A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Daily Yonder: A handshake and one week’s pay; layoff affects more than just out of work miner

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward When the corporate bosses show up in the changing room with a handful of envelopes, the news probably isn’t going to be good. The regional manager, mine manager, and human resources manager walked into the room while we removed our mining belts, hard hats, and boots. They began to hand out severance packages and WARN (Ed. note — Worker Adjustment and Retraining...

Daily Yonder: Miner’s youthful ‘harmless shortcut’ looks a lot different following self evaluation

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward As a newly minted foreman, Gary sometimes finds himself evaluating his own work from a few years before. He doesn’t always like what he finds. In my new work as a foreman, I had shoveled belt, repaired structure, and wired new lines for sump pumps throughout the mine. I had proven that I could handle the responsibility of prioritizing the most important work...

Daily Yonder: First day on the job — again — and time to decide what kind of foreman to be

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Gary tackles his first day on the job in his new position and decides what type of mine foreman he wants to be. Five o’clock came early Monday morning. I had struggled to sleep the night before. All I could think about was that I would be a mine foreman, officially, when I began my shift that morning. After rising, I put on one of my never-worn uniforms. We all...

Daily Yonder: Foreman exam included an unexpected hurdle — a high speed trip over mountain roads

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The mine foreman exam covers subjects like ventilation, explosives, electrical, laws and regulations, and safety. To complete his exam, Gary has to pass one more section: driving at high speed on mountain roads. After the accident in which a snapped cable slashed Tracy across his throat, he was out of work indefinitely. I visited Tracy in the hospital just a few...

Daily Yonder: Underground, there are no easy solutions — it all comes down finally to survival

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward A quick and easy solution for moving the belt line deeper into the mine proves to be anything but. After informing the mine manager of my interest in becoming a certified mine foreman, I was quickly transferred back to the #8 Enterprise Mine to be a roof bolter on day shift so I could acquire my electrical certification card and study for my mine foreman exam. My...

Daily Yonder: Revenge tastes even sweeter in the mine when they have to pay you overtime

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The foreman is being a jerk – again. A small conspiracy may help even the score. The dust settled around us as we bolted the fresh cut in the #8 entry. I turned to grab a roof bolt from my tray and watched the clouds of coal dust as they traveled toward us, across the heading and behind the return ventilation curtain. We didn’t have to be working in this much...

Daily Yonder: ‘I wanted to be safe, but if keeping my job meant risking my life, so be it’

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Safety concerns and a roof fall lead to an entirely new roof control plan that requires steel, wire mesh, 50-pound blocks, concrete, and brute force. Only then can the crew get back to original task of cutting a new entrance to the mine. Previously, in parts one and two: A large roof fall has set back the schedule for completing a new entry to the mine. Gary and...

Daily Yonder: Sometimes the best you can do proves to be not good enough

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward After a roof fall, cleaning up is tedious business. And that may be the easy part. Last week’s “In the Black” ended with Gary exiting the slope entry after working with Rick to secure the roof with a Fletcher walk-through roof bolter. It was hard work and, it turns out, useless, as well. Traveling across the coal yard I could see Ricky, Cap, Charlie, and Chris...

Daily Yonder: Our first day and I was relying on a person I’d never met to keep me alive

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward I was still working on a crew cutting a new slope entrance to the mine. As we cut deeper into the mountain, we went through different strata. When the material changed, our methods for controlling the roof had to change with it. At the beginning of the project, there wasn’t much overhead because we were cutting at a 20 degree angle. What coverage we did have was...

Daily Yonder: Miners’ common experiences sometimes move into unanticipated, unusual areas

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Mack and Jaybo were like two peas in a pod: boastful and outspoken about their sex lives. So they became best buddies, until they learned they had a little too much in common. Mack was not your typical mine foreman. He cared more about getting in the gym than focusing on getting this new slope cut down. We were still cutting a new entrance to the mine, and we were...

