Chuck Mack: Old-time mining wasn’t easy
Remembering The Old Redwing Mine: Part 5 of a 5-part series
December 27, 2008
Craig — I kept the job of motor man until 1958, when the Mount Harris Mine shut down.
A lot of Mount Harris miners came to work at Redwing at this time. Among them was Herman Sanchez. He had been motor man at Mount Harris, so they gave him my job, and I was given the job of fire boss. This job required me to go into the mine each morning, some three or four hours before the rest of the miners.
My job was to examine the working areas of the mine for any dangerous conditions: accumulations of explosive gases, bad air, loose top, etc.
No other miners were allowed into the mine until I reported that everything was all clear.
The remainder of my day would be spent anywhere I was needed. I liked this, as I never knew from one day to the next what I would be doing (a good way to keep from becoming bored).
I had the job of fire boss until the time the Redwing Mine was closed. Getting to spend all this time alone in the mine with just the Tommy-Knockers – those legendary leprechauns who live in underground coal mines – I got to feeling like I knew that mine like no other man could.
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The old-style mining machinery slowly was phased out and replaced with more modern stuff, some of which came from the Mount Harris Mine. (Colowyo owned the Mount Harris Mine also, and it had been located about 50 miles away.)
However, most of the machinery was purchased new. A year or two before they closed, they had even bought a new Lee-Norris continuous miner.
This called for a whole new mining plan.
Now we had to mine the seam of coal from the top. We would take eight feet or so, working out a complete section, then go back and take the remaining coal eight feet at a time.
Another thing we had to do after we got the continuous miner was to install roof bolts. They weren’t really needed, but they were part of the mining plan. The state and the federal government thought they were needed, but in all my years in the Redwing Mine, we never had a roof fall.
For years and years we never set a prop or timber, except to hang a power line on, etc.
As the old, outdated mining machinery was replaced, a lot of it was sold to some of the small home-owned mines in the area.
I recall the time Johnny Mathews, owner of Johnny’s Mine near Oak Creek, bought a cutting machine and other items.
He brought his old Chevy dump truck to haul it away. When the truck was loaded, the load pushed the dump bed down onto the truck tires. Johnny had them unload the truck. Then he shoved a railroad tie between the truck springs and frame and had the load put back on. That kept the box away from the tires. Johnny headed for his mine, and he must have made it. Leastwise, I saw both him and his truck many times after that.
I feel fortunate to have grown up in the Redwing Mine. I was a young man when I went to work there, and the 23 years that I spent there were changing times. I guess the mine and I kind of grew up together.
Lucky for me, I’ve outlived the mine by three score and more.
There is just no way I can tell of all the changes that took place or all the joy that I received in watching the changes evolve. I can tell you that I was heartbroken when the Redwing Mine closed.
That final day, when the old red bulldozer pushed the last blade full of dirt into the portal, sealing it for eternity, the tears in my eyes weren’t caused by the dust.