Pickin' Coal
by Pasquale Mosconi
August 1988


When Nick, Joe, and I were old enough to carry a bushel of coal (13 – 14 years of age), it became our responsibility to fill the coal bin at our house each summer.  In the early days of our youth we lived in a home that had a coal-fired furnace.

My “memory” goes back to the summer of 1941 when I was 16 years of age.  I don’t remember the exact size of the coal storage area in our basement, but it seemed like it held hundreds of bushels of coal.  It usually took us nearly two months of hot summer days of “picking” coal to fill the bin.

Picking coal consisted of separating small chunks of coal about the size of a softball to somewhat larger pieces from the slag or slate waste that was dumped on the huge slag piles in a field near the coal mines.  A device similar to a huge dump truck called a lorry that ran on railroad tracks would dump the slag from the mine with bits of coal from the top of the slag pile.

Nick, Joe, and I, along with other boys and girls, would scurry across the “dump” as it was called putting pieces of coal in our bushel or sack.  This usually took only a few minutes, then we would wait for the next load to be dumped.  If things were slow, it sometimes took two or three days to pick a full load.  Approximately one ton or 25 bushels of coal could be hauled by one of the small pick-up trucks.

About once a week, usually on a Saturday, the miners would clean up the “motor road”.  This was the area inside the mine from the working surface to the area under the tipple (where the coal was brought to the surface), a distance which could be as much as a half mile.  On those days the loads dumped by the lorry consisted of very fine particles of coal, some slag, and a lot of chunks of coal.  After a few loads had been dumped, most of the dump was covered with coal dust.  We then could pick the coal much faster; in fact we would mark areas called “bailing” places near the slag piles.  As the coal came tumbling down the dump we would “bail” or throw the coal chunks into our pre-marked bailing areas.  On good days, we could pick a load of coal in half a day!

The highlight of our summer came when our coal bin was filled!  At that time, we were allowed to sell the fruits of our labor to neighbors who didn’t have children old enough to pick coal.  We were able to sell one ton of coal for $2.00.  It would cost $0.50 to pay the truck driver to haul the coal if we shoveled it into the truck at the dump and out at the house.  This left us a net of $1.50 to split three ways.  We thought we were doing quite well to earn 50 cents a day!

Although the days of “pickin’ coal” in the hot summers of the late 30’s and early 40’s are long gone, I often think back fondly of that care-free, busy, happy time of my life.

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