My Dad (John Spitko Sr) is 92 years old now. Many years ago, he visited his cousin Steve in Tamaqua. Steve was the son of his Aunt Lizzy (Elizabeth). Aunt Lizzy was the sister of my Dad’s father’s mother, Grandmom Anna (my great grandmother). As an aside, my Dad’s Aunt Lizzy was married three times and her sister was also married three times. The family story goes that all three of Aunt Lizzy’s husbands died in mine accidents. When I was a little boy, during one of my family’s then frequent trips to Tamaqua and Mahonoy City to visit relatives, I met Aunt Lizzy. She was a wiry, peppery lady, very friendly to us kids. She had a huge untamed mane of pure white hair, described by my Dad as going in all directions.
Dad’s cousin Steve owned about 25 acres of land, within which he owned and worked an anthracite coal mine solely by himself. He dug it, he shored it with timbers to keep it from collapsing, and he removed the coal and either used it at his house for heating and cooking or sold it to make his living as a miner. He also performed his own drilling and blasting to fracture the coal in the underground mine so that he could bring the coal to the surface.
During that visit many years ago, my Dad was invited to take a look at the mine owned by cousin Steve and they went down into the mine. My Dad is very inquisitive and asked his cousin a lot of questions, including about how the blasting is done, is it dangerous, how far do you stand away from the blasting site when you set off the dynamite, etc. Finally my Dad’s cousin asked would my Dad like to see Steve blast a section of the mine? My Dad of course said yes! So, his cousin set the charge in a hole that had already been drilled, and amazingly only stood back about 25 feet according to my Dad. The blast was set off with a big bang! Lots of dust. When the dust settled my Dad saw that a volume of coal in the wall of the mine had been fractured in place. That is, no coal was actually blasted out of the coal wall, but was fractured in place, into large chucks still situated in the coal wall. Cousin Steve then took a long (5 -7 feet long) steel rod-like device and inserted it into the drill hole within the now fractured section of wall. He turned a handle on the steel rod and tightened an expansion anchor deep inside the drill hole. He then grabbed the end of the steel rod, put one foot up onto the coal wall, and yanked hard. Out came many large chunks of coal onto the floor of the mine. He and my Dad then loaded the coal lumps into the cart and pushed the cart up the rails and out of the mine.
One of the large lumps that did not break apart was the lump of coal in the picture I gave you. My Dad was fascinated that the drill hole went right through the lump but the lump did not blast apart. He asked his cousin for the lump and his cousin gave it to him as a souvenir.