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COLVER, PA

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The Colver coal mine and patch town in Cambria County, Pennsylvania date back to 1911 when they were built by the Ebensburg Coal Company. (Sep. 2003 image by author)


These are four room houses for the "hunky" immigrant miners north of Reese Avenue. Eastern Associated Coal Co. assumed ownership of Colver in the mid 1950s. (Sep. 2003 image by author)


Larger patch houses, probably for the White Anglo Saxon Protestant miners.(Sep. 2003 image by author)


The name Colver was a combination of it's owners' names: Coleman and Weaver. They also owned the Cambria and Indiana Railroad, which was based out of Colver. It hauled Colver coal from the Lower Kittanning seam and also serviced other mines in Cambria and Indiana Counties. These homes on Reese Avenue were built for employees of the C&I railroad. (Sep. 2003 image by author)


The building in the foreground is the Colver Company Store, operated by the coal company until 1963. It is more architecturally impressive than most other company stores. Behind it is the former amusement hall. The former offices of the Ebensburg Coal Company are behind the amusement hall. This building now houses a restaurant and the post office. A manway shaft and bathhouse was behind the offices until they were demolished in the 1990s. (Sep. 2003 image by author)


Not many other coal mining villages had the grand hotel that Colver had (or any hotel). (Sep. 2003 image by author)


Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in Colver. (Image source forgotten)


Former UMWA local 860 union hall. (Google Street View image)


Eastern Associated Coal Co. idled the Colver mines in 1978. A decade later this preparation plant and powerhouse were still standing at Colver in this 1988 photo. Those are dust collectors on top of the plant. (Public Domain image by Jet Lowe, HAER [Historical American Engineering Record])


However now all that is left of the large structures are these ruins.(Sep. 2003 image by author)


The ruins of the prep plant are scattered about the site. The large slate dump extends in all directions. It is now being remined for a new power plant built at Colver, so the story of Colver and coal is not over yet. (Sep. 2003 image by author)


These Cambria and Indiana Railroad shops are still in existence at Colver. (Sep. 2003 image by author)


Thank you to W.K. for identifying this as the Sand House. He explains, "The Sand House was used to store sand and pulverized limestone. It was essential that both of these remain dry, so the house was built to be water-tight. The supplies were brought by truck and unloaded at the top of the slanted structure. The angled wooden floor allowed the building to also serve as the loading hopper at the bottom where the mine motors pulled cars beneath. The sand was used by the mine motors (low, electric powered, vehicles) for traction on the rails. Motors were man-operated and pulled coal cars into and out of the mine drift. Sand provided grit between the steel wheels and steel rails when hauling heavy 'trips' (or trains) of cars out of the mine. The hills underground, combined with wet conditions, made traction critical when pulling 60 tons with only a 10-ton (single) or 20-ton (tandem) motor. Sand would be delivered by a truck with a dump bed so unloading was easy compared to the limestone. The pulverized limestone, known by miners as 'rock-dust,' was used to suppress the potential fire hazards associated with coal dust. By spreading the inert rock dust on the roof, ribs, and floor, any residual coal dust was rendered incombustible. Rock-dust came in 50-pound bags and had to be unloaded from the delivery truck into the sand house by hand to ensure the bags did not break. This was usually done with a chain of 3 men one on the end of the truck bed, one between the truck and house, and one in the house. Depending on the size of the truck, we would unload 500 to 1000 bags in a single shipment. Likewise, it had to be hand loaded onto the supply cars at the bottom of the house. Fortunately, the rock dust cars held far less than a truck." (Sep. 2003 image by author)


Detail of the Sand House. (Sep. 2003 image by author)

W.K. writes, "I was only in the mines 2 1/2 years, with about 2 of that in the Colver mine. I was just out of high school and did it for the money. In 1974 the Federal minimum hourly wage was $2.00. Underground mining started at $7.00 as a laborer and went up from there depending on what certifications you held, e.g. machine operator, shot fire (dynamite), etc. and how close to the "face" you worked. After a three-week strike in November of 1974 wages and benefits got even better. With shift differential and other offsets, a motivated guy could make $100 a day. Median US income was $9,200 in 1976. As a 20-year-old coal miner, that same year I made $13,600 with full medical and dental coverage provided by the UMWA. I worked in the Colver mine from 1974 - 1976. It was owned and operated at that time by Eastern Associated Coal Company out of West Virginia. I completed my first year (apprenticeship or red-hat) underground as a laborer and shuttle-car operator. Once I had my Miner's Certificate I bid on a motorman's job, hauling men and supplies into the mine and men and coal out of the mine. In Sep of 76 I moved to the Erhenfeld mine, operated by Bethlehem Mines, about 12 miles South of Colver. Water spray was used to suppress coal dust during mining operations and that winter (1976) it got so cold that coal was freezing solid in the silos and hoppers of area mines. With no way to load the coal trains, many mines stopped work. The miners drew unemployment until it warmed up enough to restart production. The Colver mine used the room and pillar method to extract the coal. By the time I worked there, the mining consisted mainly of 1pulling stump' (mining out the pillars in a retreating fashion to allow the roof to cave in a 'controlled' manner). Workers entered the mine two ways - either via the drift, (just beyond the sand house you photographed), by riding a 'man-trip' car pulled by a mine locomotive (or motor) on rails; or via the 'F' portal man-elevator located about 3 miles East, off the Colver Road that runs between Ebensburg and Carrolltown. There were wash-houses at both locations so crews from one location (the 'tipple' or 'drift') rarely encountered those from the other (the 'F') on the job. We did socialize at UMW meetings or the many bars and social clubs (Polish American, Italian American, Slovac, etc.). The typical Colver mining crew consisted of six 'Union men' and a Company 'Boss.' The union miners were: A Machine operator - operated the mining machine. The miner or 'mole' as it was called, was a low, heavy, tracked, electric and hydraulic powered vehicle that literally clawed the coal from the seam. A Machine Helper - assisted the machine operator by handling the heavy power cable, setting timber, testing the roof, etc. Two shuttle car operators (or 'buggy runners') - they drove low, heavy, wheeled vehicles, that hauled the coal from the mole to the belt. Two shuttle cars were used to maximize production. While one was under the mole being loaded with coal the other would be down at the belt line unloading coal onto the conveyor belt. Buggies were electric powered and had a large spool that wound the power cable in and out as it traveled. A Mechanic kept the equipment running including power, phones, belt-way, as well as the machines (miner, shuttle cars, pumps, etc.). A laborer managed supplies like timber, block, rock dust and built walls, bridges, air curtains, etc. and of course - shoveled! The Company Store still operated as a store in '74 and had just about everything. I bought much of my groceries there, miner's bucket (lunch pail), miner's belt, hard-hat, etc. They still extended credit to miners and purchases were deducted from your pay every two weeks. The Colver Hotel had been converted into apartments through a HUD grant and I lived there in a studio apartment ($120 a month I believe I paid all utilities included!). The best experiences from those days were time spent with the old-timers. I enjoyed hearing them tell of coming to America or their parents coming to America, some not able to really speak English. Working as very young boys in the tipple until they were old enough to go underground. Some of the old guys I worked with had 40 or more years in, still loved coming to work, and could out-work me. Some were in bad health and had stopped working. I would watch them play dominos at the clubs and listen as they would tell stories on each other."

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