A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Daily Yonder: He survived a notorious mining disaster and lived long enough to change his ways

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Arvil had hair like Elvis, gave unsolicited advice to the corporate bosses, never cheated on his wife (exactly), and lived through one of the most notorious mining disasters in modern U.S. history. One of the older miners, Greg, was telling me about Arvil, the shift foreman at #9. “Now that dumb sumbitch was a mine manager in the late 80’s. It was one of the...

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: 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 Editor’s Note: This article appeared previously on 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...

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: Advocates say new education secretary DeVos lacks knowledge about rural schools

By Tim Marema Special to KyForward A rural education advocate says the new Education secretary’s suburban, billionaire background doesn’t prepare her to deal with the nation’s small, public schools. How much will she learn on the job? The question rural school advocates have for Betsy DeVos isn’t whether she knows much about rural education but whether she’s willing to learn. “She’s...

Daily Yonder: Not even a little thing like a roof collapse can interfere with the job of running coal

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The shift foreman won’t let a little thing like a roof collapse get in the way of running coal. So Gary vows to do things differently if he ever gets the chance. Something wasn’t right. I was bolting top and had finished two cuts, but the continuous miner still hadn’t moved across the section, like it should have. They were cutting the heading in the #8 entry,...

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...