Toward the center of the long wall, the 500-foot section that the continuous miner (machine) will work the rest of this year, four miners were struggling with the jacks that held up the roof.
As the machine sweeps through its route, huge jacks are inched forward into the new gaps it has made. Behind the men, the roof is allowed to collapse as the jacks are removed.
This particular stretch of roof had been especially troublesome for the last two days, more apt to drop rocks than most areas. So the propmen working on the jacks had a difficult time shoring up the metal canopies connected to the jacks.
One of them, Terry Jewkes, Sunnyside, clambered up between the canopy and the rock ceiling, prying loose slabs of rock. Then he came down, the jack was tilted, and a huge pile of rubble crashed from the roof.
"It's not normal for this rock. We're into some rock roll; it's giving us some deviations in the roof," said the foreman. "Got three men down the wall. ... "
The amplified telephone squawked a question, a blaring query about when the conveyor could be restarted.
"Right now they're in the process of attaching the roof, to re-establish the roof line," the foreman said. Then he said into the phone, "Boy, I'll prop some more jacks, and I'll turn you loose."
The artificial roof was 65 feet long, over 30 inches deep. Each canopy was about five feet long, and propped between it and the ceiling were wooden beams about a yard by a foot square.
As the miners tried to adjust the troublesome canopy, they would step back and rocks would creak and then fall in a heap. The rubble was eventually four feet deep. Fine, flying dust filled the air.Finally the ceiling canopy was properly set, the foreman said, "Good job!" and said into the phone that the conveyor could be started.
Today, Jewkes is 55. He worked in the Kaiser mines for 23 years until they shut down.
"I wish they were still going," he said in a telephone interview. "I enjoyed the hard work."
He enumerated the jobs he carried out as a miner: a roof bolter, a certified corner man, a propman. As a propman he would pull out the shields and jacks, he said. As a corner man, he would "check for gas and rock dust."
"I had to make sure that the tailgate was pushed over," he said. The tailgate is the end of the conveyor belt that carries chunks of coal toward the mine entrance.
"I had to shovel jacks and pull in some jacks. Had built cribs" wooden structures used as roof support.
Coal mining is a challenging job and hard work, Jewkes said. "At the end I was a fire boss. I had to go in, preshift for the mine and make sure it was safe to enter." When he found that the mine was safe, he would notify the people outside that it was all right for the miners to go in.
He would check seals. When sections of a mine are mined out, "they seal them out so they don't get carbon dioxide and poison gases coming out of there." He would walk along and check the conveyor belts, "make sure the belts are OK."
The mine closed in 1994 and he didn't find another mining position. "It's hard getting a job," Jewkes said. "I had all my papers. I had my electrical papers, fire boss and mine foreman with it."
So he got a long-haul trucking job. He takes carbon dioxide gas from wells in the Price area to industries that can use it everything from the rocket-maker Alliant TechSystems to soft drink plants, cheese plants and metal fabricators.
Asked if he was ever injured in a mine, he said, "I was caved in on a few times. When I talked to you in '76, I was hit in the head with a rock. I was off for a year."
Then in 1989, he was injured while rebolting a ceiling. "The inspectors wanted more bolts in it. I was just putting up a roof bolt and a whole bunch of rocks fell down. Hit me in the head."
His neck broken, he was taken to the hospital and had some time off while he was recovering. Probably a couple of months, he said, which he thinks probably should have been longer. Jewkes recovered "as much as I could."
In 1976, he weighed 195 pounds and today weighs about 230. "I'd just as soon be more healthy," he said, adding it was easier to stay trim with the tough workouts miners get every day.
He and his wife have four children and home is in Wellington, Carbon County, still in the heart of Utah's coal country.
His mining life was a good one, he said. Although he was in accidents, he feels mining is generally safe. "We were always told there would be enough coal for our kids and their kids," he said. "It didn't turn out that way."Still, taking everything into account, Jewkes said, "I like coal mining."