MEMORIES FROM THE PAST
In July 1994, I returned to Gary No. 9 to visit my memories. It was about two weeks short of being twenty eight years since I first worked there and was another typical hot and humid summer day. When I pulled into the area where the parking lot used to be, I realized the building that once contained the lamp house and mine offices was gone. Only a large concrete foundation marked the spot where it stood. The railroad yard where the coal cars were stored was empty and the tracks had turned red with rust. The tipple, which had stood silent several years now, appeared suspended in time. The No. 9 mines shut down because of high production cost and a slackening demand for coal, not because all the coal had been mined out. For that reason I guess I expected to see everything locked up until it could be re-opened sometime in the future, as the company had done in the past. I found myself totally unprepared for the roller coaster ride my emotions would experience this day. When I reached the top of the hill and the shop came into view, it became apparent this mining complex would never again be anything but a memory of another time. Four of the five garage doors across the front of the building had been completely removed along with the trolley wire and track to each door. All the rails of the main line track between the tipple and mines were gone, apparently sold for scrap iron and the railroad ties were stacked into a large pile. The weeds and bushes had begun to overrun the area.
As I approached the shop, to my left set an abandoned Jeffery locomotive that would cost at least $150,000 to buy new today. It could have been the same one I worked on some twenty eight years earlier. For a brief moment my mind's eye could see "Shaky" Davis, a motorman who operated this locomotive or one like it, waving at me as he rumbled by with a trip of loaded coal cars on his way to the tipple.
Upon entering the shop, the deterioration became even more obvious. The company had removed everything of any real value and vandals had done their share of damage. As I walked through, I felt a surge of memories well up inside me. On the east wall stood the tool locker I had used in what seemed like another life. Mr. Spencer's office was empty now, the floor littered with paper and trash. I felt a chill stir within me as the graffiti on the walls seemed to be the soul of this place crying out for someone to save it from a slow death.
Upon entering the shop, the deterioration became even more obvious. The company had removed everything of any real value and vandals had done their share of damage. As I walked through, I felt a surge of memories well up inside me. On the east wall stood the tool locker I had used in what seemed like another life. Mr. Spencer's office was empty now, the floor littered with paper and trash. I felt a chill stir within me as the graffiti on the walls seemed to be the soul of this place crying out for someone to save it from a slow death
Over the years these mines have produced the wages for many a coal miner to buy his daughter a doll house at Christmas, a new family car or a trip to Florida during miners vacation, such as my father had first done for our family in 1949. They also took their share of coal miners lives. My own grandfather was one of those who was taken early in life when he was killed in a rock fall at the No. 6 mine in 1936 when my dad was just a boy. The grim statistics of those lost lives have helped forge new mine safety laws which has saved countless others.
Up until the 1950's, the upper half of the No. 9 camp was a thriving community with neatly aligned, well built company houses covering the hillsides. Many of my school classmates lived here but the only remaining evidence left of a community now are remnants of old house foundations and portions of concrete sidewalks. Neighborhoods with names such as: Tipple Row, The Circle, and 'Bama Row, have now passed quietly into history and today exist only as a snap shot in my mind.
While walking back toward the shop, I wondered if there would be anyone left to visit there memories here after another twenty eight years. If there would be anyone left to describe what it was really like to live and work in the coalfields during what I would call its golden years, for my generation is the last born of the coal camp culture of that era. I stood at the corner of the shop on that same spot where I stood so many years before, watching the miners board the portal buses while waiting for that first shift to start. When I looked across the hollow to the East Side Portal, I thought of preacher and us gathering at the dinner hole and him praying for our safety. I wondered what had happened to Harrison, for I never did see him again after that first night. Did he change jobs? Is he now twenty years in his grave? The friendliness he showed me and the permanent smile he seemed to wear on his face will be etched into my memory forever. The graffiti written on the end of a parts bin in the shop is a fitting epitaph. Gone, but not forgotten...No. 9.
Gary No 9 Tipple-Photo by Buddy French
Parts Bin at no 9 Shop - Photo by Buddy French
Large rock blocking entrance of no 9 mines east Side Portal which led to Spice Creek
Photo by Buddy French
Deterioration of the mine Portal just inside the Watson Heading portal
1994 Photo by Buddy French