Friday, October 8, 2010


During the nineteen thirties and forties, when I was growing up in Eastern Pennsylvania, mules were used in the anthracite mines. They were kept in the mines in what was the equivalent of a barn, carved out of the coal and stone, except this barn was cold, damp and dark with water constantly dripping. Food for the mules was stored in the mine and re supplied as needed. The mules were used to pull the coal cars from the gangways where the coal was mined to the area where the cars were joined together like a train and pulled up to the surface where they were unloaded into railroad cars and transported to the colliery for processing. The mules provided a great service; coal could not be mined at the volume that was needed for human comfort without the mules except by using men as mules for moving the coal cars.

My father was at one time a mule driver. He said he kept a large nail in his pocket to jab the hind quarters of the mule if it became stubborn or unruly. Accidents were infrequent, but mules were known to kick the driver or to push him against the side of the tunnel.

The work in the mines was divided into three shifts, the first two shifts devoted to mining coal and the third shift used for timbering and general cleanup and repair. The mules rested in the dark barns during the third shift; there were no coal cars to pull.

As time progressed, the mines were electrified and the work the mules did was replaced by motorized cars. The dark tunnels were now lit continuously rather than only by the light from a miners’ carbide lamp. Now the miners wore electric lights on their hard hats. They were powered by a large battery pack strapped to their belts. When my father worked the second shift and we had a car, I often went to the mine portal to drive him home and take the battery pack to the mine office where all the other batteries were charged for the next morning shift.

As the mules were gradually replaced they were brought up to the surface where they were kept in a barn with an enclosed yard. They were then sent somewhere, perhaps to dog meat factories. They were kept in the barn for a time since they were blinded by the sunlight after having been kept in the dark mine for years and needed time to regain their sight.

When a new batch of mules was brought up, we kids would go to the barn and straddling the fence throw stones at the helpless animals who did not know what was going on. We kids did not know what the mules did, except that they worked in the mines. They brayed and kicked and ran into one another trying to get away from the stones. We kids thought it was great fun.

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