Some people like to carefully plan their vacations. Normally, I think that’s a great idea – after all, I am the person who has lists in Word documents to make sure I pack everything for a trip, and others to remember all the details for holiday celebrations. But for this Human Diaries vacation trip, we did it a little differently. We still had a list – we wrote down a bunch of places we might want to go. We started with a previous list of places we had, and added the places one of our staff members had from his recent trip. The activities were all in a large area of Pennsylvania, so we could have gone to any of them. We decided that each day, we would pick a place. Then if we had time, we’d go to the next place. This was going to be a flexible and semi-spontaneous trip.
So, it was the first day of vacation. We had arrived after midnight, slept in a bit (well, some of us did), and were ready to go. We looked over our list, and made a decision.
We decided to go to Patton, located in Cambria County. On the way there, we stopped at the house that I wrote about in the past where they sell eggs. We had saved our egg cartons to give them, and wanted to buy more eggs. We didn’t see anyone there. We weren’t sure at first if anyone was home because last time we went, the lady ended up coming out after a little while. So, we decided to look around and take pictures while we waited to see if she came out again. We took pictures of all of the animals. After a little while, I decided to leave the egg cartons there, and wanted to attach a note. I wrote a message on the back of a business card: “We thought you might be able to use these. We would like to buy some eggs. We’ll come back later”. On the other side, I added, “P.S. we mentioned you in one of our articles”. Before we left, we went over by a cow near where we had parked, and I noticed a four leaf clover and a five leaf clover. Then we were on our way!
Our first destination was Seldom Seen Valley Coal Mine. I had seen the signs for it many times over the years, but we had never gone before. We have relatives who worked in the coal mines before, so we were interested in what it was really like there.
We found the place easily, and pulled into the parking lot. We weren’t sure if we had the right place because there were no other cars there, but we could see some in the other lot for staff. We parked and walked over to the building. There were a few people there, and we were happy to meet them. The guide was really nice. His name is Ted, and he told us he’s a retired miner. He wanted to wait a little to see if anyone else would show up before starting the tour. We had a nice chat with him. We found out later that he had just recently celebrated his birthday. Happy Birthday, Ted!
A couple showed up a bit later, so then we started the tour. We were shown a map of the place before we went down, traveled the path through the mine in a mini-train, and learned all different aspects about life in the mines. Ted explained about all of the equipment and animals that were and are used. It was really interesting to hear about the mines and the conditions the miners had to tolerate. We didn’t know that the miners were paid by how much coal they mined, not by the hour. There were days they had to basically work for free, since they were preparing things for the next day. We didn’t know about some of the things like all of the rats and how big they were. Although there were lights set up in the mine for the tourists, there were no lights when it was still in use, other than the lights on the miner’s hats. We only got a vague idea of how dark it must have been. We didn’t realize how low the ceilings were in some areas. There were no toilets, so they had to make sure to keep some areas for storing and eating their food. In later years, women started to become miners sometimes too, so they started to use small toilets that sort of reminded us of “potty chairs” for toddlers.
Dynamite was often used to help extract the coal. There were usually 18 sticks of dynamite used at a time, and only 17 feet between the miner and the explosion. There is and was a concern about methane gas, because it can start unwanted explosions and fires. Ted explained how they made sure the roof didn’t cave in on them, how they kept the air safe, and what procedures were in place to check for safety. The job is potentially very dangerous, and the pay is not very high. The motto is “Safety First”, and Ted personally checks the mine every day before anyone is allowed to go in. There was so much information about how mining is done, and what sorts of precautions are in place to prevent disasters. Ted gave us so much information that I wish I had something to write it all down so I could include more here!
Our overall impression of the place is very favorable. First of all, the staff is extremely pleasant and knowledgeable. Second of all, the tour is very informational and well organized. We learned more than we expected or imagined about mining. We already had sympathy for those who worked in the mines, but the information we found out gave us a new appreciation for the sacrifices those men (and later women) make to support their families.
Before we left there, I went back to the place where I had seen some blackberries. Christina and I picked a bunch of them, and got all scratched up. It was worth it, though – they were so yummy! We noticed that quite a few cars were in the lot by then, and there were people walking around. We saw a group starting their tour. I guess we got lucky, and went early enough to avoid the rush!
Now it’s time to start writing about the next part of our journey.