Tuesday, March 31, 2009  
   Volume 79 - Issue 13 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week

“I jumped at the opportunity.
I look on it as a real gift.
For me it’s just
a personal dream.”

- Lynne Cox  
- new Confidential Secretary   
for the municipality   

 

 
These days most Pass coal miners carry their lunches, thermoses and other paraphernalia (i.e. satellite radios, fresh clothes, etc.) in some sort of packsack. Others use small coolers with a thermos clipped to the top that are loaded with enough food, water and reading material to get them through those long hard twelve hour  shifts.
In the old days (I say that alot lately) miners used what we affectionately referred to as a bucket.  To “eat your bucket” is an expression that generally catches most people up. It sounds odd nowadays but it didn’t back then.
Buckets were black metal lunch boxes with a rounded top, a handle and two steel latches on the front. They weren’t all that big but held enough sandwiches, boiled eggs and tea in a thermos to keep a hard working contract coal miner going. I recall that the miners at Vicary were forced to make homemade giant safety pins threaded through their bucket latches to keep these old style black buckets closed.  It wasn’t that the latches didn’t work, it was because the clever chipmunks (big as gophers) knew how to pop the latches and swipe their food. This generally took place while the guys were inside the dry changing and their buckets were left unattended in the mine yard.
It was very uncool to carry your bucket by the handle (like some kid starting school).  Miners devised a rather unique way of carrying their buckets to and fro.  They used to attach about three or four feet of stove chain to each end of the bucket’s sides.  Their bucket was then hung over their shoulder and tucked in behind their right elbow, out of sight. This was considered very cool and unobvious.   Mostly it was practical.
You remember stove chain don’t you? That’s the stuff that was used to open and close the drafts on your basement coal furnace. They ran up from the basement through holes in the floor to a metal clip located directly above the furnace.  One hauled up and down on the chains to regulate the air flow into the firebox.  The chains also served as a handy way to hang one’s bucket up on a timber underground.  A great prank was to nail a miner’s bucket to the timber it was hanging off of.  The miner generally grabbed his bucket chain and started running for the mantrip which promptly ripped the chains off and sent him flying forward.
Buckets have evolved from the old black standard in the picture to modern, bigger aluminum jobbies that hold more food and a bigger thermos. Moving from eight to twelve hour shifts probably brought that size change on. The aluminum ones are pretty skookum and are  usually bedecked with all kinds of decals and safety stickers.  Badges of service!
 
At one time in the late 1960’s my mother Marie was making no less than four buckets a day.  My two brothers Alex and Bill and I were all working underground at the same time in different mines.  My father John Senior was busy travelling between these mines as an underground surveyor.  Needless to say this got very tedious for her and when her practical joker side kicked in to alleviate the boredom of this job I generally bore the brunt of her antics. 
That is to say I was served up some rather interesting lunches.  It was not uncommon for some of the miners to hang around me at lunch time to see what was going to turn up.  Among the modified lunch specials I was served up was a raw egg. One assumes they are boiled and cracks them on one’s knee.  That one only worked once so she moved on to such shenanigans as thermos’ of hot water, a rock wrapped up enticingly in tin foil, a mouse trap and  a beautiful ham and cheese sandwich lovingly lined with a layer of fine coal from the coal bin downstairs.   Never a dull moment as they say. I managed to bring these bucket antics to a screeching halt one day by leaving a live mouse in my empty bucket.  Got really quiet after that!
Someday we should erect giant bronze statues of coal miners here in the Pass to commemorate those fearless, hard working men of all nationalities that built the Pass into what it is today. They took the risks and worked with a determination rarely seen these days to ensure that their families were well looked after and that their children could go on to university or college and escape the mine cycle.  Those children have spread out all across Canada and are doctors, lawyers, police officers, teachers, musicians and people of note in whatever vocation they chose.  Children of coal miners announce unhesitatingly and with pride that they are from the Crowsnest Pass.
The statue should be of a miner with his helmet and mine lamp on and a miner’s bucket tucked in behind his elbow, standing tall and proud at the entrances to the Pass.  He would be holding a Wolfe Safety Lamp up in the air in one hand that would be lit at night as would his cap lamp.  What a marvellous sight for visitors to behold!  It would be a wonderful acknowledgment of our mining heritage and it is time we recognized these men in a significant and prominent way.
Seems that this business of bucket sabotage landed in my lap again back in 1980 when I started work at Line Creek Mine.  From the get go my wife Lorraine was making my lunches for me. Then it all went terribly wrong.  I’m not sure if it was something I said or did that browned her off but the message was sent to me in a very clear way. I opened up my lunch one day to find a package of Tender Vittles (dry cat food) between two slices of bread. Fellow office workers howled with laughter and I have made my own lunches ever since.
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   Volume 79 - Issue 13 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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