Oral History of Elzy Cox
August 1, 2012
Interviewed by Russ and Marlene Patterson
MP Today is Wednesday August the first of 2012 and we are interviewing Ellsworth Cox who answers to the nickname of Ellsy Cox and that is spelled C o x. He is a friend of ours and lives here in Napoleon part time. We are going to talk about his coal mining experiences in southern Ohio where he was born and grew up.
MP How young were you when you first entered a coal mine?
EC Oh I guess I would have been twelve years old.
MP Was that common practice for kids at that age to work in the coal mines?
EC It wasn’t as much for the kids as it was for the mothers and dads. My mother went all the way to the eighth grade. They took her out of school and made her work which was pretty common in those days.
MP Did they make her go down into the coal mine?
EC No, they were looking more for a baby sitter. If you might want to call it that, because there were things to do at the coal mine. The men could overlook it. They would look and see what was being done. All my activities, with a few exceptions, were done on the outside of the coal mines.
MP Did you ever do anything down in the coal mines?
EC Oh yes in the summertime. I will be duplicating this a little later on.
EC In the summertime with school being out, the coal mine went into maintenance time with maintenance work and off season work done by what we call “dead work”. This was done by my dad and brothers. I was part of the outside crew and I took care of the outside while they were inside the mine working.
MP By inside, do you mean down in the coal mine?
EC Yes. Now I will make the difference between a coal mine and a strip mine. Ours was definitely a coal mine which is so fine you have to dig in the side of the hill. Our vein of coal run about 3 foot 10 inches and that vein of coal would be followed. The routes in and out of the mine were not radiant, to use a better word more like train tracks as they strayed over and would turn left and they would turn right. These lines would go up and they would go down. They followed the vein of coal as we progressed digging out the coal.
MP With you working as a young child, I call you a child when you are only twelve years old. It would have been comparable to the farmers around here that put their kids on a tractor and let them plow their fields and do work. So this is not what you would call child labor. This was a family run business.
EC Yes it was a family run business.
MP To me it would have been very exciting to have a coal mine.
EC Yes it would be. If you have pictures and that is what will be needed, expecially when you get into a situation with telling about it. One of these days I hope to have stuff like that. The Cox family is looking back several years to the activities of coal mining. We started out in 1935. At that time is when we bought the coal mine. We lived in Uhrichsville, Ohio and after two years of squibbling in Uhrichsville, and then in 1935 we moved to the little town of Tuscarawas. It was about four miles away. I entered the second grade at that school and finished my formal schooling in Tuscarawas, in the Warwick Township School in 1945. So it was during the late 30’s and early 40’s that I had the experience of coal mining and such, but being a worker in and around the coal mines. I also did truck driving and maintenance work and things like that which needed to be done.
MP Did you drive truck like the kids around here drive their grain trucks before they are old enough?
EC I was driving a truck when I was twelve years old. Then I got my official license when I was fifteen years old. That was during the second World War. A person was allowed to get emergency licenses. We were in a business where people needed coal. I was able then to drive the trucks. I hauled coal as far away as Canton, Ohio, which is thirty to thirty-five miles north of us.
MP At that period a lot of people used coal to heat their house.
EC I think about 80% of my coal was taken to the residents around Uhrichsville, Tuscarawas, Gnadenhutten, Dennison, New Philly, and included with that were the clay plants. They had these huge kilns. They were circular shaped, and about twelve feet high, domed and about every six feet there was an opening where you would fire a furnace. They went around the kilns and put a little bit of coal here and a little bit of coal there. That was part of my activities during the winter. In the summertime the activities in both instances, the coal mines and the clay pits were not as busy.
MP Did you make brick in that area?
EC In some of them. There was one down near Port Washington and it was Belden Brick Co.
MP They are still in business, aren’t they?
EC They might be now. Most are gone via progress. There was brick being made and also there was about a half dozen plants where they were making this sewer pipe. It was molded into pipes - clay that was heated to withstand the pressure. They made forms that were put into towns and roundhouses for drainage. They would bake these to over 2000°. They put a glaze on these to boot.
