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Observations on Coal Miners and Coal August 31, 2007

Posted by skinbad in Economics.
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First, I have no personal experience with coal mining. I’m neighbors with and friends with quite a few miners. I don’t think I know anyone who worked at the mine that caved in, but there are several mines in the general area.

  • There are exceptions, but most commonly they seem to work rotating shifts. If you’re trying to get a hold of them, you never know which shift they’re on. When the longwall gets moved, they’re stuck on whatever shift they happen to be on for several weeks.
  • The guys on my side of the mountain have a canyon drive that in the winter can be absolutely hellacious.
  • They don’t allow brothers to work the same shift. Not sure if that applies to all relatives.
  • A lot of young guys go in to it who get out of high school and see it as the best paying local option. Early marriage to high school sweet-hearts often accompanies this. Babies might follow. An enormous shiny pickup is sure to follow.
  • Quite a few miners seem to move in and out and in to the job. They get sick of it and try to make a go at construction or painting or siding. Most of those efforts don’t pan out and they end up mining again.  The pay is regular and they need the insurance.
  • A fair number move to other states as different companies seek workers and open mines. Companies will do local employment recruiting here and, depending on mine ownership, quite a few might make the move. We had a significant exodus to New Mexico a few years ago.
  • Mines change ownership from time to time. There seems to be a generally agreed upon opinion as to whether the current ownership has made everyone’s lives miserable and people are looking for any opportunity to leave or whether they aren’t bad to work for.
  • I’ve never heard of a woman miner.
  • I’ve never heard a coal miner say they enjoy their job or would recommend it to others.

I think a lot of people don’t realize half of our nation’s electricity comes from coal. One of my neighbors drives a semi. He hauls fly ash (particulates captured from burning coal at power plants) from power plants to cement manufacturers who add the fly ash to the cement. He carries 80,000 pounds of fly ash and says some of the power plants will load 100 trucks like his a day. The amount of coal burned each day is mind-boggling.  1.1 billion tons were burned in the U.S. in 2006.

Whatever you think about the implications of more nuclear energy (about 20% of electricity production) or more investment in renewable sources of energy (which account for a very small percentage of electricity), our country is going to depend on coal and the people who get it for a long time. 

Comments»

1. Bart - August 31, 2007

Nice touch with the cute vid.

(I’m too tired to comment on your analysis, skinbad.)

2. Barry in CO - August 31, 2007

FWIW, both my grandfathers were miners. One in Virginia and the other in Wales.

Also, America is referred to as ‘the saudi arabia of coal’. We have to use it, and we have to always be looking for cleaner ways to use it.

I wish this country could get over its irrational fear of nuclear energy. Imagine how the price of oil might drop if we used nuke plants to generate electricity on a massive scale. But, on account of Three Mile Island and “The China Syndrome”, that’ll never happen.

The enviro-mentals won’t be happy until we’re all living in caves again.

3. skinbad - August 31, 2007

It’s mostly anecdotal. I’ve just been thinking about it because it’s been in the news and is kind of local to me.

4. skinbad - August 31, 2007

#3 meant for Bart. Barry’s right. The data on the amount of coal reserves in the U.S. and the length of time it would take to use it are staggering.

5. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

Did I miss KC’s Dianna post?

🙂

6. Retired Geezer - August 31, 2007

That was pretty interesting, especially the part about ‘half our energy is produced by coal’.

7. Sobek - August 31, 2007

My dad is in the coal industry and tells me all kinds of interesting things about it, like all the steps they take to make sure it is as environmentally sound as possible. Apparently a lot of guys work in the mines, realize they’re getting fat paychecks, and shiny new everythings — boats, 4-wheelers, houses, cars, etc. Then they realize (a) they hate mining, and (b) they are now mortgaged to the hilt and therefore trapped.

8. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

Saw a mega machines, with something that looks like something from jayce and the wheeled warriors just devouring the german contryside. We could get at a lot of coal more safely if we didn’t have strict reclamation laws that restricted the practice of “strip mining.” I see nothing wrong with strip mining, removes most of the economic motivation to “harm” certain area’s while simultaneously acting as a basis for reclamation.

And no cave ins. Of course some seems are such that they can only be ground mined, but I don’t get the big deal with strip mining.

9. skinbad - August 31, 2007

“The United States has nearly 268 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves. That’s about a 240 year supply at today’s usage rates.”

http://www.nma.org/statistics/pub_fast_facts.asp

10. Bart - August 31, 2007

Helpful, skinbad.
I always appreciate a little insight into the daily grind of people’s lives. For some reason, I’m interested in the little details of people
lives so I can see how they cope with things.

The only thing I know about coal mining is from movies such as October Sky, which was very good.

(Another good movie for the whole family: The Dish.)

11. Retired Geezer - August 31, 2007

Saw a mega machines, with something that looks like something from jayce and the wheeled warriors just devouring the german contryside.

Yeah, I posted it on my blog July on 2005;

Dude, where’s my Dozer?

