Power Center

Right after Thanksgiving, everyone at the mines would start getting into the Christmas spirit. Even though we knew it was a month away, we couldn’t wait for the days off to spend with our families. Some of us would bring in ornaments to hang on our equipment, and on some sections, someone would bring a set of Christmas lights to hang around the power center. It seemed like every conversation was about what we were planning on doing for our kids and those who were lucky enough to still have a few vacation days would just keep going on and on about using them to extend their holiday.

A week before Christmas the company put together a huge dinners for each shift coming out of the mines where the mine foremen would hand out “gifts” smeared with the company logo. Every year we’d get the same things, a belt buckle, a baseball cap—some years a flashlight if we were lucky. They’d also give us a frozen turkey or ham to take home until they figured it was cheaper to give each man a Wal-Mart gift card. The best gift they gave however, was turning a blind eye to the underground dinners we’d have as a crew.

The days of coal crews shutting down to eat dinner together are long gone at most mines. Now each man takes lunch when he gets the chance. For the continuous miner operators and buggy men, the boss or someone else would relieve them just long enough to get a quick bite and then they’d jump right back on their equipment. In today’s mines, production doesn’t stop unless something breaks down.That’s what made the underground Christmas dinners so special.

During the last week leading up to Christmas, most crews would have an underground potluck. Everyone would bring in their dishes from home, pile them in the back of the man trip, and haul them underground. Once on the section, someone would take all the food to the power center.

For those not familiar, a power center is a huge rectangular box about 10 feet across, 20 feet long, and 3 feet high. It houses the electrical transformers, power connections, and electrical breakers for all of the mining equipment on each working section. The metal lids over the transformers get scorching hot, making it the best place to heat food underground, especially when it’s an entire Christmas dinner.

Since the law states that all power centers must be located in the fresh air supply to the work area, all shift long the smell of hot food would spread its way across the section.  The wait for lunchtime was always unbearable. After working four or five hours into the shift, the boss would shut the section down and everyone would pile up on the man trip. Someone would say grace and then we’d dig in. Afterwards, the boss would hand out gifts to each of us and then we’d shoot the breeze or sleep for half an hour. When it came time to go back to work, it was everything we could do to rouse ourselves out of our food comas. Fortunately, the boss felt the same way we did and would cut us a bit of slack over the rest of the shift.

In the final days leading up to the holiday, it seemed like all of us had a lot more love in our hearts. Even the people we couldn’t stand were wished a Merry Christmas. There was just something special about that time—that spirit that seemed to bring us all together, even in the worst conditions.

Here’s wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. Be safe and take care of each other out there.

 

6 Comments

  1. Merry Christmas to you, Nick!

    I’ve been reading through your blog today. I found your blog because my uncle, a coal miner, posted a link to this post on Facebook. You are a great writer, with a voice, telling not only your own stories but the stories of all of the coal miners along the Appalachian mountain chain.

    I just wanted to let you know I’ve actually put a link to your blog on one of the pages of my blog. My blog is http://www.thebigredpatchhouse.com and the page that your blog is linked on is “What is a “patch” town?” under “About” in the navigation.

    Thank you for this reading!

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  2. Been digging underground for nearly fifteen years each year things change a little more. It is a shame that we no longer do these holiday dinners underground they are some fondest memories. I thank you for sharing this & hopefully it help the new generation of miner realize we are a family always have been always will be.

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  3. How true it is and sad how the times have changed. Great article. Having been out of the mines for 20 years, I will alwsys be a coal mole! 😆 Miss all my old buddies in the mines. BR-549

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  4. Your story brought back many fond memories and sadly you are right about how things have changed through the years. The dinner hole was always a special place to socialize and talk about our families. I started mining coal in1973 to 2015. I miss it every day especially the great guys I worked with and my boys that worked for me when I was a production foreman. Take care out there guys and know you are in my prayers and forever in my heart, signed an old worn out Coal Miner.

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