MP We had a plant here in town that made clay bricks. Would they have used the same type of clay? We had a brickyard just north of town.
EC It was a softer type of clay that was used around houses and foundations. They would pick up excess moisture that would be seeping through the ground and drain it away to a low point. That was tile, yes. The only difference between tile and some of the other stuff they call tile is that some of them they will put a glaze on many of them. The tile size went from four inches and some of them went from twenty-four to thirty-six inches.
MP People would buy glazed bricks for building houses too.
EC Yes, some people did use the glazed bricks. And sometimes people would use the colored brick.
MP I think that the only color they made around here was the red.
RP You do see a white brick also.
MP That was probably brought in from somewhere else.
EC It was an off shade of white.
MP Did you ever get to go down under the ground into your coal mine? What was it like?
EC Yes, during the summertime the temperature inside our coal mine was a constant 55°. The opening was called a pit mouth. If it was a hot day like we have been having here this summer we would cool down our air conditioning. The temperature as we walked back twenty-five to thirty feet and cool down. The way you would usually go into that coal mine - there was like a railroad track and the power that took it in - the electric motor - DC current - and we had a trolley like the old trolleys in the older years.
MP About how big were the trolleys?
EC They were about 10 to 12 feet long. It was powered by an electric motor. The track itself was grounded as it was all metal. On the one side they had an arm that stuck out with a pulley. The arm that stuck out would have a little spring against a wire that we stretched. It was about five feet high, a little bit lower inside the mine. It would roll along there and with the DC current it would just go around and generate its own current. We had our own generator. This would power the trolley going in and out of the coal mine. The trolley would take in empty cars, fill them up and then bring them out of the mine. There were open car grids where the men worked and shoveled the coal into the cars. On the return trip they would begin to collect them and haul out anywhere from four to six or seven of those cars. Each car held about a ton of coal.
MP How many tons of coal would you estimate a railroad car can hold?
EC Probably, now I am going to give you a wild estimate, it might be around 150 tons.
MP Remember I told you that my dad when he was in the Gerald Elevator would order a whole railroad car full of coal from a coal mine. The railroad car full of coal would be delivered by rail to the Gerald Elevator and then the workers at the elevator would unload it by hand. They would put it on trucks and dump it by the elevator. It was at that point that my dad found the little mule shoe.
EC We had a contract for several years that, not the railroad which was just an in between person. We would contract with some businesses that wanted coal. The coal was sent to them by way of rail. We would back up on these ramps and I did this many times and throw the coal down the chute. It was strictly a trough and they went down into these coal cars - they were on the railroad - fill them up and pulled them away and put the empty in and do it all over again. That was the part of the truck driving business I had. The most interesting experience I had while driving truck was up in Canton, Ohio they had a slaughterhouse. They needed coal for running whatever they needed to run there. I backed up and the only problem was, and I never will forget it was I had to shovel that coal by hand off that truck.I carried about five and a half ton of coal up there. I put the tailgate down and shoveled into their coal bin. I would take a break now and then and then would go and watch them slaughter animals. That was very interesting to me. We went up through New Philadelphia and Dover.
MP You were watching them slaughter the animals then. About how old were you at that time.
EC That is when I was fifteen. I was seventeen when I finally got out of the coal mine.
MP That would be something that stuck with you.
EC Yes, I was very strong. I am just like Arnie Palmer.
MP You would have had to be very strong to be able to shovel coal like that.
EC One time my brother sent me down and we were going to a cement block place in this little town of Tuscarawas called “Deckers”. Anyway his last name was Decker. He didn’t send anybody with me so I had to load it all. So I backed up, let the tailgate down and I took two fifty pounds in each hand I would do that two or three times and then I would jump up on the truck and pile them up on the back of the truck.
MP That would have been very hard work.
EC Yes it was hard work.
MP Even though you were young it was still hard work.
EC I was doing that when I was fifteen - sixteen - seventeen years old. It would have been closer to fifteen. We bought an old coal mine in 1935, which was near Wainwright.
