Backbreaking Work

Coke ovens burning at night (2019_01_22 16_45_08 UTC)

When I think of hard labor, I think of the people I knew from my childhood who worked in the coal and coke industry of Southwestern Pennsylvania. Coal miners worked in dusty dangerous conditions deep in the ground. Once the coal was brought to the surface, it was burned in coke ovens for a period of time to get the gasses out of it leaving a pure carbon that burned hotter than coal. Shoveling coke from the ovens was exhausting work. The heat from the ovens made working conditions barely tolerable. In the early days it was all done by hand as you see in the photo below. Later they had machines to help with the loading of the ovens and the train cars. Many workers died young from Black Lung, created by breathing the coal dust. Today most of the remaining ovens are buried beneath the overgrowth of nature.

Hard labor // coal dust

Brings early death for many

Cars and bridges built

Coke oven workers

Coke ovens Larry cars

Photos from: Ed West

Last September my two brothers and I made a trip back to our home community to see what was left of our memories. A friend told us about a set of coke ovens that was not far off the highway. We climbed through the weeds and brush and found them deteriorating, but still in tact. It was a wonderful find. See the photos below.

Ovens and tombstones

Still remain to tell the tale

Backbreaking labor

EER_0241 (2)

IMG_2799

Photos: Dwight L. Roth

On this Labor Day at d’Verse. Frank Tassone asked us to write a Haibun that relates to labor.  I decided to remind all of us how many people worked in hard labor conditions to provide the materials necessary to make steel. Much of this country was built with steel made from the work of these hard working men.

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11 thoughts on “Backbreaking Work

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