A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

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...

Daily Yonder: Trouble has plenty of ways of finding you working in the mines

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Hard work and some bonding material transform hundreds of concrete blocks into an airtight wall eight feet high. The structure, called a brattice, controls airflow in a coal mine. But what controls a brattice? We stacked concrete block after concrete block. Hundreds of them in a single shift. We stacked them into brattices, walls that were eight feet high and 25...

Daily Yonder: Mining on the night crew, the emphasis changes from production to maintenance

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward On the night crew, the work changes from production to repair and maintenance. But a miner still needs to be mindful of what he eats. As I prepared for the next shift and the long night ahead of me, I stopped at the Hindman Midee-Mart to pick up my lunch for the night. Two cokes, a honey bun, a pack of sunflower seeds, and a can of Vienna sausages (which, in Eastern...

Daily Yonder: Change in crew leaves miner facing prank proactively; time comes to push back

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The whole point of high-visibility paint is that it makes things easier to see. Especially when it’s sprayed on something that’s already hard to miss, like a naked man. “It’s your last day on our crew. You better be ready ’cause we’re going to cut your pants off, paint your d-ck pink, and make you ride outside like that.” Bobby just laughed as the...

Daily Yonder: Grieving miners gather to say goodbye after losing one of their own

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The miners grieve for Lloyd, who survived the mines only to die in a car wreck two weeks before retirement. The funeral parlor is filled with miners, unrecognizable to each other in their clean shirts and bare heads. There was an awkward silence as I walked through the dressing room. Some men half naked, some lacing up their boots, but no one was speaking. There...

Daily Yonder: In the mine — as in life — the future seldom turns out according to plan

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward “Lloyd was always quick to offer some on-the-job training. He knew he was only going to be working for two more weeks, and he wanted to know the mine was going to be taken care of.” The arc of Loyd’s spine was proof of the decades he worked in low coal, selling his body as a non-renewable resource to the mining companies of Eastern Kentucky. Lloyd worked underground...

Daily Yonder: Sound of crashing rock in a mine doesn’t mean much — until it does

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The sound of crashing rock isn’t unusual in an underground mine. It usually doesn’t amount to much, until it does. On my first day with a new section and crew, I was nervous. I was young, and the men I worked with intimidated me. But I relaxed when I recognized one of the faces climbing into the slope car with me. It was Josh from youth group. Josh and I had...

Daily Yonder: Mines can be dark and nasty inside, just like some of the co-workers

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward It’s dark, damp, and nasty inside a coal mine – just like the minds of some of the men I worked with. A NOTE TO READERS: Coal miners cuss. We’ve “encrypted” the expletives but tried not to tamper with the underlying flavor of the language. If you like your fare less salty, please read accordingly. This week’s column also describes actions that some may...

Daily Yonder: When heavy equipment comes up against a power cable, something’s got to give

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward When heavy equipment pulls a power cable “as tight as a banjer string,” something has to give. I spun around in the cab of the shuttle car as I dumped the last of my load into the feeder and headed back toward the continuous miner at the coal face. As I pulled in behind the miner to get another load, the lights went out, the scrubber shut off, and I heard Turk...

Daily Yonder: Motivaton for working in the mines vary for unlikely band of brothers

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The misfits, outlaws, and greenhorns of the No. 4 Car Section are a lot of things: family men, ex-con, momma’s boy. Some may even be clean and sober. Turk was a wild man. He ran the continuous miner on the No. 4 Car Section where I worked. As the mining bits roared into the coal seam, Turk sat atop the machine, spaced out on Xanax and who knows what other concoction...

Daily Yonder: From coal mine to conference room and back, getting ready for the real job

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward In a week-long orientation, the company treats new employees to coffee, donuts, lunch, and a comfortable chair. Then it’s back into the mines to get ready for the real job. I sat on a slope car and prepared to be lowered by hoist, traveling deep into the earth to begin my first job as a full-time employee with one of the largest coal companies in the world. My...

Daily Yonder: Miner found financial security, but new company job comes at a price

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Financial security and maybe a little more are an implied part of the job offer Gary Bentley receives from the company. But “money ain’t everything, kid.” For the past two years, six days a week, 12 hours a day, I did hard labor. I had the biceps, triceps, and forearms to prove it. I was 20 years old and an eastern Kentucky coal miner. But I still...

Daily Yonder: Female miner had to learn how to treat the men in order to survive on the job

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Suze was short, round, and vulgar enough to make even her fellow coal miners blush. Editor’s Note: This article contains profanity and sexual references that some readers may find offensive I struggled to wipe the sleep from my eyes as I got dressed, grabbed my dinner bucket, and began my drive to the mine. The mornings were easier, the days were longer, and...

Daily Yonder: ‘Working the face’ like organized chaos, not to mention hazardous to your health

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward In a last effort to wring coal from underground, miners cut away the pillars that keep the roof from collapsing. As the miners retreat, the mountain does the rest. “Mornin’. You’re going to go up to the face today.” This was very exciting news for me. The working face is where the action is. It’s also where all of the high paying jobs are. Everyone...

Daily Yonder: The new miner was more interested in kung fu than digging coal and he didn’t last long

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The mine foreman told Gary to put the new man to work shoveling belt. But the trainee had other ideas about how to conduct himself underground – until he saw the writing on the wall. I was soaked with sweat. My sleeveless T-shirt was clinging to my body showing the muscles on my chest and back. It was another day of shoveling belt and clearing blockages from the...

Daily Yonder: In an emergency, miners have to rely on each other and drugs don’t help

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward In middle school football, Jake didn’t let two broken ribs keep him on the sidelines during the county play offs. Years later, underground, he was still playing through the pain. He needed a pill at the start of the shift, another a few hours later, another after we ate, and another a few hours before the shift ended. All to ease the pain of torn muscles and a...

Daily Yonder: Along with pain, a sense of pride comes with being an Eastern Kentucky coal miner

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward When pain is a necessary part of the job, it’s easy to imagine quitting. Unless your mom has a different idea. Crawling in a 36 inch coal seam six days a week will take a toll on your body. As I stepped out of my truck at home after my shift, I could feel the blood drip from each hair follicle on my knee and make its way down my leg to my ankle. The straps of...

Daily Yonder: In new mine, Rio needed a young man with a strong back who didn’t know enough to say no

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward The author moves on to a new mine, where chain-smoking Rio shows him the ropes. I wiped the sweat from my brow as I drilled the last roof bolt in Kemper, Kentucky. My forearms were tight and the muscles were swollen as I finished my final shift. My work with Frontier in Pike County, Kentucky, had come to an end when we completed construction of the shaft. It was...

Daily Yonder: Young miner finds he is growing into the job, he just wasn’t very good at it

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...