A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

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...

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...

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...

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...