Scavenging The Coal Banks For Our Daily Coal


Morea was in the middle of the anthracite coal regions. As a people we were surrounded by coal Yanks and ravines; by mines, strippings and breakers. We were showered by coal dust with the daily passage of the train that hauled coal from the breakers. We breathed and lived coal dust.

My father was still classified as a laborer--still hoping to work his way up to a contract miner. My brother Felix, my next eldest brother, also worked as a laborer. My brother Marty who was two years older than me, had been working in the breaker since he a. was eleven. With our large family, their combined incomes provided for mere basics.

Everyone used coal along with some wood to heat their homes and cook their food and we were no exception . In the coldest months our parents had to budget and buy coal. When the weather warmed, the coal was provided by the Jr . members of our family Mary, Marty & me.

In the spring and fall, the poor children of the patch could be seen walking to the swamp and coal bands; all of them dragging large burlap sacks. There they would gather those lumps of coal that had been discarded with the waste of the mines.

To get there we had to cross the narrow and dangerous railroad trestle. Then we had to cross a wide creek- bridged only by a thick telephone pole.

Through years of practice, Mary and I were able to cross the trestle without difficulty. Crossing over the Creek with 25 pounds or more of coal was a different matter; but readily handled by our brother Marty who crossed over many times balancing twenty five or more pounds of coat- a half bag full at a time. From there we would drag our bounty homeward. Marty had tight curly brown hair and brown eyes. He was well built and muscular. Best of all, he was funny and kept us entertained. He was well liked by our girl friends who thought he was handsome.

The creeks were formed by the large amounts of water used in the breakers to wash the coal as it passed through the breaker on a conveyor belt The creeks were surrounded by the coal banks and in this swampy area we of often found huckleberries growing on tall bushes called swampies.

On our travels through the hills and Coal bands surrounding Morea we passed many cave holes. These were very dangerous and caused by surface land sinking into old abandoned mines that had collapsed. Some of these cave holes were so deep one could not see the bottom. Many were filled at the bottom with water. Others were still sucking in ground from the surface. In my youth, I had no fear, but I shudder now as 1 think about the danger, and about the occasional traveler swallowed by the black hills of Pennsylvania.