day. His overalls, when he took 'em off you could stand 'em
in the corner. They was froze well above his knees. And while he
was getting a bath we gathered 'em all up and burnt 'em. When he
come out of the bath, the first thing he done is opened the cap on
the stove - old coal burning stove -and looked in and saw the
remnants of the overalls, the buckles and so forth.
"By shuckings;' he said, "you boys have burned up my work clothes!
Now I'll have to go buy some more." We had a dickens of a time
getting him to realize we didn't want him working. He didn't have
to work. And we finally got him to quit. But he would go out and
put in the crops if we didn't watch him real close.
MK So your dad went to work in the coal mines when he was nine,
and by the time he was 14 he was in trouble for organizing?
AM Yes. He was driven out of Kentucky because of his
MK So how did your dad get to Cabin Creek?
AM Back in those days, when you looked for employment, you
would look for word-of-mouth information on where someone was hiring.
They'd go wherever there was some hope for work. Most of the mines in
the area of Cabin Creek when I grew up didn't work much at all in
the winter time. Generally they worked one day a week and they'd have
what was referred to by the miners as "block-up day." That meant you
could go out to the mines and work if you wanted to, shoot down your
coal, timber up your place-it was all hand-loading then-and get your
work place in a condition where, when the mine did work, you might
load another car or two of coal and make perhaps a dollar or two
more when the mines did work. But your were not paid for working
on a "block-up day." In fact, a lot of days you'd go out, and if
you shot any powder you paid for it yourself.
My dad worked in the Cabin Creek area back in the early days, around
1920. And when the union was broke in 1921 my dad and my granddad on
my mother's side had to leave Cabin Creek and go find work elsewhere.
They were driven off Cabin Creek and took employment in this little town
called Leewood. My dad did not come back. That's when my mother and dad
separated, and my dad worked in Fayette County for a number of years
in Ansted for the Gauley Mountain Coal Company. He subsequently became
president of the Ansted local, and was president there until that
operation shut down.
My mother's name was Lula Burgess Hoy, and my mother's dad was
Joseph Hoy. They came to Cabin Creek in 1903.