What I Learned About Being a Miner From the Quincy Mine Tour, Hancock, MI

Drillers worked in groups of four, all related.  One man stood against the rock, holding the near yard-long bit to his shoulder. The three others swung sledges, while the first gave the bit a quarter turn after each hit.  If they were good, in a twelve hour shift, they could drill three holes, enough in six days to fill with powder, blasting the rock small enough to haul up.  When their candle flickered out, one man had to trip his way through the pitch black tunnel to the supply room, hoping not to break a leg or fall down an open shaft.

When the mine grew deep enough that it took the men over an hour to climb down to work, management installed a lift that dropped the men at twenty miles an hour.  At it's deepest, Quincy was 92 levels.  It was over a hundred degrees at the bottom of the mine and steamy, even in the dead of winter, so the men had to go to a dry room to change out of their sopping clothes and cool down before going out into the snow. 

If you weren't killed by a fall or collapse, you went deaf or were electrocuted or developed black lung. Seems fair to assume that there was a significant amount of seasonal affective disorder, depression, trauma.

At the end of 1800's, air compressed drills allowed two men, and later just one, to do in a day what four used to do in a week.  But these advancements proved to be even more deadly.  The miners called the drills "widow makers".  From time to time, the men went on strike.  

In 1913, in the midst of a massive walkout, for Christmas the strikers organized a party where dozens of people died, including many children, stampeding from the dance hall, down the stairwell.  The facts beyond that are only speculation. Some say someone yelled fire even though there wasn't one. Some say they died in the crush because the closed doors opened in. But there's claims of photographs proving the doors opened out, that the strikers were trapped because someone outside had tied the doors shut.

In a posed photograph full of tough dirty men, there is a single row of softer ones in suits and bowlers and one stern woman in frills, wrist bones to jawline, a billowing black skirt and bountiful hat.  Who are these people, no different from any of us, except how the straws were drawn?  Each with his own set of loves and struggles  A family, a dream, a home.

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