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Lynn Wilson Remembers His Grandfather, John Wilson, a Coal Miner

Lynn Wilson, Rippey, Iowa native, remembers his grandfather, John Wilson, who worked in the McElheney Coal Mine south of Rippey.

My Grandfather’s Life In The Coal Mine

By Lynn Wilson 

My Grandfather, John Wilson, farmed at different locations and dug tiles around Rippey in the summers during the depression years. To generate income in the winters to support his wife & four children, he worked as an expert dynamiter in the McElheney coal mine south of Rippey near the gravel pits. He would get up in the early hours and walk several miles through snow and ice, and sometimes bitter cold, to get to the mine. He would then go down the deep elevator shaft to a small underground tunnel. He would crawl into it and lie on his back, and then dig holes with a brace & bit or whatever tool worked best, to put in the dynamite sticks. He would then light the fuses and try to crawl out in time. Sometimes there were cave-ins and other dangers, and he often came home injured. He couldn’t afford a doctor, but fortunately, my Grandmother, Clara, had nurses training, and she would tend to his injuries and tape him up as best she could so he could return to work.

One time my Dad, Errol, went down the elevator shaft with Grandfather to watch him work. He never went back, saying that was enough for him. It was a terribly hard, dangerous life, but Dad said that was the best paying job Grandfather could get in the winters during the depression. Life was indeed very harsh for some people back then.