“Hey Coach,”said Hector, “how was your vacation? Do anything cool?”Coach Campbell answered, “Hey Hector, you bet I did! I got to go down in a coal mine and see what it was like to work in the coal mines a long, long time ago. Like 100 plus years ago. It was dark, and wet, and cold too. We went down almost 300 feet underground!”
Hector looked puzzled. He asked, “What’s coal? What is a coal miner?”
Coach smiled and said, “Good questions. Let’s see. Coal is a black rock that burns at a very high temperature. Much higher than burning wood. So, that made coal important as it was the fuel to power the engines of the railroads and factories a long time ago. Today coal is burned in some places to make electricity. Now a coal miner, that is the person who goes way underground to get the coal out from under the mountains. It is a very dangerous job.”
Hector got all excited, saying, “Wow, you know coach, my grandfather sometimes tells me I am lucky I don’t have to go down in the coal mines like his dad did when he was a boy. Are these the coal mines my grandfather is talking about?”
“Probably, yes, answered Coach. “Way back when young boys, as young as nine years old maybe, went to work in the coal mines. Some were messengers, others worked the air doors – nippers they called them. They would open and close doors so that air always made it into the mine. Some worked with the mules which pulled the wagons of coal out of the mines.
The youngest were “Breaker Boys” – they had to pull pieces of slate rock out of the coal as it rushed past them down a slide. Tough work. Lots of cut fingers.”
“Oh boy, Grandpa’ is right, said Hector.“I sure am glad I don’t have to go work in the coal mines like those kids had to work. Ugh. School doesn’t sound so bad anymore. Better than the coal mines. What about the girls? Did they work the coal mines too?”
“Oh no, said coach, “they did not work the coal mines, but they did work. Many of them became “Bobbin’ Girls.” I can tell you more about them next time. OK? Right now, we gotta’ get moving. It’s time for camp.”
Ned M Campbell is a West Point graduate and former U.S. Army Officer, who also teaches United States history at a public high school in Brooklyn, NY. He is a published writer, and a volunteer contributor to “Can Do” Street blog for kids and parents. In addition, he is the voice of Coach Campbell in the “Can Do” Street programs.