12. Bart - August 31, 2007

Oh, and this doesn’t surprise me one bit:

I’ve never heard a coal miner say they enjoy their job or would recommend it to others.

It’s a shitty job to be stuck in a dirty dusty hole for 8-12 hours each day. I’d imagine factory works sucks, too. I’ve never worked in a factory, but I got the opportunity to see what life was like in the Ford plants in Kentucky.

The building was loud. Noise all day. Concrete and steel, nothing more. The people were plain, nondescript looking and seemed bored. On their feet all day doing the same thing over and over. People constantly watching them. And people watching the watchers.

Fuck that.

13. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

yeahp, thats the one.

14. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

What I hated most about factory work, wasn’t the work, it was the occasional requirement to NOT work. For a few months it’s entertaining, but it takes a certain sort of desolation to actually enjoy working a line.

15. Michael - August 31, 2007

I’d imagine factory works sucks, too

No shit. I worked in Ford’s Woodhaven Stamping Plant back in the day, in the Detroit area. I was making sheet metal parts, mostly rocker panels. At the time, the money was good. It was a useful experience for me. Taught me what I did not want to do with my life.

16. Michael - August 31, 2007

What I hated most about factory work, wasn’t the work, it was the occasional requirement to NOT work. For a few months it’s entertaining, but it takes a certain sort of desolation to actually enjoy working a line.

Yeah. I remember being told by a senior employee that my problem was that I actually cared about the quality of the parts, and I needed to get over that. Nobody appreciated it if I started throwing defective parts off the belt. It shut down the line.

The noise in the plant was deafening, and everyone had ear protection on. You couldn’t hear anything. People communicated in Plant Sign Language. So, I would spend the shift preaching sermons to the stamping press (a monster machine about three stories high), or rehearsing my Presidential inauguration speech.

I don’t remember my inauguration speech any more, other than that America was about to embark on a bright new future with me in charge.

17. Michael - August 31, 2007

My memories of the Ford plant, by the way, date back to the time when the Japanese were just starting to kick our ass on automotive quality. I don’t think it’s like that any more.

18. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

QC’s a little more significant (though most of the QC people are borderline retarded.) now, I hated when ford (I worked at a feeder plant only about a mile away) would have a shutdown, and there you have 200 people sitting perfectly still waiting for queen ford to activate their line so that we can start working again. In some portions of the line, if you left station, even during a shutdown (no matter the in house “bank”/inventory, you were given one of your 3 allowed violations.

19. Don Carne - August 31, 2007

“In some portions of the line, if you left station, even during a shutdown (no matter the in house “bank”/inventory, you were given one of your 3 allowed violations.”
Yer shitting me. No wonder nothings made in America anymore. Unions have destroyed American manufacturing.

20. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

The unions made the administrators so restricted, that the adminstators responded by holding the union to the unions own rules.

I’m not a union guy, but I was recruited as a union clerk while I worked there, that tells you about the basic, I won’t say intelligence, but productive motivation of most people obsessed with unionization.

21. Lipstick - August 31, 2007

It’s a shitty job to be stuck in a dirty dusty hole for 8-12 hours each day.

My dad is in the coal business, so I’ve been able to go down into the mine twice. Actually, with all the regulations regarding ventilation, the air down there is pretty darn clean.

22. Lipstick - August 31, 2007

Plus, he’s a non-union guy. His miners get better pay than the union guys.

23. Bart - August 31, 2007

Lipstik, I don’t want to argue with you, but it doesn’t matter how many air scrubbers you put in a coal mine, as soon as you start scratching the earth, dust will be airborne. Those guys come out of the mine after a shift covered in coal dust.

I’m sure it’s a lot better than the olden days, but there’s no way to even come close to eliminating the dust in the air in the mine.

24. Lipstick - August 31, 2007

Those guys come out of the mine after a shift covered in coal dust.

That’s true, for sure. I guess what I should have said was that it was a lot better than the Dickensian hell-hole I was expecting.

25. Michael - August 31, 2007

most of the QC people are borderline retarded.

Back then, my QC guy spent most of his shift in the break area reading crotch novels. No wonder that he (and the foreman) got pissed if I started throwing defective parts off the belt.

26. Michael - August 31, 2007

My dad is in the coal business . . .

Finally, we find out what is funding all those cruise ship adventures.

Not to mention your eagerly anticipated appearance at the Innocent Bystanders First Annual Super Bowl Party™.

🙂

27. Lipstick - August 31, 2007

🙂

28. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

the qc engineers, as in the people who are actually engineers, were pretty cool, but they were limited in what they could do.

One of the reasons I lost my flavor for the job, was that somehow over about a year, I became the conduit through which the people who could actually do something would contact.

“(wickedpinto) can you get mike, tell him, that dieter (mikes direct employee) thinks there’s something up?”

Sure.

“(wickedpinto) can you get ahold of chris, and tell him our systems down?”

Sure.

“(wicked) can you get ahold of someone at tower (the people I knew at tower, the stamping welding plant, were the site managers) looks like mike agree’s with you with that overlap thing on the chassis.”

