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Scanned and by Dick Chenault
Edited by Sherry Cook
Proofed by Dick Chenault
Interviewed by Rosalyn McCain
Date of interview 1-14-1980
RM: Ok, I guess my first question for you is, when did your family first come to this country?
JB: Well, my dad first came in 1902. Yeah, he came to Oakview.
RM: To Oakview. Uh-huh. And where did he come from?
JB: From Italy.
RM: And what was the town in Italy?
RM: Fulablbo. And how do you spell that, do you know?
RM: And what had he done there? What was his job there?
JB: You know in that country, days, they did a little farming, raised sheep mostly.
RM: And how did he know about Walsenburg? How did he know to come here?
JB: Well, he has some of his countrymen over here, that was Lenzini's Nezzi. He came over here and then he went back, him and his brother. Then they worked in the mine a little while. And his brother went back to Italy and he never did come anymore. He said he wasn't going to work in the mines. And then he came back and stayed in this country. And he passed away in 1961.
RM: Is that right? Now, how about your mom, was she from Italy too?
JB: Yeah, she was from Italy. That's when he went back and got married.
RM: I see, so he came and worked and then he went back and got married.
JB: Yeah, and then come back.
RM: And brought your mom over. Uh-huh. And so where were you born?
JB: I was born in Delagua.
RM: Uh-huh. And he was working there at the time?
JB: My dad was, yeah. And then he worked there about….he worked there two times. The first time was when they had the strike. The second time was when he went back, I was born there. Then my sister was born in Green Canyon. They are little towns around Aguilar. You know where Aguilar is?
RM: So he was there for the early strikes then wasn't he?
JB: Yeah, he was here for both of them and that explosion, too.
RM: Is that right? What are some of the stories you remember him telling of the first strike?
JB: Oh, the first strike, they didn't have nothing, nothing. They were striking for shorter hours. They didn't have no hours, see, then. But the second strike they were striking for shorter hours and more money.
RM: And recognition of the union, wasn't it?
JB: And then came the union. That's when my brother was born. 1918. And that's when, I was telling you, when they started that fighting there, the union…some of them union officials, asked my dad if he had a family, and he said…well, he had my brother, see, and my mother. And they said if they had anyplace to go, to go. They didn't want them around there. And he left two days before they started that fighting down there.
RM: Is that right?
JB: And then he went over there to Apache. He had a friend there. That' that story that I was telling you already. Then (he) come to Toltec and then went over to Uniontown, with a little white horse. He always used to talk about that little white horse. One of the few things he had. And they stayed up there till, I don't know how long they stayed. And then after it was over he went back to the mines. And then they had another strike. I can remember that one good. That was in 1927.
RM: And that was the IWW strike? And what was that strike all about? The others were for wages and hours. What was the IWW for?
JB: Well, they were trying to do the same thing, but they were trying to cut in on United Mine Workers. I was just a little kid. If you go over here to Ideal or Pictou, you can see where they had barbed wire fence all around the camp. You can see the poles where they had it all. They used to have a guard right at both crossings. You didn't go in or out. And then they killed a guy down here on 10th street. You know down where the Firestone store is at? Right down below that.
RM: And that was in 1927?
JB: Yeah. The IWW strike. My dad was working there and he didn't have…He was kind of timid like, he didn't have too much to say. He was kind of a little bit scared, too. And at Toltec, they had all them saloons. There was saloons on both sides. In the summer time they would sit around there and watch the people go by. Didn't have nothing else to do. Superintendent used to come by there and you always used to see my dad. After the strike was over, my dad went up there and asked him if he could go back to work, and he said “You can go down there around them saloons and sit around them saloons until I get ready to call you.” And then my dad went to Green Canyon and then he cane back to Pictou and they gave him a job back again. And then we lived in Toltec for 25 years.
RM: So what was it like growing up as a kid in the mining camps?
JB: Well, we had plenty of chores.
RM: I bet. What were some of your chores?
JB: We had to chop wood, go get coal. We had rabbits, chickens to take care of and milk…I told you about the milk store. We used to peddle milk around the camp, until the company store stopped that.
RM: Is that right? They wouldn't let you peddle your own milk?
