|Salem No. 2 Mine
Located on the east side of Keystone Run, just below Keystone Lake Dam, (Presentday Keystone State Park lake), Slag Road, near the New Alexandria - New Derry Road, east of New Alexandria, Derry Twp., Westmoreland Co., PA
Owners: (ca.1924-1954), Keystone Coal & Coke Company, Greensburg, PA
|Dressed for Work
Pete Starry, Jr. of New Alexandria, one of the last group of coal miners to work at Salem No. 2 Mine, wearing his mining apparel complete with helmet and knee pads, displays an old carbide gas mining lamp and a model of a "low coal" mining car filled with Salemville coal. Starry made the model himself.
(Photo by Bill Graff, Courtesy of Jeff Himler and "The Dispatch", Thursday, May 4, 1995, Blairsville, PA)
|Parts of the following article have been
extracted from an article by Jeff Himler published in "The Dispatch,"
Blairsville, PA, Thursday, May 4, 1995
New Alexandria Man Recalls Peak, Plummet of Mine
It's hard to imagine, based on the peaceful scene which greets
|Two Decades in the Mine
New Alexandria's Peter Edward Starry, Jr., who worked for the Keystone Coal and Coke Company for nearly two decades, witnessed both its greatest productivity and its last gasp before its man-made Keystone Lake was transformed into today's popular Keystone State Park.
|One of six family members who worked at Keystone Coal and Coke Company, other family included his father, Peter Sr.. Members of the Starry family who worked for the Company were: Peter Starry, Sr., Joe Starry, Andy Starry, Stanley Starry, Mike Starry and Peter Starry, Jr.|
|Starry joined the payroll as a teen-ager
in the 1930's, pitching in at Keystone Lake and the nearby Keystone Lodge
and farm of the Keystone Coal & Coke Company.
By that time, machinery had taken over from horses to haul coal from the mine. Nevertheless, "They still had wheat and corn to keep the company farm going. I hauled and baled hay."
Starry worked for Isabelle Lynn and her husband, who took care of the lodge and environs at Keystone Lake for about two years. In return, the Lynns were given use of a farmhouse, rent-free.
Mrs. Lynn "washed the clothes and scrubbed the place," Starry
recalled. She had plenty to do during the summer, when the "coal barons
came out with their families. Each of them took turns; they stayed
for about a week."
|Starry also worked at the boathouse, a job
which sometimes provided extra hard work. He once saved a sinking company
boat. "For six hours I was bailing it out." Eventually, "I hooked it to a
tree and brought it out with a winch. Only to find that someone had removed
the drain plug from the boat."
On another occasion, he impressed some of his young friends by taking them fishing in a company boat.
By trespassing on the lake, locals could put themselves in
danger as well as make waves with company officials. Starry recalls,
that a sneak dip in the lake proved fatal for at least nine people. They
were swimming too close to the powerful intake water valve, feeding water
to the company's Salemville coal cleaning plant, and were sucked under.
The 78-acre Lake at Keystone was constructed by Keystone Coal & Coke Company ca.1909, to provide the water needed at the coal washer plant and to quench the coke ovens at the Salem Coke Works, located at Salem No.1 Mine in the village of Salemville, west of New Alexandria. The water from Keystone Lake was carried to Salemville in a 12 inch diameter coopered wooden pipe, coated in tar and reinforced with steel bands, the seven miles to the coal washer and coke plant.
More information and pictures of Keystone Lake can be found in "The History of Salem No. 1 Mine."
|New Entry for Salem No. 2
In November of 1938, Starry and several other miners began constructing a second drift entry for the new Salem No. 2 Mine, at Keystone Lake. This drift entry was located just locaated a short distance below the Keystone Lake Dam.
Dynamite and a small Caterpiller tractor were employed to dig out the mine opening. This new drift entry was for an air shaft into the mine. After the entry timbers were installed, a large fan, powered by the mine's gas generator, was fitted in the entry to circulate the air through the mine.
"In March, we finished it." Starry recalls. "When that air would blow in, you'd get real cold."
|Mine powered by Generator
An on-site gas generator provided the electical power for the mine, including the fan. In case of a lighting strick or other unforeseen occurrence, the generator would "kick off" and an alarm would sound, alerting miners that their fresh air soon would be depleted.
On one such occasion the large General Motors engine and generator made a "spitting" noise. "It just didn't sound right."
The motor exploded, and the shed which housed it caught fire. "Somehow the motor missed, and the gas overflowed," he explained.
"I shut the valve to the gas off and right away called the fire department." Worried that "brand new men" working on that shift wouldn't realized the danger they were in, he "ran into the mine hollering at them." Fortunately, the men were only about 300 feet from the entry, and no one was hurt.
|Miners paid in Company Script
The miners were not always paid in cash, but on occasion they received Company Script, which then could be exchanged for supplies and necessities at the Company Store. As the song goes, "Loaded 16 tons, what do you get, another day older and deeper in debt. I owe my soul to the Company Store."
|Keystone Coal and Coke Company Script money, dated September 10, 1939, to be used at Hempfield Supply Company No.4, the Keystone Coal & Coke Company Store in Salemville. (Courtesy of the collections of Peter E. Starry, Jr.)|
|Fatal Accident in mine
For all the dangers in the mine, Starry could recall just one fatal underground incident during the years he worked there. Miner Frank Shrum was killed by a fall of slate from the roof.
According to Starry's reckoning, 84 men worked at Salem No. 2 Mine mine at one time or another between 1935 and its closing two decades later.
Close call for Starry
He survived a powerful explosion in the mine, sparked by
rock dust and gas. Starry was operating a mining machine at the time
which was "all bent up" by the blast. "It threw me at least 55 feet." Starry
related. "The concussion knocked me out for 10 minutes." "I have scars on
my back where I hit a post. I didn't go back to work for two days,
I was so scared."
"It was hard how people worked," he noted. "Some-times, I was working on my hands and knees in 2 inches of water."
According to Starry, labourers who worked 16-hour days to
excavate the Keystone Lake, ca. 1904, were paid only 4-1/2 cents an hour.
Masons who used their skills to shore up the lake's dam were paid much better,
about, seven cents an hour.
First Aid was taken seriously
| Mine is
It wasn't long after the Allied victory that the Keystone Coal and Coke Company operators declared their own defeat and liquidated the mine.
Starry was there to see the place where he'd laboured be buried under, perhaps for all time.
Eagle Coal Company Takes over Salem No. 2 mine
Mine becomes State Park
Now in his late 70's, Starry is hoping to write down his experiences to satisfy the curiosity of future generations.
|Reference Sources: Reference Sources used in the History of Salem No. 1 Mine & Salem No.2 Mine, Salemville, Salem Township, Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania can be found here.|
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