A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

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...

Daily Yonder: Nobody took the joking miner seriously … even when they should have

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Lonnie was a joker, wailing out country songs at the top of his lungs and constantly picking at us as he trammed his shuttle car past our position at the roof bolter. So the first time Lonnie yelled for help, we didn’t pay attention. Just another night. Was it night? It all seemed the same in the mine. It was so damned dark, if your headlamp went out you couldn’t...

Daily Yonder: Working around miners, it’s sometimes hard to know when you’re hearing the truth

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Lonnie’s stories could turn a five-minute job into a two-hour monologue. Sometimes he might have even been telling the truth. NOTE TO READERS: Some miners have foul mouths. This article contains material of a sexual nature that some may find offensive. We include this content to help paint a less filtered, first-person view of life in the mines. Reader discretion...

Daily Yonder: Come hell — or maybe a roof fall — miner was going to become a roof bolter

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The job that makes coal mines safer for everyone is also one of the most dangerous to perform. Maybe that’s why it pays well. The only way to move up in the ranks as a coalminer is through skill, experience, and knowledge. I was still relatively new to the job, and to most of my co-workers, I was inexperienced. I had four years working underground. I could efficiently...

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: Sharing all the stories makes miner’s time underground worthwhile

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Bill was a quiet, church-going man with a few stories to tell, like the time he fired his gun, ran from the law, and sped away in his Ford Pinto on a belly-full of drugs. My eyes burned as the steaming hydraulic fluid sprayed into my face and chest. My skin and body burned when the oil soaked through my uniform. I couldn’t see and had no idea of the danger I was...

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...

Daily Yonder: It was a pretty tough way to get a day off for the Black Gold Festival

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward What would you give for an extra day off? An arm and a leg? How about a finger? With the Black Gold Festival just around the corner, T.J. swears he won’t let his work schedule interfere with his partying Second of two parts There were 12 of us men sitting with our backs against the raw steel. We felt the firing of every piston and the rotation of the cam, with...

Daily Yonder: All mines feature hard work, heavy equipment and a worker who lives with his momma

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward No matter which coal company you work for, some things are the same from mine to mine: hard work, heavy equipment, and a co-worker who’s a braggart who still lives with his momma. First of two parts Dust and gravel bounced off of my windshield as the 18-wheeled coal trucks passed by with what felt like just inches between us on the one lane road cut around the...

Daily Yonder: New job at different mine a better opportunity on a tightly run ship … or is it?

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Staying awake at orientation is the bare-minimum requirement to make a good impression on the first day of a new job. Not everyone is up to the task. The whistle blew and the engine roared. The train had just been loaded with coal at the Enterprise Mining Yellow Creek prep plant and was headed somewhere outside the mountains in which it had been mined. As I traveled...

Daily Yonder: A difficult decision leads to a clean slate, fresh start at new mine

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Humiliated from his suspension and the threat of being fired, Gary must decide whether to stick with the mine owned by a large coal corporation or move on to another job. The wind pulled the tail of my mining uniform shirt up behind my head, turning and twisting it as I sped across the abandoned mine haul roads. The gravel sprayed from beneath my tires as I leaned...

Corporate business plans, not local need, drive rural hospital closures, Kaiser report says

By Tim Marema Special to KyForward The number of rural hospital closures has increased every year since the Great Recession. A new report looks at three communities, including one in Kentucky, to learn why they lost their hospitals, and what happened when they did. Large, corporate hospital operators have closed rural healthcare facilities based on their business interests and haven’t considered...

Daily Yonder: Leaky seal, explosion leaves miner pondering his career path

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward When you drive up to the mine for your shift, the last thing you want to see is flashing blue lights and emergency responders. A leaky seal and an explosion help Gary make up his mind about the next step in his career. The strobe of the blue light reflected off the mountainside as I drove west on Highway 80 from Hindman toward Soft Shell, Kentucky. I gently pulled...

Daily Yonder: Suspension from job leaves miner in position to consider his options

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Suspended from work for one week and facing the possibility of termination for making home movies underground, Gary considers his options for continuing his mining career. My fingers trembled as I pushed the buttons of my home phone. I was scared, but most of all I was worried about Bart. He had a family to care for. He had a mortgage to pay and a child to feed....

Daily Yonder: Showing friends what it was like to work underground easy until running afoul of the law

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Everyone wanted to know what it was like to work underground. Showing them was as easy as getting a digital camera, setting up a YouTube account, and breaking state and federal law. The light of the LCD screen was blinding me as I sat looking into the portal of the mine. I had purchased a new digital camera and I immediately wanted footage to show my friends and...