JB: You had to peddle it to them. And they used to give us 6 cents a quart. And they would sell it for 10. And then we used to, well…eggs. And for a pastime, we used to ride donkeys. Every little kid around Toltec camp had a donkey. One time we were there was about 8 or 9 of us and we had 7 or 8 donkeys. They didn't belong to us, but we claimed them anyhow. And we used to keep them in there, and one boy had the idea of…he used to go steal grain and bran. Bran, you know they used to feed it to dairy cows…from a guy that lived right next to where we had them donkeys. This guy knew it but he wouldn't tell us nothing. And you know, he poisoned that grain and then one morning we went there and two of the donkeys were dead. Then we drug them two little donkeys about 4 or 5 blocks and burned them. We didn't want to get caught with them. But, they didn't belong to nobody, you see? “And then another time, my brother,…there was a guy by the name of Chris Simmons and he used to bootleg. He used to make whiskey. We knew all about it,…from his own boys. They went to Pueblo and they were gone for three or four days. They used to go there pretty often. And my brother and another kid they went in there and they drank that whiskey. And it almost killed my brother. And then my mother couldn't talk American and she didn't know what to do and she called the doctor, Doctor Chapman. And if anybody hears this here…don't make any difference. Dr. Chapman came up there. My brother was there and he was poisoned. So she told him what they did and that they went down there and drank fresh whiskey right out of the still. And this doctor, he liked to drink himself. And when this doctor knew what they had done, my mother was going to call the sheriff. He covered it up. He said, “Let it go. I'll take care of them.” I don't know what he done to them but they got over it and the next day they went and drank some more. That all happened up there at Toltec. And then we used to spend a lot of time hunting rabbits. We didn't have no automobiles. First car we bought was in 1936. They were always in trouble, that is the bigger ones. Almost always.
RM: What were some of the trouble you guys used to get into?
JB: They used to siphon gas from the company store. Another time my brother and four or five of them was going to school down here at St. Mary's School. You know those old timers was pretty strict about going to school. And the priest down there was an Italian priest, and my mother was Italian. So, they got along real good. Then they wasn't going to school. My mother found out and the priest come up there. And my mother told me, “You take him to everyone of them house's where all these guys live.” And they were all grown up. There were 5-6 years older than I was. So, I took him around to everyone of them. And the next day, I couldn't get out of the house.
RM: They were waiting for you?
JB: Well, we didn't go no place, but just around there. We was always in some kind of little trouble. Another time, her name was Miss Cox. She was a teacher in Walsenburg. And her husband used to work at the drug store down there. I did something wrong at school and teacher got me and brought me home that night. When I come in the house my mother was waiting for me. She gave me a working over. And that teacher, she felt so bad she almost started crying. She didn't think my mother was going to do that. But, my mother was pretty strict. My dad didn't care what we did or how we done it or what. My dad, all he wanted to do was work. And that's the way we grew up. And camp stores. And then they was pretty strict with us. The way they run them stores, they used to have that script system. At Christmas time, they used to have a little program at Christmas. And the company put that on. YMCA. If you went to Pictou, but the only way you could know places is by somebody going with you. They had a YMCA, company operated, a pool table and soda pop. They used to do a lot of bowling there. Christmas time, the schools used to have a little Christmas program. And every Christmas time, the company would give you…one miner or somebody would act like Santa Claus. They would give you a little box of candy and about a pound of candy, and a popcorn ball and an apple. And we thought that was the biggest deal ever happened. My mother raised us as Catholics. We used to walk from Pictou School down here for catechism. During the summertime, that used to last 20 days. We used to go down there. Went to catechism and then we'd go to communion. The companies always controlled the school board. When they had an election in the camp there, it was just like you'd think they were electing the president of the United States. The company would take so much interest. When the CF&I operated the camp, you really didn't have no choice but to vote for whoever they put on there. And the majority of them were not Catholic. There were just a few of us, out of 75 kids there might have been 10 or 15 that were going to parochial school, although the rest of them were Catholic. But they wouldn't allow us to ride that bus. That went on for a long, long time until in later years, when Pictou shut down, the company didn't take any more interest. Then they elected whoever they pleased. But those bus drivers wouldn't pick us up. They'd leave us off at the big school up there and we'd have to walk down to St. Mary's school. And we'd get out of school at 3:30 and here the bus leaves at 3:30 and we couldn't get there in time. And my mother and the rest of them, they used to go around and around. Then, after that, they didn't care too much about that. And then they tore down the YMCA. In fact, that little stool come out of the YMCA. They'd have a program over there for Christmas. They used to let the bigger ones go out there in the YMCA to set up. I got a bunch of them chairs down there. They are folding chairs, see. First they used to put the little ones and they'd put the other folding ones there in the back they used to put the bigger ones. They used to have a quite a time there. And then they tore the YMCA down. We tore it down. And a lot of that stuff I've still got somewhere. But they were nice, though. The CF&I were good for that. But the rest……..
