April 19, 2009

Mine Mules

A mule hauling a coal car out of the Vesta Coal Company No. 1 Mine.

Mules were used almost exclusively to pull coal cars before mechanized vehicles, because Percheron's and Clydesdale horses were too expensive and too large to maneuver in the tight quarters of the mine. After electric engines ( motors ) came into use mules were still used near the face ( where the coal was being worked / loaded ) and would pull the wagons to the electric haulage engines inside the mine.
A good mule driver knew that treating the mules with kindness got better results then mistreatment. When mules were mistreated they often got even. Many a miner or driver was killed by mules, by getting kicked in the chest or head. Another favorite way of evening up the score with a mule driver was to squeeze him against the rib (wall) of the mine. Most drivers kept away from any squeeze points and treated their mules with respect. In the same case, mules were just plain cantankerous and ill mannered. Some mules wouldn't work with any driver. The company had to find someone who the mule would work with. Some mules were like some humans and didn't want to work. Sadly, most mining companies valued the mules life over that of a common mine labor. A trained mine mule was worth 200 dollars at one time. The coal companies also did not take lightly any mistreatment of mules. Every mule driver was held strictly responsible for the safety of all animals in his custody,and stock was seldom abused in any way. The mules received medical treatment and were also given frequent rubdowns with horse liniment. A great number of drivers pampered their animals by feeding them sweets such as candy, lump sugar, sweet apples, figs, dates, and cookies. Some drivers even taught the mules to chew tobacco.
Many people think that the mules were never taken out of the mines and were blind. Mule stables in the mines were usually lit up with electric lights (after 1920 or so.) Large mule stables or barns were built near the mine to accommodate the animals and they were always taken outside to a mule barn when the miners went on strike or during a vacation period. If any mine mule was hurt or sick they would bring him out for recuperation. When the mules were brought out of the mines they would romp and run around the area. They would like to roll on their backs and kick up their heels. Mules enjoyed getting out of the mines every so often.
An Act of Legislature outlawed the underground mule stable in December 1965, making it illegal to house animals in mines.

Sunshine and fresh air ! No long faces here !

Much of this taken from a story by David Kuchta that can be found here.

No comments: