A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

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: When a mountain decides it wants to come down, no roof bolt strong enough to prevent it

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Gary tries his best to ignore his dad’s decision to leave the family behind. But the arrival of Jack, a flesh-and-blood reminder of his dad’s complicated home life, makes that impossible. It’s so upsetting, Gary can’t even take pleasure in plotting how to get even with the section boss. To the coal company, miners are expendable. During a coal boom, the...

Daily Yonder: A musician or a coal miner? It’s a question that deserves an answer

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward After several days on the road with his band, Black Lung, Gary finds himself back at the mine — late for work and smelling like booze. “Bentley, you going to be a coal miner or a musician?” the superintendent asks. It’s a question that deserves an answer. The lights whipped by like lightning bugs in summer air. The sound of car horns and...

Daily Yonder: Working through lunch almost proved to be a deadly proposition

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward He’s stronger and more confident on the job, but Gary Bentley still struggles to keep up. When the rest of the crew takes a break, he keeps working — alone and at the bottom of the shaft. Dedication: To my loving wife Marcie Crim. She gave me the support and courage to leave the mining industry. Then she followed up by encouraging me to write about my career. A...

Daily Yonder: Fear and risk don’t stop you from doing the job — it’s all part of being a coal miner

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward A mountain with enough force to straighten a steel arch certainly has enough power to obliterate a miner in a heartbeat. What’s the solution for the men who have to secure the top? “Toughen up,” says Gary’s co-worker, and get back to work. Cap Wedge, with years of experience cutting slope entries, was having a tough time. We were trying to get back on track...

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...

Census Bureau shines spotlight on rural America, gives close look at changes in demography, work

By Tim Marema Daily Yonder The Census released its five-year American Community Survey data with a major focus on rural America. This is the year when there is more rural data available, but the release also comes after increased attention to the so-called information “bubble” after the presidential election. The Census Bureau put the spotlight on rural America recently when it released the results...

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...

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: We should expect more of our government

By Tim Marema Special to KyForward In making the rounds to promote the open enrollment period of healthcare exchanges, the Ag Secretary also said Americans need to help reverse the “30 years of attacks on government generally.” The secretary also describes the 24-page memo he’s written to whoever succeeds him and his hopes for the continuation of the White House Rural Council. Tom Vilsack is...

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: Despite physical conditions, sickness, mine foreman can’t afford to take days off

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward A mine foreman has to live up to his vows, or he won’t be married to the job for long. I walked across the gravel parking lot wiping moisture from my glasses as the snow flurries touched my face and whipped across the frozen ground. My Carhartt work coat was zipped tight against my neck and the wind chilled my legs as it cut through the nylon-polyester blend...

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...

Commentary: Believe it or not, politicians can’t bring back lost coal mining jobs

By Herb E. Smith Special to KyForward Those of us who live and work in coal country are used to lies. Even whoppers, like the one Donald Trump made this summer when he said he was going to put West Virginia coal miners back to work. “We’re going to bring back coal jobs. Believe me.” I didn’t. The people who make decisions about hiring and firing American coal miners work for coal companies....

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...

Soldiers’ death rates in Iraq, Afghanistan higher for those from rural America

By Bill Bishop Daily Yonder An outsized number of U.S. soldiers killed in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have come from rural America. The rate of casualties in rural counties nationally in these wars is 41 percent higher than in metropolitan areas. This analysis comes from a unique database compiled by Douglas Kriner, a political scientist at Boston University. Kriner attempted to track down...