MP Would the name have been like the General Wainwright?
EC Yes.it was just a little Italian village close to Tuscarawas and the kids came into our school. We had what you would call a tipple. A tipple was the bins that they put up like a house.. The tracks came out of the coal mine onto the tipple and then the one we had to hook like a car on an incline that went up and this one went up about thirty feet.
MP What pulled it?
EC More electric motors and steel cables. My oldest brother would run that. It would wind around and around and as it did it would tighten the cable up. The cable went up to some pulleys on the top and come straight down and hook on to the cars. My job was to hook on the car and go on up and wait for the first car to come up and when it got up to the top. It would go like this (Ellsy motions how) and the car would tip up.
MP Almost straight up.
EC Each car had a tail gate on it, it would lift up and out comes that coal. That coal goes down through what they call a “shaker screen”. We had to grade our coal which is another interesting thing to clarify.
MP Did you have to do this by hand?
EC No, my oldest brother was a genius. He built a shaker screen. He used concentric wheels to make that thing run with an electric motor. As he run it in an oblong fashion that coal would hop up and down just like you would use it if you were sifting for gold. The first pieces to go out would be the little pieces of coal. We called that slack. It was real fine stuff. Then next would be the kind people would use in their homes a lot of times. It was placed on a screw and as it turned it would pull that coal out of their coal bin and on into the furnace.
MP My dad shoveled ours.
EC We shoveled too. The second was the slack and then we had nut coal. We had an egg coal, and the last size was what we called lump coal. So we had four bins. Then we had one off to the side that we called mine run coal. As it came out of the mine whatever the guys loaded that and it would go into that bin. One interesting point I might make there we had a contract with a Cleveland firm of supplying coal to them buying the mine run coal and we had a crusher built in to that particular bin. As we left that coal run out the lumps and the fine stuff and the machine would grind it up and we’d put this in their truck that they had sent down to pick up their coal. It was the kind of coal they needed to run their plant. I remember the last name of these people, but I don’t remember what their company made. That was all part of the tipple.
MP How do you spell the word tipple?
EC It is t i p p l e. Then there is another part of coal mining that people never realized. I said earlier that there was a 3 foot 10 inch vein of coal. Above that 3 foot ten inch vein was a layer of what we called cash. It wasn’t money but it was shale substance. That was sort of like a buffer for that vein. It kept the water out and different things. That pressure was made millions and millions of years ago. It got crushed down to make that coal and the shale. The shale would have to be taken down to about a 4 inch vein itself. If you didn’t take it down what would happen you could be standing there and it could and if you get oxygen - air to it would loosen up and drop. So the coal miners had to load that onto one particular car.
MP Would that have been worth anything?
EC No, that wasn’t worth a thing. That was worth nothing. We would have a big pile of that. Part of my truck driving was learning how to back that truck up and dump it. We had a pile like they build up high these landfills around here. Incidently, there is a place in southeast Ohio, or it could be in West Virginia, or Pennsylvania, all of this area has the same type of coal. That shale heats up. You would have to roll it. If you didn’t roll it out, it would heat up and catch on fire. It would not be like a bonfire, but it would smoulder. There was one that was in Pennsylvania, this happened years ago, maybe 75 years ago it caught on fire. What it releases is odor and smoke. Then the ground would sink a little bit because the coal was burning. It would be very little and that car would drop down. If you didn’t roll it, it would get air in there and continue to burn. There was one burning here in the United States that started long before I was born.
MP It’s probably difficult, if not impossible to stop the burning.
EC That is another thing that is interesting to look up and read about.
MP We’ll have to Google that one. Now did you do all of this coal mining bit while you were going to High School?
EC This is a little side light here. When I got out of school there were three things facing me, and one was World War II. The second thing was I could work around clay mines there in Newcomerstown, Uhrichsville and I could work in the coal mines. I was a decent athlete in school and at the insistence of the preacher - Lutheran and my athletic coach, he told me I should go to college.
MP It sounds like they had taken you under their wings and guided you.