Daily Yonder: Better at telling stories than running the crew, Grasshopper lived up to his name

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Young, cocky, and far better at telling stories than running a crew, Grasshopper lived up to his name. NOTE TO READERS: This article contains adult content that some may find objectionable. I sat on the cold metal grating that was the porch of the mine office and watched steam roll off the top of my mug and the snowflakes fall to the ground. I was back to drinking...

Daily Yonder: Cap Wedge held things together — the mine couldn’t run without him

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The new mine operator, “Cap Wedge,” held things together, just like his nickname implied. It was all coming back to me, the smell of sulphur and the roar of mining bits cutting the sandstone. We started our shift before the moon and sun had traded places, the cold winter air cutting through the layers of clothes and our yellow muck suits. The sun rose and set...

Daily Yonder: Chance at a promotion results in night classes, Quick Stop dinners and temptation

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Gary gets a chance at a promotion in the mine. All he needs is some night classes, dinners from the Quik Stop, and six-packs of road soda. After two years of working through fresh cuts of coal, roof falls, and pulling pillars, I had earned the respect of my co-workers, the mine foreman, and the superintendent. Working 70-hour shifts was the norm and it was not out...

Daily Yonder: Pain and suffering — and testing your endurance — is all part of being a coal miner

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Working underground 16 hours straight takes its toll on the body, and being cut by a utility knife and dragged by a power cable doesn’t help one bit. I enjoyed the pain and suffering I endured underground, and I saw it through the eyes of the miners I worked with. We pushed one another to work harder and faster, work through our lunch, refusing to stop for...

Daily Yonder: Long hours under ground, pain often drive miners down dark path to drug use

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Thurman spent his 18th birthday applying for a mine job. He spent much of the rest of his underground career either trying to get drugs or get off them. “We were working in low coal, ‘bout like this,” Thurman said to me. “None of the equipment had canopies. Nothing to shield us from the top. I was at my lowest of low points. I just pressed the lever to raise...

Daily Yonder: Getting revenge against a joker in the mines sometimes takes subtle form

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Dana made life miserable and potentially put others at risk by destroying the product of Gary’s hard work as a roof bolter. Striking back would only get Gary in trouble. Maybe there was another way. I was lying on a pile of gob – a mixture of coal, mud, dirt, and debris – trying to finish installing the last row of roof-support bolts in the cut. The coal seam...

Daily Yonder: ‘If God wanted us to have this coal, he wouldn’t have put it under this mountain’

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward “Tiny” was anything but: so broad he went through doorways sideways, and so tall he had to duck when he did. But fitting in is about more than just size. Rat hosted our safety meeting and discussed the mine fatality reports from the past week across the nation. The coal miners sat quietly listening. Likely each of us was imagining ourselves in the place of the...

Daily Yonder: Miner would do anything to fit in with older peers, but does he gave guts to pick up chaw?

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward He’ll do anything to fit in with the “real miners.” But does Gary have the guts to pick up a chaw? The Big Y Market sat on the side of Highway 160 just a few miles from Carr Creek Lake and had become my favorite place to grab breakfast, lunch, and dinner in one stop on my way to work each day. I never knew the real name of the business because there was never...

Daily Yonder: Accident or not, miner’s injury, carelessness results in permanent vacation

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward In a puzzling development, the injured T.J. returns to the mine, even though his hand is still in a cast. If he can’t work underground, why did they call him in? The reason only becomes clear later in the day. Dust floated under the fluorescent lights of the locker room. I sat on the end of the bench while the other men laced up their boots, pulled on their sweat-stained...

Daily Yonder: Young miners grow up fast while learning on the job underground

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward A good coal miner can show you a lot – like you aren’t quite as skilled as you thought you were, and it’s possible to grow up while you’re still young. I remember sitting on my parents’ front porch telling my dad about how clean the Enterprise mine was and how strict the operator, J.R., was about keeping it clean. I talked about his bucket inspections...