A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Commentary: While coal mining jobs are dwindling, mine fatalities are going up — here’s why

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward At a time when we ought to see fewer deaths from coal mining, the number of fatalities has increased compared to last year. The greed of coal tycoons and politicians (who are sometimes one and the same) is the reason. In the first seven months of 2017 there have been 10 coal-mining fatalities in our country. The year is just past the halfway mark, and there have...

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: Stories about what it takes to work underground moving from column form to new book

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Gary Bentley’s first column in the Daily Yonder was also the first time his writing appeared in public. After 60 weeks of funny, profane, and heartbreaking stories about working underground, Gary is taking a break to work on a book. (Also, see this Q&A interview with Gary about his experience writing the column.) I write this letter to you, the reader, with...

Daily Yonder: Crude initiation rituals all part of the job when you’re working in the mines

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. This installment of “In the Black” originally ran on May 30, 2016. “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,...

Daily Yonder: New miners get on-the-job training from the best sources of learning — fear and pain

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward When giving new miners on-the-job-training, an instructor’s job is to stay out of the way and let the head teachers — fear and pain — run the class. I climbed onto the small, two-person electric cart that we used to travel through the out-by areas of the mine and to perform my daily inspections. I motioned for Lonnie Jr. and Kenny to climb aboard....

Daily Yonder: When old mine #8 started showing its age, the guys in the red helmets came to the rescue

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward Old mine #8 is starting to look its age, and nobody seems to care. Gary remembers from early in his career how to treat his workplace — and the new workers wearing the red helmets. I got to work before 4 a.m. to help “pre-shift” the mine, inspecting things before the day-shift crew arrived. Ralph had been sick, and Dean had his hands full pulling power,...

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: 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: With new responsibilities as a mine foreman, sleeping off hangover not an option

By Gary Bentley Special to KyForward As Gary heads to his first refresher training courses as a certified mine foreman, he juggles his desire to move up with his need to fit in. My alarm rang at 6:30 a.m. My head pounded and my stomach turned over as I rolled off the bed to turn the clock off. The bottle of tequila I drank the night before was reminding me that staying out until 3 a.m. was a bad idea....

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: 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...