EC They contacted the athletic director down at Wittenberg University at Springfield, Ohio .He came to the little town of Tuscarawas and we had a little settee. We had a little snack and we visited and I enrolled in Wittenberg University.
MP What did you study?
EC I didn’t know what I was going to study. It was the war years and you didn’t think about going anywhere. I didn’t know what I was going to study. I said I’m leaving. I left town in the fall of 1945 and in a sense I only went back to visit, because I got married to my wife Edwinna in 1948.
MP Where did you meet Edwinna?
EC At Wittenberg. Luckiest day of my life.
MP God Love You.
EC I was a good athlete in some respects, but I wasn’t good enough to be like the pros are today. So I continued my education and entered the physical education in athletic training and with the aid of the coal mine I worked there every summer. I would go back home in the summer. My oldest brother was the bookkeeper and took care of things. He said to me “you work for me and I will pay your way through college”. So I worked my way in the dining room at Wittenberg and then worked piecemeal, a little bit here and a little bit there. At one time I was making a dollar an hour.
MP For that period in time that would not have been too bad.
EC So I got through those four years of college. I did not have any loans of any sort. Financially, going through college I was free. My grandkids going through college now are at 8 to 25,000 a year.
MP A year?
EC Yes a year.
MP Hopefully it will be worth it though.
EC Yes it will be worth it in the end, but these young kids nowadays have got to learn that you have to get out and work for money. I had a savings account and when I went to Wittenberg I had 700.00 saved up.
MP That’s pretty good.
EC I was only 17 years old. I used all of that
MP for college. Nothing comes cheap.
EC The work ethic you learn in a company like a coal mine stays with you forever.
EC That has helped me as much as anything else I can think of.
MP You had a job when you were a kid. Not everyone has the chance.
EC I had one kid there in my class in the eighth and ninth grade his parents started him out. In the summer he went to a farm and stayed there all summer and worked.
MP That is what my brother did.
EC You wouldn’t see him all summer and then he would come back.
MP He would be all brown and have muscles.
EC I wanted to tell you something else too. In the coal mine, when they follow that vein, do you know how they do it. They had a big drill and they would drill a hole, I’d say about a two inch hole, not just one but a series of them about as far as what they would call a “room”. That room could be anywhere from ten feet to twenty feet wide. We had what was called a “cutting machine”. It was like a chain saw only it was flat like this. (Ellsy motions with his hand). Well chain saws are flat but it ran flat. It would drill holes in it, or mostly slits. It was a chain saw type drill. Then we would drill holes with augers and shoot the coal down. We would put black powder in the holes and then tamp it down with slack. We would just put a handful in and tamp it with the rod. We would tamp it tight. You would then get to the edge and stick a fuse in there. It would be like a firecracker. You know how firecrackers are built with the fuse. We would have the powder with a little fuse sticking out. That is what we did only we had to judge how long - once you light that fuse it goes right back to that powder and shoots the coal out and packs it down.
MP Is that what would tell you how deep the vein was?
EC It would tell you not only how deep but how long you have got to get out of the way. What we did, and I will never forget this as long as I live - you have a lot of instances in a coal mine you remember it did not go in straight. You know how a town is layed out with criss-crosses. I can tell you if you are shooting over in this room and if you hit the main artery that goes into the coal mine - you would go sit down twenty-five to thirty feet away and wait for it. We light that fuse and move out and then we mostly sit down on a rail or something and wait. The first time I ever experienced an explosion underground it went K-Boom!. It wasn’t like outside. And all of a sudden air shot by you. That air was pushed by us and of course it got dusty and it had to settle down. Then we could go back and see what had been done.
MP Where was the gust of air coming from?
EC That is another interesting facet. The government says that you just can’t dig a hole in the side of a hill. Mining coal has a one point entry way. It is called the “entry way” . If you are on the side - maybe a hundred yards away, we had a huge six foot fan. That was what you would call the air shaft. It blew air into the coal mine. It would of course eventually come out the main course entrance. Otherwise you would be breathing that damp coal dust all the time. They had a lung disease.
MP Would this be what was called a black lung disease.
