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75 cents for a 10-hour day
‘Fire in the Hole’ Bonasso’s personal account of early days of mining in county
By John Veasey
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — An accurate account of early coal mining in the Marion County area was written several years ago by Russell F. Bonasso, who spent the first 15 years of his life in mining communities, which he believes entitles him to write about this industry.

He noted in his fairly recent book, “Fire in the Hole,” that the early work force, that powered the American Industrial Revolution during the early 1900s in its tremendous growth, was made up principally of Eastern and Western European immigrants — a total that numbered at its peak 500,000.

In those early days, Miners were paid 75 cents a day for a 10-hour day, Bonasso said.

Bonasso recalls, as a young boy of perhaps 10 or 12, “standing on the steps of our property, watching the yellowish, orangish, chemically laden burning mess and wondering, ‘How in the world could this be allowed to happen?’”

He was watching the gob piles that were often 400 to 500 feet high, made up of old slate, rejected coal and other impurities that were dumped near the edge of the company property.

Bonasso pointed out in his book that, many, many years later, he sees “almost daily, how that happy-go-lucky, hard-working group of ambitious young men, now in their 70s and 80s, having been reduced to slow-moving stooped images of their former healthy selves, now suffering from emphysema, black lung and other respiratory diseases, carrying oxygen tanks to help them breathe a little better — much or all this as a result of their years working in an industry with very little safety rules and even less implementation.”

Bonasso has always had great respect for coal miners and is pleased to see the date of Dec. 6 set aside to honor them.

He said his father was a broad, heavily muscled boy of 16 when he began working in the Hutchinson mine “for a 10-hour day of back-breaking labor in a dark, ventilated death trap.” This was only six years after 361 men had been trapped underground in the Monongah mine in the industry’s worst-ever disaster in the United States.

”And back in those days,” he said, “many 10-, 12- and 14-year-old boys were entering the mines to work along side their fathers, brothers, uncles,” Bonasso said. “There was no way to identify these illegal workers.”

The local resident said it was at the expense of these non-English-speaking immigrants that Fairmont became a town boasting more millionaires per capita than most cities in the eastern U.S. could boast.

Bonasso noted that the 361 casualties of the 1907 explosion at Monongah, and many people, including Father Everett Briggs of Monongah, believe an accurate death toll would be closer to 500 miners, left more than 1,000 widows and children in the area. The coal company, Fairmont Coal, distributed $17,500 to the relief fund and ultimately made an additional small settlement to individual survivors.

Bonasso noted that the lone survivor of that disaster was Peter Urban of Monongah, who by a strange twist of fate, was killed 18 years later at the same mine site in a slate fall.

He said he named his book “Fire in the Hole” because those were the four words that coal mining wives and families dreaded to hear “for that meant a methane gas explosion or fire deep in the mine workings and generally meant loss of a life or limb for their loved ones.”

Bonasso has taken the proceeds of his book and honored more than a dozen students in mining families with scholarship grants in the past few years.

Dr. Paul Edwards, longtime professor at Fairmont State, in the “about the author” section of the book, described Bonasso as “a living saint.” Edwards said “we know it is possible to live among unrecognized saints,” and he would like to nominate Bonasso as one.

Varie storie personale della tragedia a Monongah

Commemorazione a Duronia il 16 agosto 2007
dei martiri nella tragedia di Monongah

Fairmont Coal Company Mining Disaster

Cronache sul disastro di Monongah

Storia/ Intervista / Morire a Monongah

Elenco approssimativo delle vittime italiane