Rose Marie Briggs recreated Tipperary, the town, the mine and also the people between 1914 and 1927 in her book entitled "Tipperary, Gone But Not Forgotten". She also wrote a book about the Olmitz mine named "Memories about Olmitz". Her blog is located at

"History of Hiteman - A Mining Town (Albia)" by Rosalie Mullinex is also available from Rosalie.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Jack Prather's Memories of Coal Mining

Taken from Jack Prather's Oral History done on March 6, 2007 in Russell, Iowa.

Over the hill, from the old farmhouse, about 2 more miles down into a valley, the railroad came through and there was a big coal mine down there.  He thinks it was the Olmitz mine.  When John, Sr. and Isaac were big enough to handle the lumber, they cut props for the mines.  The mining was pretty big around Russell for quite a while.    The railroad came in from the east and handled all the coal in Lucas County.  Another big mine in this area was just east of Williamson, the Tipperary Mine.  There was a big mine in Williamson and it was one of the last mines to shut down.  The one in Williamson shipped its coal out on another railroad, The Rock Island Railroad.  There was a whole bunch of mines along this line.  He thought the coalmines ran out of coal at about the same time.  Jack had a friend, Tom Wignal, about 35 years ago that had a mine out on the road that goes north just before you get to Melrose corner.  About three miles north over the hill and down at the bottom of the hill, Tom sunk a mine right on the west side of the road.  Jack built the road into this mine.  He described how the coal followed the landscape above it.  If there was a hill above ground the coal would be deep.  If the ground was shallow, the coal would come up.  The coal doesn’t lay level underground.  Jack remembered stopping by the mine one afternoon and they had hit the coal.  Tom had a company drill a six inch test hole about 150’ deep to the bottom of the coal.  Tom then went over to the east about 200’-250’ to dig his shaft.  When they hit coal it was 5’ higher than they wanted to be according to Jack’s survey.  They came out on top of a hill in the mine.  This meant they would have to haul coal up a grade.  Tom then dug 6 ft. deeper than the coal in the slate and tapered off back to the coal vein, so there would be no hill to haul the coal up.

They also had an old man use his witching stick to see if there was any water where they wanted to dig.  It was very important to have a dry hole.  Well, he was right, the shaft was bone dry all the way down.  The coal was about 5 or 6 foot deep down in the mine.  It was a mine they were able to walk right into, they didn’t have to stoop over or crawl into it.  The mine got bigger and bigger through the years and they had a big shaft there and a big cogwheel one side and a big steel thing that would be hoisted up and a trip that would dump the coal.  The coal was hauled out in a car that held about 2 or 3 tons and this was dumped into a skip which was hoisted up to be dumped.  This mine was operated for about 7 to 10 years.  Tom took a lot of coal out of this shaft.  Jack told about being down in the mine.  He told of how dark it is in a mine.  No light whatsoever except for artificial light. 

A man from Tennessee who worked for Sinclair Mines in Knoxville told Jack this story.  He said his dad was burning chunk coal and someone was stealing his coal.  So he drilled a hole in one of the chunks and put some blasting powder into the hole.  In two or three nights he found out who was stealing his coal because it blew up on them.  This is another story he told.  The old man raised chickens and he went out to the chicken house one morning and found a billfold, which had $700 in it.  He knew the thief had lost it in there while he was stealing his chickens.  Next thing he knew this man came down to see the old man and asked to buy his property.  So he told him, “Yes, it is for sale for the right price”.  The thief said he wanted to look it over first and he wanted to check the chicken house and look over the buildings. But the thief never fooled the old man and left without getting his wallet back.

1 comment:

Scully said...

These articles are wonderfulm particularly for those of us researching the genealogy, history,and daily lives of our coal mining ancestors of Lucas County.