EC Yes, it was a black lung disease. We had a huge fan that would blow the air. Like I said it was 55° down there and the air was already moving. So when you light firecrackers off there is some air that gets to it. So it would follow the pattern of your coal mine - your veins. Nobody told me about that when the first one happened. The pressure gets your face you know. Then we knew that we could go back down and start loading the coal up again.
MP And start all over again!
EC Those kind of workers in our coal mine worked piece-work. We had a little nail sticking in the side of each car. Each of the nails had a number on them for identification. When they loaded those cars up working piece work got a number. When it came outside - and I worked outside most of the time. We would take them off those cars knowing that “John Doe” loaded this car. And if he was number 5 we put that on his chart. That would show how many cars he had done.
MP Was that how he was paid?
EC You would pay him so much for each car load. That would have been piece work. We had hourly workers too. If you were driving the motor in and out one would have no idea of piece work.
MP Was this before the unions?
EC The unions came in
MP what year?
EC In the ‘late 30’s. The United Mine Workers came in and then we had the C.I.O. They joined forces and became what used to be United Mine Workers.
MP What is it now?
EC It is the AFL. Another interesting thing, we were not a union mine.
MP You were an independent mine?
EC They would make trouble for you.
MP They wanted you to join the union.
EC Oh yes. They want you to do that now - the United States, you do know that don’t you?
MP They didn’t do anything to you personally though did they - or were you too young?
EC They followed my brother at one time and got into a fight with him. I was riding with him but we weren’t supposed to be working because they were on strike. Well he hauled off and hit one of my brothers and we hauled him into court.
MP I don’t blame you at all.
EC I went in as a witness. The name of the first union organizer was John L. Lewis. We built shanties so when we were working outside we could keep warm. Inside the door where you went in we had a picture of - not a gorilla, but a monkey.
RP (everybody laughts) He had those real thick eyebrows.
EC Anyway, I have to shut that off. Now don’t you dare take me to court.
MP We would not dream of it.
EC The coal mine was good to me. I had a place to work. It was good healthy work. I didn’t work inside the mine as much as I did outside, but I sure learned a lot.
MP Did you have sisters while you were growing up or were there just boys the Cox boys?
EC There were ten of us.
MP Ten total?
EC There were seven boys and three girls.
MP Can you name them all?
EC I can name them all, even the one that died. One of my sisters died. She was just a little older than me. We start with Juanita, she is the oldest, then Chuck, Howard, Johnny and then Bill, and then Eleanor, she lived six months. In those days pneumonia was a killer. Then me (Ellsworth), and then my brother Ben, who is still alive. He went to Wittenberg too, just because I did. And then my youngest brother Harold. There were nine of us that lived, seven boys and two girls.
MP That was a load. No wonder Mom didn’t go down in the coal mines. She had enough work to do.
EC I had a hard working dad. I had a mother if she ever said a cuss word I tell you it would have been a miracle. She was a God fearing person, went to church and made sure we went there. Made sure we went to church.
EC It didn’t hurt my background.
MP No it didn’t. You had good work ethics. Did you go to a grade school like a parochial school or a public school?
EC I had no kindergarten. I went to a public school in Uhrichsville a year and a half, then we moved into Tuscarawas I started there in the second grade and finished there in the twelfth grade. One room schoolhouses were rather prominent back then.
MP They were around here too.
EC Like you mentioned the other day, somebody was talking to me about that - you would have grades 1 - 2 - and 3 in one room.
MP That was Russell talking to you.
EC When you were getting your lessons you could be listening to what the teacher was telling the other grades.
MP We were lucky, we had three rooms. The first and second grade, then the intermediate, then the upper classroom.
EC You know my wife (Edwinna) taught in a one room school house until we started having children. You know not many teachers can say that.
MP No they can’t.
EC What time are we meeting for dinner tonight? I kind of like that early one. Some people sit there for a half hour before they even go up to eat.
RP Aren’t we going to go early?
MP They start serving at 5:30, but we want to get there early to get a good table.
END OF TAPE
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