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TIRE HILL, PA

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Tire Hill was home to Bird Coal Co. Their Bird No. 1 mine was in the Upper Kittanning, or "C", seam, and was in production by 1915. Coal was shipped over the Johnstown Branch of the B&O Railroad. Shortly thereafter, Bird No. 2 was opened in the same seam, and Bird No. 3 miner's were mining the Lower Kittanning, or "B" seam. In 1932 Bird No. 4 (also Lower Kittanning seam) was opened, followed by Bird No. 5 in 1936. In the late 1930s all five mines were open. However, around 1940 Bird No. 5 was leased to Arthur Secary to mine house coal. Secary, whose firm was named Secary Coal Co., also began operating Bird No. 7 (presumably under a lease from Bird Coal) in 1937, again with very small production, proably for local use. Bird No. 6 was leased to Jacob Punter for house coal, too. Bird Coal Co. was acquired by Island Creek Coal Co. in the 1960s. I am not sure when No. 1 closed, but No. 2 and 3 were open until 1980. During the decade of the 1980s, the mines were maintained by a skeleton crew but no production took place. The pumps were turned off in 1990, and the mines were sealed in 1991.


Dec. 2021 image by author

One of the few remaining structures from Bird Coal Company's mines at Tire Hill is this former repair shop.


Dec. 2021 image by author

Former Tire Hill (Bird Coal) company store. It originally featured decorative brickwork, which has been covered over by stucco.


Dec. 2021 image by author

Company houses built by the Bird Coal Co. in Tire Hill.


Dec. 2021 image by author

This was a pretty good grade of company house. And the "model company town" movement is reflected in the alternating house pattern. Bird Coal must have known that their reserves were going to last for a long time, and they were willing to invest in a nice mining village.


Dec. 2021 image by author

This was formerly the Tire Hill school.


John Rucosky, whose father, the late Bob Rucosky, was the final superintendent of the Bird mines, was kind enough to answer my email asking for information about Tire Hill:

"When I was a kid in the 70’s the mines were owned by Island Creek Coal Co., and I played on their little league baseball team. As far as I know Bethlehem Steel was their customer, and Bethlehem began scaling back after the ‘77 Johnstown flood, so the areas mines soon followed. There were three mines located in Tire Hill. #1 had been closed and sealed by that time, I believe. I recall that #3 was a union mine and #2 non-union. I recall in 1980 when I was 15, my mom took me out on the front porch, sat me down and asked how I felt about moving to W.Va., as the mines were closing. I recall being very upset, as many people lost their jobs. Many moved to Wyoming. We were going to move to Mount Storm, W.Va. By then my dad, who started his career working with mules, had become a superintendent, after he worked for seven years inside as an electrician. So he was able to retain his job along with a handful of others who had seniority. I remember mine employees Mike Horwitz, George Havrlak, Geno DeRubis, Ernie Kemp, and Clarence Ohler. In the 1980s coal production ceased and the two mines were fire-bossed and water treatment continued. I spent the summers off from college in 1984-1988 helping to keep the grass cut and weeds down around the mining offices, substations, fans, settling ponds, etc., and occasionally went inside #2 with Geno to check the status of a pump. My dad said it would make me study harder. It was part of my education. Federal and state mining inspectors made regular visits. Core sample were conducted to determine the feasibility of restarting operations. The face of one mine was eight miles south near Forwardstown. Another was located about 5-6 miles away near Holsopple. According to my dad when Bird Coal wanted to put in a new entrance to #3, along Rt. 601 just south of Benson/Holsopple, the people who lived in the area went to their local council meetings and fought it. They did not want coal truck and cleaning plants, etc., in their neighborhood. So in 1990 they sealed and flooded the mines. Today (2022) a coal mine where Bird was going put the proposed entrance is operating. Once the mines were sealed, my dad was still able to retain his position and treat water. Most of the others, except Horwitz and a watchman, retired.

"My dad used to tell stories of men getting paid in scrip and trading it for cash with others so they could drink at the local bar, Pete’s Place. He knew men who had arranged marriages. Teens from one religion were forbid to date kids from others. His older brother Walt was my hunting partner and had many stories of the company doctors and patrol officers. He said once a company representative came to their home and looked around their kitchen to see if they had purchased goods from the company store. He worked in a non-union mine and his brother Larry in a union mine. At the end of their shifts in Tire Hill they waited for each other so as to walk home together. Walt told me a company patrolman on horseback separated them with a night stick. Everyone hated the company."


Former Bird Coal Co. employees. From left to right are Geno DeRubis, Mike Horwitz, Bob Rucosky, Ernie Kemp, Clarence Ohler and George Havrlak.


Sources:

Fitzsimons, Gray, editor. Somerset County, Pennsylvania; An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites. 1994.

Report of the Department of Mines of Pennsylvania, Part II—Bituminous 1915. Wm. Stanley Ray, State Printer, 1916.

Various Pennsylvania bituminous coal mining reports from 1915 to 1988.

Brumbaugh, Jocelyn. “Ferndale Man Celebrates 70 Years at Tire Hill Mine.” The Tribune Democrat, 10 Sept. 2017.

Sisler, James D. Bituminous Coal Fields of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Geological Survey, 1926.

coalmininghistorypa.org

Rucosky, John, email response to author. January 16, 2022.



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