Tuesday, May 18, 2010  
   Volume 80 - Issue 20 Website:www.passherald.ca   email: passherald@shaw.ca   $1.00   
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Quote of the Week
“People want this bylaw. This town is bad and getting worse.”
- Councillor Ian MacLeod  
- on the community   
standards bylaw   

 

Looking Back - John KinnearI went out to the Passburg Cemetery this past Mothers Day to visit her grave and to tell her how much I missed her and her sharp wit.  As I roamed the snow soaked slope of this beautiful, quiet resting place I came across a prominent grey headstone bedecked with flowers and a powerful message on it. It read: “Loved By All Who Knew Him- A Beautiful Memory Deep In Our Hearts.” It was the marker of Jack Dodsley, father to John Dodsley Jr., ace carpenter.
I met John Dodsley Jr.  in 2005 when I first moved back to the Pass and have used his considerable carpentry skills to fix some headaches in our new abode.  I knew the story of how Jack was lost but my curiosity led me to ask John about it one day. John explained that he was not clear on the exact details of how his father had died but knew that it had happened in  Number Four Panel in the BC Coal’s  Hydraulic Underground Mine at Michel. He also informed me that the day he lost his dad was January 28th, 1983, the day of his tenth birthday! 
Martin Hruby and Jack Dodsley were the second and third last coal miners to die underground in the Crowsnest Pass. One more, Joe Wenisch, had to die before they finally shut down that cursed number four panel of the hydraulic mine forever.  Joe Wenisch was killed on the anniversary of the day they buried Martin Hruby. Imagine how the families felt to get that news on that day!
 As a mining historian and third generation coal miner I am acutely aware of “how it all went down” that day in 1983.  I have also come to know Martin Hruby’s story, a story that can reach into the heart of everyone who hears it.
Martin’s son Ron has shared a lot of his dad’s story with me and also shared it with the public at the Fourth Annual Bellevue Miners Memorial in 2006. It is the story of the definitive coal miner who for 43 years, from the age of 16, dealt with the constant threat of gas, bumping, and cave-ins underground. Like any seasoned miner he took steps to minimize these hazards and keep himself safe. Martin’s career started in the Bellevue Mine followed by a few years with Coleman Collieries at the Vicary Mine north of Coleman and eventually to the mines in Michel run by BC Coal. It was there he ultimately wound up in the hydraulic mine, a specialized development at Michel that used a high-pressure water nozzle to cut coal and wash it down a flume line and out of the mine.
Martin was not happy about how Four Panel was operating with no positive ventilation as they could not get a return airway through the mined out areas. Gas readings ranged in the 3 to 4 percent at times.
He had seen a lot of things happen in his Michel days and this one had him very worried. He mentioned it on many occasions to his son.
 
Hruby’s history in the Michel area was punctuated with a lot of painful moments. Martin was there in 1967 when Balmer North blew up and killed 26 men.  Martin took Ron, then thirteen at the time, to the mine site where they saw draegermen carrying the bodies out wrapped in white canvas. Martin was also there in 1969 when Balmer South flooded and four were lost and another three trapped for an agonizing 92 hours. He helped run the mechanical miner that was brought in and used to reopen that mine.
 In 1974 Ron Hruby was working with Guido Fillipuzzi when Guido was killed in a cave-in and Martin came, as always, to Ron’s work area and asked his son that day: “Is this the kind of life you want to live?”  Ron had no answer for him.
In 1981 Ron was working in the hydraulic mine when a high-pressure water line ruptured right next to him smashing his femur and almost ripping his left arm off. Ron overcame the threat of losing his arm and gas gangrene and survived.  He came very close to dying but by some miracle pulled through. The profound thing about this incident is that Martin was there when they carried Ron out of the mine and cried out to the sky: “God why don’t you take me and let my son live”.
Martin’s partner Peter Budzen was killed in July of 1981 in the hydraulic mine and Jack Dodsley was his replacement.  They worked together until that fateful day in 1983.  The night before he died Martin talked to his son about the gas levels and how dangerous it was. Ron begged him not to go but Martin replied: “If I let someone else go there and if something happens how would I live with myself.” Live indeed.
So it was that on January 28, 1983 Martin and Jack’s luck ran out.  The inquest jury ruled that a massive rock fall had come down, hurtling the men to their deaths.  It was ruled accidental, as it always was. No one was fined, no one went to jail.  The United Mine Workers of America felt the accident was a result of an explosion due to a build-up of methane gas. The jury sided with the Mines Inspector and that was that. It did not go unnoticed by me, however, that the same jury recommended the installation of additional airways for improved ventilation!  
Martin Hruby got his sky borne wish that day in 1981.  His son Ron was indeed spared but two years later God called Martin on his wish. Ron is still working at a coal mine these days, one of Teck Coal’s surface mines in the Elk Valley. Whenever he is asked if he is angry about this story he gives this powerful but succinct reply: “No, I am not angry, I am an underground coal miner. “
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