RM: What kind of games did kids play in those days?
JB: Marbles. We used to get so dirty. In out shoes, leggings. You know, playing marbles all the way here.
RM: Your knuckles and your knees, huh?
JB: Yeah. Took us an hour to get home. And we got home with big patches on our knees. And then we used to use them bean shooters. You know what they are don't you? Cause we made them ourselves. They were dangerous, though. And we used to do a lot of swimming. One time, you know that Uniontown, you know where the Rambler is at? They used to have some big alfalfa fields over there. We used to dam them irrigating ditches to make some water so we could swim. And all those farmers, they would call the sheriff up there. And one time the sheriff came up there and we were all up there swimming and he piled up all the clothes…We had no choice but to come out when he was there. And he told us to leave that alone, they were going to put us in jail, but he never did. But we never did go back to swim there. One of them…had a little cousin…you know that irrigating ditch by Puffenhausers? This little girl, 3 or 4 years old. She went out there and she was playing there and she fell into this irrigation ditch. And you know that water washed her all the way over to Uniontown and on the other end of Uniontown there was a bunch of kids swimming arid they picked her up and she was dead then. There were times when…they got guns. The used to play around with guns. And playing around with snakes. You know John Bucci, don't you? Well, he used to come up there and he grew up with us. He was a littler bit braver than all of us with them snakes. He used to make us take off. It's a wonder none of us ever got bit. The closest we ever got bit and that guy is still living. He's about my age. He found a magpie nest, and he was going to go up there and get them little birds. He crawled up there…you know how a magpie builds a nest? He puts his hand in there and he pulled out and he thought he had a little bird and he pulled out a big bull snake! He fell out of that tree and he got a big cut on his head and he still has it. And when he came to town, he was always in trouble in town. They would make us go back to the camp.
RM: Tell me again about Uniontown. I didn't have that on tape. What was Uniontown now.?
JB: OK. Uniontown is right out there. Did you take a look at it when you was going by? OK, that's where Uniontown is. That's school land there, see? And when they had the strike, whoever took the part of…the union, they run them out of the camps. They had no place to go. But they did know that was school land. So they all moved down there to that place they called Uniontown. And that's where they pitched all their tents. That's where they had their headquarters… . for a little while there and you if you would go along that dike there you could still find empty cartridges for the shells they shot there.
RM: On the hogback?
