While his career in the mining industry lasted about eight years, Bob Moffatt has collected stories to last him a lifetime.
Most of these stories revolved around the likes of John, Turk and Spider. These weren’t fellow miners, they were the ponies that he drove underground.
On Sunday, September 18, the celebration of the centennial of coal mining continues with Pony Day at the Atlas Coal Mine. If you come, Moffatt just might share a story or two.
Moffatt began working at the mines at 16. He worked on the surface “picking bones.” Driving ponies was in his blood, as both his grandfathers, his dad and uncles all worked the tiny but tough teams. He began driving on the surface, hauling timbers, feed and rocks. After a couple chilly winters, he figured it was time to go underground.
“It was kind of exciting,” chuckles Moffatt.
He worked in the HyGrade Mine, about where WHIFS is now located. His job was to take empty cars into the mine on tracks for the miners to fill, then deliver them to the mine entrance to be processed and shipped.
These were the days of contract miners, and the more they filled, the more they made. For them to earn, they needed empty cars to fill. Making the miners happy often had its kickbacks and Moffatt recalls miners buying him drinks years after he quit driving ponies.
Not only did he forge relationships with the miners, but his teams as well. Each pony had its own character and quirks. Turk knew just how hard he had to work. He heard more than eight cars hook up when he pulled the slack up, he would dog it all the way.
Moffatt figured out a way to get him to pull 14 cars…but he’ll have to tell you about that at Pony Day.
It was dangerous work too. Moffatt worked the ponies from the time he was 18 until he was 21, when he had an accident that nearly cost him his leg. He then went to work as a payroll clerk in the Murray Mine.
Pony Day runs on Sunday, September 18 from 1-4 p.m. at the Atlas Coal Mine. Admission to the site includes a pony cart ride. Moffatt will be there, spinning his legendary tales.
More information on Pony Day and all the centennial happenings can be found at www.drumhellermining100.com.