Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day

"The anthracite operators wished to offer only the purest, highest quality coal, sorted by size. They achieved this purpose by constructing huge, tall buildings, in which the coal was lifted mechnically to the highest point, and then tumbled down long chutes and open troughs at various angles.

"Breaker boys sat astride the chutes, plucking out the slate and sorting out lumps of coal by size. The clanging noise inside as the chains and belts pushed the coal along was earsplitting. The entire building rattled and shook when the belts were in operation. Fine black dust covered all ledges, walls, and machinery. ...

"Many lost limbs in the machinery. Several were known to have disappeared, to be found hours later mangled and crushed while caught bent around one of the turning wheels. Windows were broken, icy air swept in during the winter, and in the stifling summers the fine dust on their bodies was caked with sweat. ...

"The slate-picker boss would not hesitate to give a boy a stinging clout across the hands for putting coal in the slate box or slate in the coal chute. The slate was sharp, gloves were useless. Raw fingers were called 'redtop.' In winter, old men would sometimes find the path home from the breaker by the drops of blood in the snow."
- The Guns of Lattimer (1978), p. 39, 50

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