JB: Yeah, cause that's where the biggest part is, where they would block the road and they'd catch them strikers coming and going. Then they killed that Lenzini up there on 7th street. You know where the Texas Drive In is? The road, you go up that way and down around the old railroad tacks and then would come out heading from Pueblo. The union men had reports of somebody coming from Pueblo to help break the strike and then union men went up there and they spent I don't how many days pushing. These guys come, the union men killed them right on their bikes. They was coming from Pueblo on motorcycles. Then they had a lot of fuss with it. I had that paper, too, but I don't know what happened with it. Then up here…you know where that strip mine is at? They had a saloon there and you'd wait there too. And over there at Tioga, you know when you go down, oh I don't know if you ever…but you go through it. You know where the railroad track goes before… up on the hill where that road goes down to Maes? They had a big fight there too. The union men camped out on that prairie. You can still see them little adobe houses. And they run them out of Tioga. Lenzini had a saloon up there too. After that, and then 1936…I used to be the janitor for the union hall and they used to pay me $1.50 a month. And then they didn't have to pay dues at that time. They were fighting for a charter and then the company had to go along with the union. They would tick your dues off. They finally got that there. Then the conditions they worked in were real bad. At Green Canyon, I can remember when I started working at the mines, at the Allen mine, I used to wonder, “I have to ride from here to the Allen mine, which is over an hour and 15 minutes”, to go up there in all that sun. and my dad, when he lived at Green Canyon, he used to walk from the bottom of camp all the way up to the top of that camp. Took him almost and hour and half, walking outside, no car or nothing. Through snow. No roads, not even roads. And I figured, here I'm complaining about riding a hour in a nice warm car. So! But then at Toltec when my dad worked at Toltec they used to have a little bath house, wasn't as big as this room. They had a few steam pipes, no radiators. Couple of washtubs and each miner would go there, use his tub and then stand in line, throw his water away and another one would come. If you go up there now you can still see the mortar foundation. Then at Pictou, the CF&I was pretty good. They kept a nice bath house. Every Saturday afternoon, company would let all the kids that wanted go take a shower. They would let them go up there, but in order to go up there, you had to have somebody that worked there take you up there. And we used to have a boarder there by the name of Batista. He used to…he was a young guy and I guess he liked kids. He used to get 7 or 8 of us together and we would each get towel and a soap brush and wash rag and he would take us up there, watch us and we would take a shower and come home. They were pretty good. Some of them companies wouldn't allow that at all. CF&I was good to us for that part. But it wasn't too good with the men. At Toltec, when the men used to get kind of mad at them, they used to have mules, and they broke up fence on the mules and let the mules out. Without the mules the mine couldn't work. They threatened a lot of times to run them kids out of the camp. It went on until we grew up. CF&I wasn't too bad, when it comes to taking care of us like that.
RM: How about your mom? Did she have a hard time coming here, not knowing any English?
JB: We used to have to interpret for her. My oldest brother, he was the oldest, so he had no choice. He did a pretty good job. Then our sister, she worked at the drug store. She didn't want to part of that. My other brother, he didn't care too much about it. Then it come down to me and I didn't mind a bit. There's a lot of these store's here in town, Lenzini's Garage, that Variety store, Mrs. Munzer, all of them stores, every once in a while they remind me. I used to go in there and she'd tell me what she wanted and I'd interpret for her and that was the way. And that's the way she done it. Carl Tesitor used to be the Safeway butcher up there and he can remember it real well when I used to go in and interpret for her. That's the way it was.
RM: Uh-huh. So did she ever learn English?
JB: She could understand it, but she couldn't talk it. If she was sitting here, she'd know exactly what we were talking about. There was a Scotch woman, her daughter lives right there. Her name was Proud. And we were neighbors at Toltec. And my mother and her, in the afternoon, neither one of them could understand each other, but they'd get together and talk. They would spend hours and hours talking to each other. And I often wonder if they knew what they were talking about. But they visited each other and they'd borrow salt, pepper, flour, a pot or a pan, and that went on for 29 years. And if they didn't see each other 3 or 4 times a week somebody would have to go find out what was the matter. But, she's about 70 years old. That's one of her daughters there. She can tell you the same thing. I never did pay too much attention, but you know as you grow up you begin to wonder what satisfaction they got out of it. But they did. They spent hours and hours there talking. Then after, we moved to town, she used to come around. They were pretty strict in their way. And the kids were kind of onery too. My brother one time chopped a kid's fingers off. They stole a whip from a guy and then the guy claimed it and this other guy said well, chop it up before you give it to him. My brother said, “OK, you hold it”. He held it and he chopped his fingers off!
