Labor Day Tribute to a Coal Miner

Labor Day Memory of the Day. The first photo in this post is of John L. Lewis. He was a giant in the United Mine Workers Union and was revered by my grandfather Earl Grant, shown in the second picture. Earl would be the dapper looking gentleman with the tie and hat. I think I got my love of wearing hats from him. Now this is not how Earl looked when he got home from work on Monday through Friday. You see, Earl was a coal miner in the anthracite coal region of Pennsylvania.
John L. Lewis was, as I said, the president and a giant in the United Mine Workers union. He also was instrumental to forming the Congress of Industrial Organizations (later merged with the American Federation of Labor to become the AFL/CIO). Also, as I mentioned, Earl revered the man. I should also mention here that Earl was he president of his UMW local. My father, the gent standing on the far right of the photo was named after John L. Lewis, hence his name, Lewis Earl Grant. My grandfather had this portrait of John L. Lewis hanging over his bed along with a cigar given to him by John L. still wrapped in the cellophane and sitting on the edge of the portrait frame.
Now mining unions don’t have an unblemished reputation, but they were instrumental in creating safer and better conditions for the miners. My grandfather worked at the colliery (where they process the coal for delivery) at Raven Run Colliery in Shenandoah, PA. If you want to know more about early days of coal mining in this hard coal region, and about how the companies treated the miners there, read the book or get the movie “The Molly Maguires.” The movie starred Sean Connery and Richard Harris so is a good movie to watch.
Grandpop Grant was a hard working guy who went out the door at 5:00 AM every morning, Monday through Friday to Raven Run. I never saw him leave, but did see him come home. His dressing room was on the back porch. Grandmam Grant would not allow him in the house with his black overalls and grimy hat. He shucked that stuff off on the porch. Then he dressed there in the morning. When he would get off work in the afternoon, my brother Wayne and I would watch for him to walk up the hill. Grandpop didn’t have a car and his ride always dropped him off at the corner down by the front of the white building in the photo. We would run down the hill to meet him, but he would be too grimy to pick us up or hug us. After he got out of his outer layer of coal dust, he would come into the kitchen and sit down at the kitchen table with a quart bottle of Ballentine Beer. He would open his lunch box and give Wayne and me the Tasty-Kakes he saved for us from his lunch. When he finished his beer, he would go upstairs for his bath.
After the bath he dressed as you see him in this picture. Not always with a tie but often he did. He always had the hat. Then he would walk down to the corner across from the white building to the corner bar (it was like his version of Cheers). He would visit with others in the bar, eat pretzels and drink more beer. A special treat for me was for him to take me to the bar with him. I would get a Birch Beer (very much like Root Beer) and snacks as well and listen to the stories the men there told. After about an hour of this we would head back up the hill for dinner with the family.
There is a story that Grandpop once had a car. He had to fix three flats on the road from Girardville , his home, to Shenandoah. The story goes that he got rid of the car as soon as he got home and never owned another. Another interesting transportation story about Earl is that once he flew to our home in Louisiana. We picked him up at the airport in Jackson, MS. He swore to us that he would never fly again. He took the bus back to Pennsylvania when his visit was over and he never came back to Louisiana.
About the photo. From left to right in the back row are my Uncle Paul Stehr, Grandpop Earl Grant, Uncle Harold Grant, and my dad Lewis Grant. The two cute kids in the first row are from left to right, little brother Wayne Grant, and yours truly.
Here are some other interesting facts about the photo. The white building was a movie theater that as far as I know never showed a movie. Certainly not one that I ever saw. But, it was also where the town of Girardville held prize fights. Grandpop Grant was a boxer and a boxer trainer. He was doing neither by the time we were there, but he ensured that I had a proper set of boxing gloves and a speed bag hanging in my cellar. The boxing gloves came in handy whenever I got a loose tooth. I would stage a match in front of the Catholic Church in Oak Grove and put the gloves on with Sonny Ogden who managed to knock several of the loose ones out for the tooth fairy. The gray scar on the mountain behind us is the work of strip mining. As I recall this was called a “breach” hole (only seemed to be pronounced like “brache”), the holes left by the big shovels removing the dirt and rock to get to the coal. The overburden was piled above the holes in great piles of loose scrabble. (There is another story in my Granddaddy Stories blog with a tale of how Wayne and I climbed the mountain and I got stuck on one of those piles and little brother Wayne had to talk me up the slope to safety, check out the blog).
OK. Guess that is enough for one day. At any rate unions run deep in our blood and I have been twice a member of the International Hod Carriers Union (necessary to get a job on a pipeline construction job in the ’60s).
Enjoy your day off everyone.


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