Throwback Thursday: Coal Miners in Betz

There are no known photos of the inside of any of Clearfield County’s old deep mines yet to be seen by the public.  Even photos similar to the one shown of the three miners and three mules, at a mine entrance in Betz, adjacent to Madera, in Bigler Township are rare.  Miners and mines didn’t seem to be at the top of the list of favorite photo subjects even in this dominant mining area.

Old-styled deep mining, of the 19th– and earlier-20th centuries was harsh and dangerous work.  The real dangers of explosions, roof collapses and excess water were made worse by low coal veins that were only a few feet high.

Miners often spent their days picking and shoveling coal while working on their knees. They were not afraid of hard work but years of hard labor and air thick with coal dust left many worn out and headed to an early grave.

Miners and their families often coped with low wages, forced purchases at higher price company-owned stores, intimidation and the harsh realities of life that years of poverty bring.  Most, immigrant or native born, dreamed of breaking the cycle of being kept down and, as natural, hoped for a better life for their children and grandchildren.  It is a common story.

The stacked props shown were used to reinforce the roofs of the shafts and underground “rooms” where mining took place long before the use of roof bolts for reinforcement.  The mules pulled the loaded coal cars to a tipple for loading on to railway cars.

Both the Pennsylvania and New York Central Railroads had lines of track laid in the Madera area that followed Clearfield Creek.  Mine rails, however, were a much thinner gauge that regular rails and had smaller spikes that were only four inches in length.

The lamps worn by miners on their caps look to be the old brass fixtures that burned a gas created when the powdered carbide reacted with water resulting in a bright flame.   They are collector’s items today. Prior to those, small kerosene burning lamps that looked like miniature teapots with a wick gave of a much duller flame.

Betz was once a small mining company town of hundreds of souls.  Mining families were usually large and the small one- or two-room schools were crowded indeed.  There are only a few homes left there today.

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