JB: Oh, I tell you how they used to get enough gas to go fishing. Them kids were all really crazy to go fishing. In them days they didn't have nothing but an old coffeepot and a bamboo pole and a few hooks and an old Model T or Model A to go hunting and fishing. And them kids would start early in the spring, like now, and they would pick bones, rags, iron, copper, anything and around June or July they might have $5 or $10. And they used to go fishing up on the Rio Grande, and they'd stay a whole week up there. They'd have to buy a license which was $2 and whatever. Potatoes and beans mostly, and a little bit bacon. And they used to go fishing for the whole and then hunting, too, see? Like now, we'd be hunting. You know, we used to pay only .15 for a box of shells, and hunt rabbits around here. Another time, a Mexican guy, he used to steal wood from his neighbor. And his neighbor knew it. And he used to make hot tamales and sell them. And this guy figured, “I'll get him,” for stealing that wood. He got some mine caps. He drilled and he put a cap in the wood and when his wife went and put the wood in the fire it blew up the stove. They had all kinds of schemes. They did a lot of things, too the way I feel about it, the kids now are in a way…we was worse then they was, in alot of ways. It didn't bother us to do alot of things that I think these kids would be cowards. We'd walk from Walsenburg to here, 2 and 3 O'clock in the morning, by our selves. You couldn't get them now to walk anywhere.
RM: So you'd walk into town from the mine camps and back?
JB: Yeah, See a show on a Saturday afternoon. You know, it was only 15 cents. We'd go in that theatre maybe in the winter time, when it got dark and we wouldn't come out of there till they'd run us out. We wanted our money's worth. Then when somebody…like the holidays come, New Year's Day, they still used to have them. They used to blow the whistle. They'd steal dynamite. They'd set the dynamite off. Things like that. And then on Halloween, they used to everything at that time. They'd take cars and wagons and roll them off the hills. They were real, real bad. It's a wonder none of us ever got killed doing it. Then the fall of the year, especially the Italians and Slavs, you know, for wine and whiskey, can't be beat. And they used to make wine, and you know the fermented grapes, some of them would make whiskey out of that. And some of them would just throw them out. And when a cow ever ate any of that stuff, that cow would go and act like does when it is loco. And the kids used to do that on purpose. When they'd see somebody make that whiskey, they would steal that mash and give it to a cow and that cow, it would stand there with glassy eyes. And they wouldn't move. Would just look like they was froze. And then they'd bump a tree or some of them even done that to some pigs. And that was just for the fun of it. Then they used to bury that. They would take that mash out and bury it. And the Slavs when somebody would get married, they would put on a celebration that would last two or three days. They used to barbeque little goats, little pigs, and in fact, up there by Puffenhauser's they dug a kind of a little pit in solid rock. Go up there and you can still see where they'd put a little pig or goat in there to barbeque. Everybody went to one of them. The Slavish people were the world's worst. They'd really celebrate on them holidays. And then 4th of July they used to have quite a time with firecrackers. We used to get, once in a while, we got hurt. I got shot in the face with a .22 blank. Another kid went around the cave. You know, we used to dig caves. He came around onto me, face to face, like that and shot me right in the face. They were picking all them out….They finally got the biggest part. There's still a few of them left. And then I got tired of going to the doctor. Cause we used to dig them caves and haul water out of them. And pick pinons.
RM: How about the role of women? How would you say it has changed from the time you were growing up, when your mom was raising a family, to raising a family today? How has it changed, the role of women and the things women did?
JB: Everything. My mother used to bake the bread outside and the night before she used to get the yeast, and get the dough ready, and then that night she got all fixed up. She had a special tub to do that. Next morning, we started the fire. We brought the wood to the oven door and she did the rest. And then when the bread came out, once in a while we'd sneak some. Because she said it was hard on us, that fresh bread. Then we'd get away with some once in a while. But during our time, my mother made cheese, and the old sewing machine we've still got. And the washing machine, we had all by hand. Made the soap. There…was nothing we threw away. We had cows for milk, to the goats, to the pigs, to the chickens, to us. Nothing was wasted. And a garden. And then in the fall of the year, when we butchered them there was a day set aside just for that. All the neighbors would come. And we had a certain time to be home, and radios. The first radio I ever listened to was in this woman's home, the one I told you always came to my mother. She had earphones. And we used to sit around there, take turns. And then pretty soon they got another radio. And then we would all sit around there. Saturday night was a big night. Go listen to that radio. Till they were ready to send us home. Then on Christmas, that was another time…they used to decorate the tree with little candles. They'd have little reflectors in the back, and a few little decorations made of paper. And then on Memorial Day,…You know how some people are…the cemetery. Dad would start making artificial flowers out of that crepe paper. They'd spend hours and hours, maybe months ahead of time. And they'd bring them to the graveyard. And then when a person died then, they used to bring them to the houses. And it all depends on who you was, what kind of a funeral you could…afford. They had little girls, I don't know if you ever heard of them, would bury the few flowers they brought there. They had a car special for them or a wagon. Then next followed the pall bearers. And then they had the regular pall bearers. But it was all done at home. And then the Holy Rollers, you know who they are, Spanish people. And then the Penitentes. You know Penitentes are Catholic. There are a lot of them places around Gardner and Redwing if they haven't told you about them. And we used to watch them Penitentes. Arid then we'd sneak around and follow them. And they didn't mind you going with them. But they didn't want you watching them. They threatened to shoot you and everything. But we used to always go. There's quite a few. There's a church over there has quite a few. But they never really hurt anybody. And then we used to have Holy Rollers. There was quite a few of them. They was Spanish. Now, I don't what else to tell you.
