Tuesday, November 25, 2008

H.B. Morgan on Coal Industry, 1935

Prenter Mine, 1938, H.B. Morgan is second from the right.

H.B. Morgan left an autobiographical fragment on his life with the coal industry written around 1935. It is re-produced below and transcribed below.

Prenter Mine, 1938( below) H.B. Morgan is on the far right.

-Autobiographical Fragment H.B. Morgan about 1935
Chapter One

This book is intended to show actual conditions in and around the coal mines of a part of two major coal producing states and is written by a man who began coal mining at the age of twelve, continuing for a period of thirty eight years. Securing employment at a mine in the now famous Pocahontas coal field in 1898, at the fabulous price of fifty cents per day, (hours were usually ten and twelve for the fifty cents)

This work was not as trapper boy as some may think, but was actual labor loading coal as back hand. (with the advent of the Union this practice has been discontinued) This job did not last long, or rather I did not last long, as that mine only ceased operation in 1934.

Believing myself a full fledged miner I began to look for something better, as was the custom in those days for men to go from one mine to another believing that there was surely something better or at least conditions might be better at some other mine. In some instances some changes were for the better but such cases were rare, as it was always customary to offer the new man a good place to induce him to establish himself at the new location, but in a great many instances by the time he had moved his meager belongings from his former location, the good place he had been promised had already been occupied by some favorite, this of course was the original intention, and the new man was compelled to accept a place that he would not agree to accept when he first made his appearance at the new location. His funds most always exhausted up on his arrival, he then had no choice but to take what was offered. After a period of seven years I began work in a Kentucky mine as a day laborer, mule driving and any kind of work that happened to require the services of a strong man, I had grown into manhood by this time and was capable of keeping up with the best of them, and as I was a willing worker I was called out to do many hard and odd jobs, this however proved profitable as I gained a general knowledge of what was required of labor to operate a coal mine, and produce coal at a minimum cost per ton.

Chapter Two
As has been said " A man is without honor only in his own country" so is a workman without promotion in his own country, while I am a native of West Virginia my first promotion came while in Kentucky. While employed by one of the largest coal producers in Kentucky I was promoted to the exalted position of Night Boss, as I was thoroughly familiar with this particular mine, I was successful from the start, while at this occupation I began to realize what was required of foremen to get the best results from labor. While it was never my policy to ask a man to do something I would not do myself, there was however much work done that I would have refused to do. This often happens because men were compelled to do work that was disagreeable or their families and themselves would often go hungry. Most mine (sic) have wet or dangerous places, and rather than be deprived of a days work some men would accept the wet places, while the dangerous places would be made safe by the miner rather than wait to have them prepared by the day laborers some time during the day. There are leaders of men and drivers of men I have always tried to lead the men rather than drive them, and by so doing I have never been fearful of meeting a man that could say I had not given him a square deal. This applies to my younger days as well as the years that followed the beginning of this story.

At the beginning of the world war [I] I accepted a position as foreman at another mine in Kentucky, it was there that I was compelled to do many things that was unethical labor shortage was becoming acute and in a few instances I was compelled to place a group of miners on certain entries with a guard at the trap door, this guard however was unarmed, but was instructed that if any of the new men came from their working places, that he was to in some manner prevent them from coming out before quitting time, or prior to clening (sic) up their assigned places, these men had been brought to the job by a transportation agent, who had invariably misrepresented the conditions to get these men to leave their former emplyer, and always they were dissatisfied with their new conditions.

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