I was a 15 year old miner
By BBC Tees contributor Alan Richardson
I had one sister and two brothers and with me being the oldest it was taken for granted that I follow Dad into mining. That’s how it all started.
In November 1952 when I was 15 my Father told me to sign some papers, I didn't know what they were but when Dad said do something you do it.
I had just finished school and it was the next morning. About 4 am I was woken by Dad, “Wake up, you are coming to work at the pit with me lad".
Because my Father was the Overman he had to come in early to check everything out before the mine workers came in. This meant I was in early as well.
It was about 90 minutes before the Engineer came in who was to give me my first mine duties.
For the first six months I was not allowed to go down the mine as you had to be 15 and a half, so I had to familiarise myself with the mine and carry out topside duties.
One of my responsibilities was a thing called spragging. This was where you had to place a metal bolt through the wheels of the trucks to slow them down, a kind of brake.
Alan shows what spragging is
The environment was a little bit different to what I was used to and the language was kind of new to me. Imagine a lot of blokes working together. There was words I hadn't heard before.
I remember sitting down at the family table one Sunday and was discussing what I had done that week, whilst telling them about spragging I got a bit excited and without thinking I told my family about a fellow worker being a good shot with that sprag, but I did add a couple of words that are not in the dictionary that I had heard down in the mine.
Dad moved so quickly, the next thing I knew I was on the floor. He told me “big enough to talk like that, big enough to pay rent".
Every Friday we all put our pay packets onto the family table. Mother controlled all the finances. We were then given our pocket money, including Dad. The amount varied to how old you were.
One of my other duties before going down the mine was drying sand. This involved turning sand over a hot plate. The sand had been collected from the local beaches and was used to assist the breaking of the locomotive wheels. The sand had to be totally dry as it was fed down to where the wheels made contact with the tracks. It helped the wheels grip.
I saw a lot of sad and scary times. My first was in 1953 when a gas explosion happened down in the mine. Many men were killed and injured. A rescue team from Durham had to come. I was given the task of taking oxygen bottles up and down the mine lift two at a time.
I later heard that the rescue team got trapped between two pockets of gas. Because they did not have enough oxygen masks for themselves and the injured they had to improvise.
The wounded miners were put in mine carts, given oxygen mask and then given an almighty push to get them through the gas to the exit where another team was waiting who then returned the mine carts and oxygen masks to repeat the exercise.
What the injured were taken out in.
I was frightened to death. This was the first time that I had been down the pit. But I wasn't put off being a miner for some reason, it was a weird sort of experience.
I have worked in the pits most of my life. I did have a spell in the forces in between but mining has been my life.
I would have to say it was a hard life but rewarding.
What I did like about pit life was that everybody was aware of everybody’s safety. Even if you didn't like somebody or they didn't like you, you still looked out for each other.
We had a special bond.
last updated: 25/11/2008 at 14:45
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