MY FATHER’S EXPERIENCE WHEN THE COAL MINE WENT ON STRIKE
"About 1915 or so we went on strike for better wages. The John L Lewis miners union started placing pickets in front of the coal mine. The union was distributing some necessities such as tea, coffee, sugar, flour etc. so much per week. I had a friend Rocco, who was three years older than I was. He said "Let’s hop a freight train and go to Calgary." A big city in comparison to Coleman. He said "We don’t have to say nothing to our parents. Just go and write to them when we get there so they know we are okay." I said "No Rocco. I can’t do that to my parents. I’ve got to have their permission." So I did, told my Papa and my Momma what Rocco and I would like to do. I said that my compare (godfather) Jim Bombardieri lived in Calgary and maybe I could stay there paying board and room if I found work. Mother objected. My father said "No, he is growing up and he should see other parts of Canada. We have tried and we hope he has learned to act as a respectful person, particularly to his elders and or his bosses. I think he can go as soon as the strike is settled will write compare to send him home."
So my mother fixed up a sack with strings and placed in it socks, underwear, shirts, etc. By pressing a tight it made a small bundle I could swing over my shoulders. Then Rocco and I started eyeing freight trains and asking if they were heading for Calgary. Some people were truthful and this guy said "Yes, if that’s where you’re heading for. Lookout for the watchmen. h
He’ll kick your asses out of the car." All cars were empties heading for many coal mines.
So, Rocco would look on one side and I would watch the other. The moment we would see the watchmen coming checking for bums like us we would scoot to the corner of the boxcar. He would look in, but he couldn’t see us. We finally got about four hours later to what we thought was Calgary. We walked towards the people. It was a good size place so Rocco asked a guy "Is this Calgary?" The fellow laughed.. He said "No. This is Lethebridge, Alberta. Where are you from?" We told him the mines are on strike so we were looking for any kind of work. "You know of any work around here?’ He said "A couple of blocks from here there is an employment agency. They may have something for you." Rocco thanked him and we went to the agency. Rocco did all the talking. He was older, taller and tougher than I was. He wasn’t afraid of anybody or anything even if he occasionally got the hell beaten out of him. He was my protector.
The agency fellow asked a lot of questions and was finally satisfied that we were striking coal miners. He said "Have you ever worked on a farm?" We both said "No but we could learn, maybe." He said "I have a call for two men, which you are not yet, to drive a team of horses to harrow plowed land." Rocco said "Harrowing? What’s that?" He explained that first the soil was plowed and then it’s harrowed (leveled). Next the seeding machine spreads the wheat, oats or barley. He said "It’s simple enough. The wages or one dollar day and your keep, you get the sleep in the barn and you have three hearty meals a day." He said "It will cost you two dollars each if you want the job." We paid it. He gave us train tickets telling us where to get off the train at a farming community and the farmer would be waiting with the team of horses to take us to the farm. He said "I’ve told him you are a couple of greenhorn coal miners. The farmer said he would try you."
Sure enough the farmer was waiting. He looked like he was hard-working, maybe 60 years or more. He approached us saying "Are you the men from the employment agency?" and we said "Yes sir." He looked us over shaking his head. He said "The man told you one dollar day and your keep?" "Yes sir." He said "You have no blankets. I’ll get you a couple. You sleep in the haystack of the barn. Up at daybreak. A triangle will sound for all the meals. You had better be listening because if you miss your chow you will not get another chance." "Yes sir" said Rocco "We understand." And he said "Have you ever harnessed a team of horses?" We said in unison "No sir." "Well" he said "I’ll show you in the morning. These are gentle animals. Treat them well or you’ll get your asses kicked."
The next day at day break, before the sun was up, the triangle was ringing. An excellent breakfast of hot cakes, all the bacon you wanted and French toast. He showed us how to harness the team what we had to do to feed and clean the horses after sundown. We were to harrow half a mile in a straight line, turn around and go back and forth. He had two weeks of work for us. There harrow with sharp teeth was about 10 feet wide and with every step we would sink in 6 inches into the soft soil. It was hard work. I would harrow one side and Rocco about half a mile away at the other end. We would occasionally stop and rest. The farmer had a loud whistle to motion us to keep working.
After three days of farmer said "Sorry boys here’s your three dollars each you’ll never be good farmers. You better go back your coal mines." After we got away from him Rocco said "You’re damn right I’m going back to the mine." I said "Not me." He said "Don’t give me that. You will. You’ve got no other choice." I didn’t say nothing. A farmer carrying a load of hay was there and we asked him if he could give us a ride to town. "Yes, hop on" he said. When we got to the Lethbridge we went to the depot. A young guy was standing by and Rocco said "We need to hook up on freight train to Calgary. Can you tell us which train to take?" He said "Yes, for four bits ($.50) I’ll point it out to you." About half an hour later a freight train started switching cars to a different track. The young man said "Pretty soon he’ll have them all sorted out and will head for Calgary." Sure enough that’s what happened. Young man said "Don’t hop n on this side. The detective has spy glasses and will spot you. Go down fifteen or twenty cars and pass to the other side and when you find an open boxcar jump in. Stay out of sight." He’s talked like an experience guy so we paid him, thanked him and he was happy.
About five or six hours later we arrived in Calgary, a beautiful city maybe 100,000 people. Big buildings, nice street cars and lots of cowboys. Some with guns and spurs. Walking around we saw a big crowd lined up outside so we asked the man why and he said some oil had been discovered out in the prairies and everybody’s buying shares hoping for a big full of crude oil.
It was time for us to separate, Rocco to his cousin and me to, compare. We exchange addresses so we could get together on Sundays. My compare, Jim Bombardieri, house was many blocks away from the depot. My parents had written to please take care of their son. When I finally arrived his wife had fixed some cheese salami and a glass of milk."
Dad went on to describe how his godfather bought him clothes and found a job for him. Dad stayed with them until the strike was over and then returned to the coal mine.
2 thoughts on “MY FATHER’S EXPERIENCE WHEN THE COAL MINE WENT ON STRIKE”
Paul, this is Pat Adams. Nick Petrich told me about this blog and I really liked reading about your family. Your Dad and my folks did business for years. They rented from him for years and my brother Bill bought the house he lives in, across from the Anacortes American, from your Dad. He still lives in it. God Bless you Paul and have a wonderful lent.
Thanks Paul, have a wonderful Lent. Please pray for my great nephew, Adam Nelson, He had a brain tumor partialy removed yesterday. It doesn't look good. He is 40 with a wife and two kids.