RM: What year did you start working in the mines?
JB: I started in 1934.
RM: And where did you first mine?
JB: Toltec. That's where I was making $3 a day. Picking rock out of the coal. You know. That was the lowest wages they was. Then after that they kept going up, up. Then they had to inflate. A trapper was a guy that controlled the air. They had a door down the mine, the air goes around like that, and in between there's a fan that makes air. And they had doors like that, see, and when the trip went down, they used to set a trap there. The used to pay him maybe 10 cents an hour. That was a kid's job. He'd stay there. When he heard a trip coming, he opens the door and closed the door and trip went round and came back out this way.
RM: What was a trip?
JB: Coal. A trip car.
RM: A load of coal.
JB: Heard the mules coming, he'd open the door for them and come out back up here. And then they had labeling coal, you know for advertising. You know for advertising? The used to pay them kids…they had a stencil made. I got 4 or 5 of them of Walsen Camp. They'd give them a paint brush and a stencil and he'd find a chunk of coal and wherever there was a smooth side he'd put that stencil there and it would say, “Diablo Coal” and show the devil carrying a bucket of coal. Three devils carrying a bucket of coal, see? They were kids jobs. And then after they cut them out…the union stopped all that and make it all the same. Everybody got paid the same. Then you paid according to the amount of work you did. If you loaded a lot of coal you got paid. If you didn't, you didn't. There were a lot of days you'd get paid nothing cause there was no coal to load, see? But some the things were right.
RM: So what are the changes you've seen in mining over the years from when you started to when you finished?
JB: Well, you go in a coal mine now, you don't see no more pick and shovel or powder laid around here. It's all done by machine. That's just like on a farm, it's the same thing. On a farm everything is all mechanical. And then, just like everything else, it's made a big, big change. But one thing I can't see. You know, the men were superstitious about the women working in the mine?
RM: That's one thing I was going to ask you about.
JB: Yeah, they were real superstitious. In fact they wouldn't allow it. There was a guy by Toltec, his name was Bert Amadei. His dad was an old miner, come from Italy…he'd come to work in the daytime. He'd go work at the mine, put in his regular shift, and at nighttime he'd come home and get his wife and they'd go back when there was nobody in the mine and they'd both work. And the men got…they were real superstitious. They stopped him. But he done that a long time. And nowadays they're just like everybody else.
RM: There are women in the Allen Mine and other mines aren't there?
JB: Well, I don't agree with it myself. I don't believe it, don't believe it at al! But, they're there. And some of 'em, even including myself, maybe able to do more work thin I ever did. But you know some of 'em, all they do is cause a lot of trouble. In all ways.
RM: In all ways, huh?
JB: In all ways. There was a bunch of men working there and you had an accident, say an explosion or something, who's gonna be picked up first to come out? They're going to pick the women, if a man is a man. Which I think is wrong! I don't believe in women working there at all!
RM: Are there many?
JB: Oh, I'd say 25, 30 of 'em. Since they were allowed to go to work. They've gone through 25 or 30 of 'em. But there's no more stopping it now. But you know, if they want to do it and take interest in the job, far as mining goes now, they can do it, cause they don't have to worry about any strength or anything more than just to operate machines and control 'em. Be before had to pick up the timber and dig the coal and shovel the coal and take care of their tools and all that. Now they don't. All they have to do is run this machine or something like this. With the exception that you do get dirty. But I guess they will get by. I don't know.
