|Joe Beilan & Victor Belik
Retired Coal Miners
There are lots of good things about mining if you're not in hazardous conditions. Some places you'd go into, they'd crack and break and then you'd be running. After a while, of course, you'd get used to it and even know when it was going to cave. Some guys were crazy and some were cowards. The live cowards are always better off than the dead guys.
In 1941, it was hard to get a job. The war was on and there were ISO men looking for jobs at each mine. I was 16. My first mine was the Mohawk and I got a job there because my dad was one of the bosses.
Bucking coal in the mine was my first job. Then, after four months, I got promoted to horse driver, pulling cars. Then, after that, I went rope riding. Then I got my "B" miner's papers. When I got my "A" papers, I was classed as a miner. In 1970, 1 got my fire boss papers and was made foreman of a project at the Grande Cache Mine.
Old Tony G. taught me more about mining in one year than I learned myself in 20. He said, "You never know too much. There's always room to learn." He said, "You got to dig coal with your brains and not your hands and your back. If you got no brains, you're not going to make the money." I know when I worked with him, we made up to forty dollars a day. This was when wages were twelve dollars a day. He taught me not to be scared underground.
When the diesel trains came in, the mines shut down. And when oil and gas came, coal went to hell. This was all in the early '50s. You had to be in the mine 25 years for seniority. If you didn't have seniority, you got laid off often in those days.
I was always the first customer in the bar and the owner always used to fill me up with about four ounces. He said, The first customer always gets a free drink. - Victor Belik