by Polla Horn for
The Frostburg Express
John P. “Stumper” Race: A Miner Remembered
(as told by Jim Race)
My grandfather, John P. Race, was a coal miner all of his life. On miner's wages, he was able to own his own home and provide for his wife, Emma, and their family of four children. Their two girls were educated: one in business school, the other as a teacher. Their two boys became successful in their own pursuits. Because coal mining first started in the Georges Creek and Jennings Run Valleys, where there already were established towns, the miners were paid in cash and could own their own homes and deal at the local stores. As far as I know, this situation was unique in the eastern coal fields. My grandparents never owned a car or knew how to drive one; they completed their errands by walking everywhere. They never owned a television set, but did have a radio. My grandfather had a large vegetable garden which provided his families’ larder with abundant canned and fresh vegetables. They also had chickens.
John P. began working in the mines three months after his fourteenth birthday and continued his work, with very few breaks between jobs, until his retirement at age 68. There was plenty of work in the coalfields, so his career had few interruptions, a total of just 17 months, mostly before 1927. During the miner's strike, in the early twenties, he worked for the Buck Tail Coal Company in Weedville, Pennsylvania, where there was no strike. He told me that during those times, he hopped freight trains as his mode of transportation between Frostburg and Weedville. I never heard of him ever being injured on the job. His stated reason for retirement was “due to the condition of my health.” One would think that having worked until age 68 would be reason enough. He was asked several times to return to the mines when there was a problem (as we would say today “as a consultant.”) He would always refuse the offer because he knew a few miners who were killed doing just that, after they retired.
My Grandpa's mining career spanned from May 1892 to October 1946, an amazing 54 years. As per his application for miner’s benefits, he worked in numerous mines:
Union Mining Co. Mine #1: May 1892-Dec. 1900; Consolidation Coal Co., Mine #7: Dec. 1900-1913; Consol’ Mine #9: 1913-April 1922; Buck Tail Coal Co. Weedville, PA: Oct. 1922-April 1924 (During miner’s strike); Consol’ Mine #9: Aug. 1924-Oct.1926; Consol’ Mine #10: May 1927-Nov. 1933; Consol’ Mine #4: Nov. 1933-July 1935; Consol’ Mine #3: July 1935-Oct. 1946.
Although I was born during his mining career, my earliest memory of him was not until after life had somewhat worn him down. In spite of what I would call a milder case of miner’s asthma, we would take walks in the woods together even into his seventies and eighties. He would point out and describe the old workings, and we would meet and talk with his friends. As a youngster, I thought old people were cool, like walking history books. I always enjoyed those encounters with the old-timers. If I would meet an old miner who did not know me, he would ask if I was related to “Stumper Race.” I would say yes, because that was his nick-name. When the branches and rooms of a mine were worked out, there would still be large blocks, pillars, or "stumps" of coal left in place to hold up the overburden of rock. The mining companies didn't want to leave all that valuable coal behind, so, if possible, the "stumps" would be pulled or mined out. Grandpa had developed his skills at removing those "stumps" of coal, which was extremely dangerous work. Lots of wood cribbing would have to be put in place around the stumps in order to hold up the overburden, allowing the miners to complete the job and close off that section of the mine. “Stumper” stayed active every day. He would walk from his home at 117 West Main St. down to Peck’s Saloon on Broadway; not to drink, but to play Set Back. He kept his mind sharp by memorizing the cards that were played. Afterward, he would walk back up the hill to his home. He continued his daily walks until age 85, when he was disabled by a stroke.
My grandmother Emma’s brother, Will Evans, was killed Aug. 20, 1914 in Consol’s Allegany, or the well-earned name “Broken Hart”, mine. Will’s death had a profound effect on Emma’s attitude toward mining. John P. naturally assumed that their two sons would follow him into the mines. When he suggested that to Emma, her answer was “over my dead body” and the case was closed. The Evans family emigrated from Wales. They learned their coal mining skills in the mines at a young age. Emma’s mother, Mary Ann, worked as a mule driver in the mines around Blaenavon, Wales. She tried to do that after they came here, but the miners would have none of that going on in this country.
Thank you, Jim Race, for sharing recollections of your grandfather, John P. “Stumper” Race, with our committee.
The Coal Miner Memorial Statue Fund is accepting contributions for the placement of an educational memorial near the crossroads of state Route 36 and the National Road in Frostburg. A bronze statue will honor all of our Georges Creek miners and name those who perished while mining.
Tax-deductible donations can be mailed to the
Foundation for Frostburg CMMSF
P.O. Box 765
Frostburg, MD 21532.
We welcome updated information and encourage your participation.
Contact either Polla Horn at email@example.com
Bucky Schriver at firstname.lastname@example.org
to share your thoughts and stories. Be on the lookout for future Miner Recollections.