Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Stories Mom Told Me: Part 2, Their first car and my coal miner grandpop

Here's what I'm doing with this little project, copied from the longer explanation on yesterday's post:
I'll share some more stories Mom told me. You see I call Mom almost every morning and we do go on about family history. I keep notes on what she tells me in spiral notebooks. Now I have three fat ones brimming over with what Mom knows. Sometimes it's just a detail about our ancestors, a small event, or a note about what happened to whom and when. It's the kind of stuff that can easily get lost if a person doesn't write it down then and there.

That will serve as an introduction to each of these posts so you don't have to repeat read it all:) Then we can get right down to business. Today's story is about Mom and Dad's first car and some of the many things they did with it.

Their first car and my coal miner Grandpop.

This morning when I chatted with Mom by phone it was 14 degrees and there was snow on the ground... and it's only November. Just what you might expect of a place named Frostburg (although the naming was for a citizen named Frost) located in the mountains of Western Maryland. It gets cold in winter and can stay that way for weeks on end. I remember just a couple of years ago when a snow and ice storm blew through and everyone lost power for ten days. Folks plan ahead for such emergencies and stock up on staples that can be cooked on a gas stove. As you drive around and look at back porches, they invariably contain a BBQ grill fueled by a propane tank that can be used when electrical service goes out due to an ice storm that takes down power lines. So too might you find that a lot of homes have wood burning fireplaces or furnaces that are relied on in just such an eventuality. Heck, Aunty Betty's house has three (yes, you read that right) furnaces: an old coal furnace, and an oil and an electric furnace... just in case. These people know what they are dealing with!

So, all that by way of saying that winters can get very nasty in Frostburg. It's just a fact of life. I know this and when I read Mom's stories - which were posted here recently - and she talks about walking everywhere, I remember how cold it gets and what it means to walk the three miles or so from her parent's home down to Eckhart Flats to go dancing. Brrr!

Now I do know for a fact that Grandpop Kelly (Dad's father) hated the cold. I know that it's not quite PC today to use the "h" word, but I have to tell you, he HATED the cold! He was a thin man and had health issues and could never seem to get warm. In the 1950s Mom and Dad sent him to Miami on the train to spend time with his sister Edith and her family. He loved that trip and when he returned he told Grandma that they were going to sell the house and move down with Edith. It was only then that Grandma - who hated the heat - told him that the house her father, Gus Zeller (1858 - 1927), left to her when he died was only in HER name! Mom thinks Grandpop didn't speak to Grandma for like a month! They did finally make peace and returned to being the love birds they always were.

Well, long about 1940, Dad bought a car. A 1930-something Chevy with a rumble seat. I don't have a photo of it but here's an image from Wikimedia Commons of a 1931 Ford with a rumble seat, just so that all you kids who aren't familiar with such a thing can see it. Looks comfortable, doesn't it? Or not! Especially in ice and snow.

File:1931 Ford Model A roadster rumble seat.JPG

Grandpop Kelly worked in the coal mines during those years, and there were many in and around the Frostburg area. Grandpop had been a brakeman on the electric railroad or trolley in the 1910 US Census, when he was 18 and still living with his parents, Frank Kelly (1854-1923), then a conductor on the same electric railroad, and Cristiana (Eckhart) Kelly (1861-1932), then residing in Eckhart, Maryland. His brother Frank Jr. was already working in the coal mines. He married Grandma, Helen (Zeller) Kelly (1894-1985) on 30 September 1913.

By time of the 1920 census they were living at 230 Mechanic Street in Frostburg proper, and Grandpop was working as an electrician in the coal mines. Dad was just three years old then and his young brother Bernie was a bit over two years old.

The 1930 US Census finds the Kelly family living at 93 N. Union Street (the old name for West Main Street... yeah, confusing, right) next door to the Zeller matriarch, Moretta, who lived at 95. Her house was worth $5500 and Grandpop was paying $15 a month rent to live in the house next door that she owned. Now he's working as a motorman in the coal mine.

The 1940 US Census finds them living at 89 West Main Street (which was remaned and renumbered from Union Street) and Grandpop is simply listed as a "laborer" in the coal mine. Dad is working at the "silk mill", or the Celanese fibers company. It was his first real job. So it's just about this time that Dad bought his first car. (And, you should know, he was living with his parents and Mom was living with hers and no one knew they were married.)

So I'm chatting with Mom and she mentions that when they got their first car they would pick up Grandpop from the coal mine and drive him home. She also says he worked at a mine locally called "Shaft".

I am guessing here, but after consulting the coal fields map online,  here, and based on what Mom said, that he must have worked at a mine near Frostburg, about 5 or 6 miles away called "Shaft". I find Borden Shaft and that's too far away to be the one he worked in, but no other named shaft mines, per se. But you see that can be confusing because most of the coal mines in the area were slope or drift mines, in other words the mine tunnel was built on a slant into the hillside. Shaft mines were dug straight down with tunnels off to the side, were not the norm, so if the typical shaft tunnel mine was dug it got called "shaft."

Well the point of this story is not the various coal mines in the area and how they were worked but about the difficulty of the work itself. Mom said that Grandpop walked the 5 or 6 miles to work in the morning and then walked those same 5 or 6 miles back at night, rain or snow. Yeah, think about that: rain or snow... even in 14 degree weather. He'd get home soaked to the skin or practically frozen. And all after working in the coal mine all day.

In 1940 he was 48 years of age, and still working those long hours, feeling lucky I suppose, to have the work. The Great Depression years were very hard on this area and work was scarce, but Grandpop and his boys always found worked. And none of his sons ended up working in the mines. They went on to better things.

Because he had been a brakeman on the electric railroad, it's not too large a leap to him working as an electrician for a shaft mine operation where electricians were needed to keep the lifts running. Then in 1930 he's listed as a motorman. That sounds OK to me too because I've found that electricians and motormen earned a per hour wage whereas the laborers who dug the mines were paid by the ton of coal they dug, and that was hard dirty work. I'm a bit concerned for him when I read him listed as a "laborer" in the 1940 census. What did that mean? Was the enumerator simply following some guidelines that weren't very specific? Or was he a common laborer digging coal in the mine? That would have been the hardest work of all.

So when Dad got his first car one of the first things he did with it was go pick his father up after work at the coal mines. Nice.

Grandpop Kelly, John Lee Kelly, about 1913, with his family.
Probably a wedding portrait.

Grandpop Kelly with his kids, about 1920.
With daughter Louise, about 1930.
1942: Family pictures before the boys leave for WWII.
Grandpop is on the right.
On the Miami trip, mid 1950s.\
Also on the Miami trip.

1956, with my brother, Cleveland Ohio.

In Frostburg, about 1960.

The URL for this post is: http://nutsfromthefamilytree.blogspot.com/2013/11/stories-mom-told-me-part-2-their-first.html

1 comment:

  1. Hi Diane,

    I've enjoyed your blog series on your mom.

    would you please email me at rjseaver@cox.net so that I can get your correct email address? The email address I have isn't working.