Miner loved the brotherhood of the mine and on the trail
'There's not one person in this community who doesn't know someone who died in a mine'
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
HUNTINGTON, Emery County — Do I got a story for you.
Those seven words were among Elam Jones' favorite, and he usually delivered on his promise, with tales that left his family and friends in awe.
When Jones crashed his ATV through a barbed wire fence and needed 72 stitches to close the cuts, he convinced everyone for six months that he'd been attacked by a cougar.
And when a buddy had to dig the avid snowmobiler out after an avalanche buried him completely, Jones quipped, "Wow, that could have been bad."
Jones, 29, wasn't there to tell these stories Wednesday. He died March 22 when a slab of rock fell on him as he worked in the Rhino Mine near Huntington.
Instead, it was Jones' mother and friends who shared the stories about the father of two with the more than 1,000 people who attended his funeral.
"He recently told me how much he loved the smell of two-stroke oil and gas being burned," Jesse Jones recalled, referring to the fallen miner's passion for snowmobiling.
"My son truly was a lover of life and he lived life to the fullest," Julie Jones said, adding that he "used up all of his nine lives."
Jones' death is the most recent blow to the mining communities that make up Utah's coal country, where names like Scofield, Wilberg and Crandall Canyon still cast long shadows of shared grief.
"It's a part of who we've been," said Mike McCandless, economic development director for Emery County.
"There's not one person in this community who doesn't know someone who died in a mine," he said. "For us it's still very personal."
McCandless, who was among the mourners at Jones' funeral, is the grandson of a mine owner. His own father worked in and later inspected mines. Many of his high school classmates went to work in the mines after graduation.
"It's a cultural thing, a generational thing," McCandless said. "This work binds miners together and that brotherhood means they'll drop whatever they're doing at a moment's notice to find a trapped miner."
Dallen McFarlane can vouch for that.
"Everybody is your brother. Everybody's got your back," he said.
A miner for eight years, McFarlane was working alongside Jones when the roof came down. He suffered a knee injury but survived the collapse.
"I think about it a lot. I was right next to him," he said.
He remembered Jones, who is his third cousin, as a "real good guy."
"You wouldn't meet a nicer guy than him. Everybody loved Elam," McFarlane said. "He was one of those guys who could always make you smile."
McFarlane said he considers himself lucky and plans to return to the mine as soon as he's able to do so.
"You understand the risks of going underground," he said. "Nobody here blames the mine, it was just a bad accident."
Julie Jones said her son knew the risks of his chosen profession. He even tried to leave the mines once, she said, taking a job as an auto mechanic.
That didn't last long.
"He just couldn't do it," his mother said. "He loved that mining brotherhood."
Jones asked her son's mining brothers and his "snowmobiling buddies" to write down their stories about her son — the ones she knows and the ones she still doesn't — so they can be shared with his sons.
"There are two little boys that still need to hear them," she said.
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