[Memoir] Once a miner – by Gordie Graham (Tumbler Ridge News – May 4, 2016)

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Dear Trent: The story last week asking “are you a miner?”, has prompted me to recall my fond memories of spending nine of my youngest years underground.

Mining was not really in my blood but going underground at age 17. I didn’t have a clue of what I was getting myself into and looking back at it now, almost 60 years later, I often wonder what happened. Was it faith? Or was I just simply going blindly off into the world to seek my fortune?

I am just so happy now at how things turned out that I wish I could do it all over again. It all started at an early age when I left Edmonton in 1957 and flew to Yellowknife in a DC-3. I stayed overnight in the Gold Range Hotel then next morning flew out to the mine site in one of Wardair’s Dehavilland Beaver aeroplanes.

I started work as a Bullcook at a Uranium mine called Rayrock Mines Ltd., about 150 air-miles north of Yellowknife. After only one month as Bullcook, I transferred into the lab and became a lab tech.

Canada didn’t have any hard rock underground miners at this time and had to import many from all over the world. There were many, Italians, French, German, Polish and Czechoslovakian miners and I spent a lot of time teaching them English and I in turn learning their languages … mostly swear words.

One day, one of the miners showed me his paycheque. WOW! It was three times bigger than mine and next instant I was asking the mine manager for a transfer to underground. Next day-just like Tennessee Ernie Ford says, I went to the Company Store and got me my underground gear.

The commissary attendant asked me “Gordie, you are spending all this money to go underground, what if you don’t like it?” “I will force myself to,” I said.

I was only 17 years old and law said I was supposed to be over 18. Shh. Down I went and learned everything about mining in a short time.

The most important thing to me at the time was the big paycheques. The mine operated on the bonus system. The harder you worked the more pay you received. Production miners would get a bonus for tons trammed, feet of track laid, rock bolts drilled and even how many spikes used in the ties to lay track. I started as a trammer (railroad engineer) and worked my way up to Drift miner, the Stope miner and finally, the top paid Raise miner.

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