RM: How about the health hazards of mining today?
JB: Well, the water. In them days the water they drank wasn't pure water, just water the way it was in the mine. I wasn't run through no filter or nothing and the air, see…now they shot a place. Now you're going straight ahead, the call it crosca, and you're going straight ahead like this and you're getting coal out then you go so far and another guy right along beside you, but maybe over…they called them pillars. OK, he goes so far ahead and then they come across that way so the air come around there. Well, some them guys agree, if you want to make a lot of money, they wouldn't come across them crosca. And then they would be working straight down in a deep hole, no air, no ventilation. And when they'd shoot dynamite, the coal and the smoke stood there. There was no way to blowing it out. And then the water was there. They used to have boots. They furnished them now. Not it's the law that they furnish them. And they'd have to stay there with them wet boots on all day and working with them. And then the smoke powder. And then when they hit gas. You know, some of them places, that gas is odorless and tasteless. You can't taste that gas and you can't smell it. But it hurts you. And then all the dust. That's why some of them guys come along with these claims of black lung. Which is all right. But today a lot of that is politics. You know, a lot of politicians…I know a lot of them guys that's getting some of that black lung that never worked in a mine. I ain't even going to try to get it. Then the food that they used to have in those days. In them days, you didn't see anybody with a fancy lunch. You'd see some of them Mexicans with a little roll of tortillas with beans in there and there wasn't no way of washing your hands or nothing. You'd just eat it right there. And some of them was clean and some of them wasn't. But now, see they are supposed to, well, they have no way of controlling the food that you bring, but they got to give you running water. It's cleaner working in a mine now. They even got lights in a mine row, you know them big fluorescent lights, they got them in the mine, too. Before they didn't see. You were just on your own, with them little carbide lights, and some them oil lamps. That's the way it was.
RM: So are there still hazards in mining these days?
JB: Oh, yeah! You don't know what's above your head, working in a mountain of rock. And some of them old timers, they used to test that one out. But, now these young kids, they can't. And the way they dynamite, like here at Rouse where they hit that water, see? That was a mistake they made. Sometimes the gas forms in another place. It's not there they cut a tube on that side and then somebody cuts a tube 1 inch here and it would cause an explosion. Carelessness is still there. In fact, I think it is worse now that it ever was.
RM: In what ways?
JB: Well, machinery…Like when they'd dynamite coal before, they used to put maybe one stick of powder or two stick of powder, if that wasn't enough, and might be too much, but it wasn't going to do any harm. But now, they go by the cases and its machines that put it there, see? Long time ago, they used to…my dad used to, he'd buy the powder and that was his expense. Then he'd go around maybe a day or two, bringing the paper, the soggy paper and then they'd get a stick, maybe about that long, maybe that round and they used to call that, that was another kid's job. They'd roll that up like that, see? And then they'd fill it with adobe dirt and tap it, see, then they'd stick some powder down a head and then they'd put the “dummies” they called them, in back, and they they'd tamp it down tight, see? And then when the shot went off, instead of coming back this way, it went like that. And that was another job that kids had. Nowadays they do it the same way, but the dummies are made, machine made. That powder was dangerous. One little colored kid stole some caps, how he got it, I don't know, but anyway, he went to school and when he was in school he started picking one with a pencil and it went off and blew all his fingers off right in the schoolhouse. One time we had two greyhounds. And they were used to chasing rabbits all the time. And we were going to go hunting that day. And the WPA you know what they was, they was working on some rock. We got these two dogs and this poor greyhound, he heard that fuse burning and he saw it, so he ran right up to it and he started falling on that then that shell went off and blew him up. He got about 4 or 5 blocks from there and died. We used to chase them rabbits with them greyhounds. We killed a rabbit we brought it home and ate it. Jackrabbits and all.
Coal miners, everyone of them, they talk about when the service come along, they were just a patriotic as anybody that ever was. They spend all the money they made, they'd spend it fast, but when the war came along, they all took their share and they all went. Very few of them tried not to go. Some of them didn't come back but ones that did come back, there's a lot of them around here. And I don't think anybody else can say about them. They acted.
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