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

Working on the Grizzly

So anyway there I was one day working in a gang of guys with Old Abel when the Shift Boss or Captain or some such dignitary came up to us and said, “I need a man with a safety belt to work on the grizzly”. Now probably at that point I should have been a bit brighter and taken note of how all the other men in the crew were suddenly looking at the ground or the side of the drift or just about anyplace else except at this chap who needed a man for the grizzly. And to compound things I looked directly at this chap and said, “I’ve got a safety belt”. I noticed then how some of the other men in the crew seemed to relax and some of them even looked the visiting dignitary right in the face as if to say, “Gee I was going to volunteer but that other guy beat me to it”. And so that was how I became a grizzly man.

For the uninitiated perhaps I should explain what a grizzly is. It’s basically a steel grating with various sized holes placed over the top of an ore-pass. Usually a scooptram driver but sometimes trammers on the railroad tracks would put rocks of varying sizes (i.e. muck) on top of the grizzly and then the grizzly men would have to put the rocks through the grizzly so that the rocks would be small enough to go through the chutes in the loading pocket down below. The grizzly men would do this using a scaling bar, a sledge hammer or by drilling and blasting the rocks, sometimes after dragging them to the back of the grizzly using a tugger hoist.

There were two grizzlies at the East mine number two shaft, one on the eight hundred foot level and one on the thousand-foot level. Let me explain here that both of these grizzlies had holes that were plenty big enough for a man to fall through although the holes on the eight hundred foot level were bigger especially on the side where the trammers dumped their muck. The distance one could fall if he fell through depended on how high the muck below was at any given time. The maximum distance one could fall from the thousand-foot grizzly was about forty feet to the loading pocket and from the eight-hundred foot grizzly about two hundred feet to the next level and if there was no muck in chains at the level to hold you back another forty feet to the loading pocket.

Of course, there wouldn’t be much left of you by that time.
On the thousand-foot level grizzly we seldom wore our safety lanyards because it was only forty feet or less to the bottom and we felt kind of safe with only a forty foot drop below us. Mind you, if you had ever fallen down the hole, the scoop tram driver likely would have dumped a few twelve-ton loads of muck on top of you before anybody figured where you were. That is if the fall didn’t kill you first.

One time I was working on the thousand-foot grizzly and Jack Foster who was pretty much the head guy in the mine came there because the grizzly was right at the station. I didn’t have my safety line on and Jack kept coming over and looking at how high the muck was underneath me. I didn’t think much of it at the time but a week later he came back and fired a couple of men who were there working on the grizzly with no safety line on. I guess I had come close to being fired.
Mind you there wasn’t any safety training. You were just supposed to know these things and if you weren’t smart enough to figure it out, they just fired you, that is if you were lucky enough to survive. I can look back on it now through the prism of time and I realize how foolish it was to be working out there on the grizzly with no safety harness on but I was only nineteen then. It would have been nice if there had been some training.

One time I fell down the hole but it was one of the luckiest days of my life. The grizzly on the thousand foot level had a cement wall on the one side and pieces of muck were always getting jammed between the cement wall and the steel bar on the other side of the hole; so one day I put a scaling bar underneath the piece of muck and stood on the scaling bar with no safety line on to try and pry up the piece of muck to better position it to go down the hole.

This was probably not the brightest thing I ever did. Anyway you guessed it: the scaling bar slipped and there was nothing but thin air underneath me. But as I say this was one of my lucky days (and I had a few). I fell down to my upper chest level through the hole and I have to say that it happened so fast that afterwards I was standing there with pretty much just my head sticking up out of the hole wondering what had happened. And to add to my luck, I had landed on a nice flat rock down below. I had broken the belt around my waist that miners use to carry the battery for the lamp on their hats but otherwise I was unscathed. They say that a cat has nine lives. I don’t know how many lives I’ve got but I am sure that I have used up more than nine and I used up quite a few of them in the mines and certainly used one up that day.

This story brings up another one. I was working at this time on the grizzly on the eight hundred foot level. As I said before the holes on this grizzly were bigger especially on the trammer side and the drop below the grizzly was two hundred feet to the next level. There was lots of room to fall through the holes and the first eighty feet was straight down. Now the trammers were supposed to put down their own muck and we had this one trammer called Red MacInnis who continually used to put his muck down without wearing a safety line. And to make matters worse he used to continually do my old trick of putting a scaling bar under the muck and then stand on top of the scaling bar with nothing underneath him except a two hundred foot or so deep hole. Of course as a result of past experience this used to give me the creeps because I knew full well how close to death this guy was. I told him many times not to do that but he wouldn’t listen.

To digress for a minute, miners call a drill, a “machine” and the drill rod that fits in the machine is called a “steel”. Now on the grizzly we only had to drill short holes to put a half a stick or so of dynamite into the rocks to pop them; so we would take old broken steels, get them down to the right length usually by getting the scoop tram driver to break them off in an old drill hole in the wall of the drift, and then we had to grind them so that a drill bit would fit on the end.
Anyway I was away from the grizzly one time grinding a steel and on the way back to the grizzly I passed Red MacInnis going in the opposite direction. Now as the name suggests Red MacInnis had red hair and he had a bit of a reddish complexion but when I saw him this time he was as white as a ghost.

I took one look at him and I said, “You almost fell didn’t you”. He replied that yes, he had been standing on top of a scaling bar that slipped and that he had almost gone through the hole and that he had managed to catch himself with one arm over the bar. Few people have come closer to death. Neither Red MacInnis nor his partner ever went back on the grizzly again. They just stood aside and let my partner and I put their muck through for them. I was happier doing their work for them than watching them die, so that was all right with me.