Excerpt from “Haywire My Life in the Mines” – by Doug Hall

This autobiographical book describes the Doug Hall’s family through war and depression, and goes on to relate his experiences underground in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. It is written from the point of view of the average Joe who went underground when he was eighteen and didn’t know what he was getting into. The author considers himself lucky to have survived those years. 

Click here to order an e-book of “Haywire My Life in the Mines”http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/269905

Sudbury 1966

Anyway as I said I was eighteen when the grade thirteen school year was over and so father took me out to the mine the next day. I don’t recall being asked if I wanted to go underground. Father was a miner and I guess like it or not I was going underground as well. I remember I made $2.56 an hour that first summer underground as mine helper.

I still remember going down on the cage the first time. I felt good about it. No fear. I think I sort of felt like I had become a man. One time a few years later I had been away from the mines for a while but I had secured a job underground. In the day or so before I went back underground I was seized by fear. I knew then what I was getting myself into. I managed to steel my nerves and get on with it. After a few days back at it I was okay but I always remember the fear I had that time before I went back under.

My first day underground was pretty uneventful. They put us with an old miner and I think we did a couple of odds and ends sorts of jobs for a while. I seem to remember working on a pipe doing something or other. A small piece of loose fell on my hardhat. The old miner looked quite concerned but it didn’t amount to much. That was the only time in five years underground that I had a piece of loose fall on me. Thank goodness it was a small piece. Many miners don’t live to tell the tale (if the loose is bigger).

Later that day they put me to work with a crew building a slusher trench. I was helping to build the portion over the railroad tracks. About thirty or forty feet into the slusher trench I could see men moving around through the darkness by the lights on their helmets. When I met father in the car for my ride home that night I found out he had been one of the men that had worked thirty or forty feet away for most of the day.

Father said quite a few curse words on the way home that night. I must say that I had never heard him curse in that way before, so I guess that was just one more piece of evidence that I had passed some rite of manhood. Besides the language used underground is rather salty; so I suppose father thought I would have to get used to it and that perhaps I should be doing a little swearing of my own to fit in.

After that day I kept working on the slusher trenches. The part I worked on was a cement, steel and wood platform that was over the railroad tracks. They would slush muck from boxholes down the trench to the platform. From the platform they would slush the muck through a hole in the platform to railroad cars waiting below. But at this point we were just building the platform.

The top of the drift is called the “back”. And generally the back has rock bolts put in it so that loose won’t fall from the back and potentially kill someone. I remember working on one slusher trench where the rocks were all broken out around the rock bolts and there were huge boulders hanging from the rock bolts above our heads. None of them ever fell but it did make one think.

One day I was dressing to go underground when father came up to me and he asked me to give him my rubber boots which were pretty much brand new. He explained that his boots had holes in them, that he would buy me a new pair of boots on the way home at the end of the day and that he was working at a job that day where he had to stand in water all day long. And so I gave father my rubber boots that didn’t have any holes in them.

What I didn’t know was that that day I was going to be working in cement. The cement came to the worksite underground in small railroad cars and when working in cement on the slusher trench job you had to stand in the railroad car in the cement, shovel the cement into a pail and then hand the pail to a chap standing on a plank that was placed across the railroad car. This chap then lifted the cement up to waiting hands up on top of the slusher trench platform. So there I was standing in this cement with holes in my (father’s?) rubber boots. Naturally the cement leaked in through the holes. I got first degree burns to both of my feet from the cement (a lime burn) and some of the cement got into my long winter underwear, so I got some second and third degree burns on my arms just for good measure.

They put me on light duty because of this, which was a bit of a farce because I had to work harder on light duty then I did on my regular job. I was helping to timber a raise on light duty and they put me to work carrying five-inch timbers down the drift to the work site. On my regular job at this time they were just making a form for a platform and I would have been just handling little pieces of tongue and groove boards to make the form.

Anyway after a couple of days of this I decided that maybe I had better get in to see a doctor, so off to the Sudbury General Hospital I went. The doctor was none to happy when he saw me as he reckoned that in my condition I should have seen a doctor much earlier. Anyway he put a couple of burn dressing on my feet, told me I couldn’t wear heavy boots on my feet (as required for underground work) and told me to come back and see him a few days later. When I went back and he took the burn dressings off and he looked at my feet he muttered the word, “Lucky.” I guess I was in some danger of losing my feet to infection.

Anyway when the doctor told me that I couldn’t wear heavy boots for a while and therefore couldn’t go underground I kind of figured I was on Workers’ Compensation and I was looking forward to a little holiday but father talked me into going out to the mine the next morning by saying that they would probably send me home and pay me through the mine rather than see me listed as an accident on the books. And of course father said that they would probably be slighted if I didn’t go out to the mine and give them that opportunity at least and besides going on Workers’ Compensation was no way to start my mining career as I might want a job there in the future.

And so there I was in father’s car that morning going out to the mine to tell them that I couldn’t work that day. As we approached the mine there were cars lined up all over the place on the sides of the road and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It turned out that there was a wildcat strike in progress, so there was no way I was going into the mine that day and neither was anyone else.

The strike lasted two or three weeks and father advised me not to go on Workers’ Compensation which I could have done, so I never did collect Workers’ Compensation. One time afterwards, one of the bigwigs in the mine asked me about my “allergy” to cement. I just told him that I was all better. The mining company was a bit rough and tumble and I think father gave me good advice about not going on Workers’ Compensation. That was my first time there and all together I got hired on and quit six times at that mining company.

Click here to order an e-book of “Haywire My Life in the Mines”http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/269905