Here she is.

I wasn’t the smartest, but there was noone smarter, and once the union came in full force, my job became VERY boring. I actually got into trouble with my company (zf lemforder) if I jump cutted situations, so that there was an actual resolution. I got my ass chewed, when one of the tower people got ahold of me to tear the shit out of the daytime shift boss.

I got the call “wicked get me barry! What the fuck is going on there?”

Just a second marry, and I walk in to the office, and offer my phone to barry, and let him know that marry is on the phone.

“Why the fuck she calling you?”
and you could hear her yell into the phone. “CUZ HE FUCKING ANSWERS HIS PHONE!!!”

That created a lot of bad blood among the middle management guys and me, even though I had absolutely no ego about it.

29. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

Oh, and I was just an S&R slave.

Oddly thats one of the odd things about me, I’m always in shit jobs, but the biggen’s have a sort of respect for me.

If only that could be expressed in a resume’.

30. Mrs. Peel - August 31, 2007

Name: WickedPinto
Current Residence: Chicago
Objective: To find a non-shit job
Education: Marines
Work Experience: I was a Marine, I also worked a lot of other jobs, mostly I worked kinda shitty jobs, but did I mention I was a Marine? That was a little shitty too, I never went in theater, totally glued circiut bords together all day, NO SIHT!. My boss was kinda hot too, she was a PPP. anyways, I always worked shitty jobs, but the managers always respected me, even when I banged their sisters. True story, this one time, me and my buddies banged three PPP’s in the same room together, and they were all totally bare, I was like “I got a Brazilian one here dude!” and my buddy’s all “Me too!” But I was in the Marines for several years.

Ok, I feel a little mean now.

ps, if you are on a pc, you can get an é by holding down the alt key and hitting 0233, then releasing the alt key.

31. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

They weren’t ALL shitty jobs, and the Marines was just my best one, bell and howell was pretty good, but my boss sucked.

32. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

MRS. PEEL recalls the 3p! now thats kinda funny.

33. Mrs. Peel - August 31, 2007

I’m sorry to rag on you, WP. But I have to admit that I’m still giggling, so I must not be too sorry.

Dammit, I should have spelled “Brazilian” with two L’s. Oh well, next time.

I get what PPP stands for, but I still don’t get what it is, anymore than I understand at what point a bitch is broken, and PLEASE don’t explain. I’ve got those filed away in my “Don’t want to know” folder.

34. Wickedpinto - August 31, 2007

You do get the tortellini and asparagus thing though right?

35. Mrs. Peel - August 31, 2007

Yes. One’s pasta and one’s a vegetable.

36. Mrs. Peel - September 1, 2007

I’m bumping this in Recent Comments because I think my Wickedpinto Résumé is hilarious. My favorite part is the misspelled NO SHIT! with a full stop right after the exclamation point.

37. Dave in Texas - September 1, 2007

There’s a bunch of coal in central Alabama, close to the surface though. They get it with a modified stripping technique, scraping it up, then they have to restore the dirt, so to speak, and replant.

When I was a kid I git in trouble for playing on this gigantic (what do they call em now, steam shovel). This thing was the biggest machine I’ve ever seen in my life.

38. Retired Geezer - September 1, 2007

When I was a kid I git in trouble for playing on this gigantic (what do they call em now, steam shovel).

Did you bang your noggin?

39. daveintexas - September 1, 2007

maybe. probably why I can’t type “got”

40. Wickedpinto - September 1, 2007

41. Wickedpinto - September 1, 2007

How about THAT shit Peel?

Get all patronizony on me? I will whip out my ’93 AOL skills.

42. Wickedpinto - September 1, 2007

even though you can actually get a list of ascii symbols, is it ascii or ansi? I forget, if you dig around in wordpad, or MS word.

43. I hear ya, Sobek - September 1, 2007

Sobek said,

Apparently a lot of guys work in the mines, realize they’re getting fat paychecks, and shiny new everythings — boats, 4-wheelers, houses, cars, etc. Then they realize (a) they hate mining, and (b) they are now mortgaged to the hilt and therefore trapped.

It’s exactly the same in the oilfield. I heard someone say that there are no good oilfield jobs, just jobs in the oilfield that pay good. Kids drop out of HS when they’re 18 go to work on a well servicing rig and make $50k a year. Buy a $50k pickup and cruise around town all night. Knock up some stupid chicka who’s so impressed by the pickup that she doesn’t see all the defects in the driver until it’s to late. Get maried, settle down and have 5 more kids. Ten years later you hear every stinking one of them down at the burrito hut talking about how bad they’d like to get out of the oilfield and do something else. But outside well servicing their skill set is worth minimum wage, if that.

44. Wickedpinto - September 1, 2007

I heard someone say that there are no good oilfield jobs,

I have only ever heard this from my best friend.

“there are only two good duty stations, where you’ve been, and where you’re going.”

That is our nature in general.

45. Wickedpinto - September 1, 2007

we can never be satisfied, thats why we are capable of reaching the star’s despite governments interferrence.


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