PHILIP FRANCIS----COAL MINER
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.
Knoxville, Tenn., July 7, 1936
(Copy of an article written in Ohio by T. Russ Hill.)
"Francis 83 today.
Rose to mining heights after start as a bound boy. Man who became noted
expert, went back to work when 80 years old." Philip Francis is
83 years old today. A man in his late 50's would consider himself fortunate
to look and feel like Mr. Francis does at 83, yet he says he did not
attain his age by conserving his strength, but by working hard, even
when it was no longer necessary.
ENDS SCHOOL AT EIGHT
He received a few months of schooling about this time, but by the time he was 8 he had done with formal education. He ran away and went to work at less that 20c per day as a fan boy and slate picker in the mines. Often he went hungry for days at a time. His friends, the miners were English, Welsh, Irish and German. Others had not begun to trickle into the Pennsylvania anthracite coal fields at that time. It was in the early days as a coal miner that he first escaped death by a small margin. This escape was to be followed by many others. Two others drove him and his buddy away from their choice station and a few minutes later the one who was standing where young Francis would have been, was killed by a falling block of coal. I walked home thinking I'd never go back in a mine, he said.
JUST THE BEGINNING
Unnerved though he was, Mr. Francis did return to the mine. His career under ground was just beginning. At Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania, he married Annie Meyrick, January 9, 1875. A year later he left his wife in Pennsylvania while he came to Tennessee, and Knoxville, with another man from Pennsylvania. Strike and labor disorders had made mine life in Pennsylvania very difficult. Mr. Francis was impressed by Knoxville and its people. He liked the country. Pennsylvania was rocky and severe, but grass and evergreens grew on the hills of East Tennessee. He loved to walk up the hills of East Tennessee. He loved to walk up the hill to the mines of Fort Sanders. The old fort and the cannons were still there, he said today. You can pick up musket and cannon balls. But he did not stay long in Knoxville. Caryville was his next destination. The East Tennessee Coal Co., was operating a little mine there. He worked there four or five months. Then the state brought in convicts to work the Fraterville Mine and Mr. Francis returned to Pennsylvania. But Tennessee had left an impression with him which was to be transfigured into a desire to return. From the mining standpoint, Tennessee was superior to Pennsylvania for the mines were safer. The gas problem was not present.
He was not satisfied in Pennsylvania
and left his family to go to Leadville, Colorado, in 1877. Mr. Francis
walked the 100 miles from Denver to Leadville and was not to return
for three years. During that time he prospected on a grub stake and
climbed 14,000 feet searching for silver and minerals. Again he returned
to the mines of Pennsylvania in his longing to see his wife and children.
But foreigners were invading Pennsylvania coal fields and native miners
didn't trust them. In the mines the safety of your life on me and mine
upon you was evident. If one man was careless all might be killed, Mr.
Francis explained. We didn't trust the foreigners.
BRAINS AS WELL AS BRAWN
But this advancement through the years
couldn't come from mere hard work as a miner. It's a wise farmer who
looks over the fence of his neighbor, Mr. Francis declares. I learned
about mining the last day I was in a mine, he will tell you. When one
of my men got to know all about mines and said, "You can't tell
me anything about mining", I let him go, he said.
MAYOR OF JELLICO, TENNESSEE
He was living in Jellico and citizens told him he was shirking his duty as a citizen by not holding public office. They elected him mayor in 1914 over his protest. At the next election he refused to campaign and lost the election by about 7 votes, but by the next election both political parties were anxious to have him for mayor. Again he was elected without opposition, but would not accept. They even let him select his own school board. I don't know why you should elect an ordinary coal miner with the town full of doctors and lawyers, he said to the people.
CONVERTED AT LAST
"All my life," Mr. Francis
said, "I had looked at the people inside the churches and said
to myself, I am better than they are. I wouldn't think of doing the
things they do. I was a moral man. I never swore. I kept my men from
swearing and they were pretty rough men. I was never drunk in my life.
I was afraid if I joined the church that I would do those things that
church goers do. Then one night in 1923 I attended one of Dr. Fred Brown's
revival services at First Baptist Church of Jellico. I usually avoided
revival services because when they asked for every one who wanted to
be prayed for, who wanted to go to Heaven, stand; I just sat there and
felt that I was bad for the morale of the meeting. But I loved music
and wanted to hear the people sing and for that reason I attended. It
was Saint Patrick's Day. Dr. Brown said that God gave man the will power
to resist His kindness and to push His hand away. I was living in a
fine house, had a splendid large family and believed I had done it all
myself. But I thought of the circumstances. All the neighbors who had
families smaller than mine, had deaths, but mine had none. It must be
that He is kind to me, I said. I have made investments in mines but
none in my soul and my soul is my greatest possession. I was pushing
His hand away. I got up and walked right down the aisle and made a short
MINED BIGGEST BLOCK
A less gruesome experience for Mr. Francis was the mining of the largest single block of coal ever mined in Tennessee. It weighed 3800 pounds. It took him two to three days, he said. He can mine a bigger one still when he can find a bigger entrance. Mr. Francis had an uneasiness in passing out the position of mine inspector to politicians. Mine inspecting should be done by mining men, he declared. Mine safety depends in a large measure on the mine inspectors. Lawyers and people who have never been inside a mine in their lives, have been appointed, he said
BACK TO MINES AT 80
His wife died September
5, 1933. He went up to the mines, got his tools and went to work. He
was 80 years old. He worked there two or three weeks and his sons persuaded
him to return to Knoxville. He had intended to round out 75 years as
a miner. Now he stays at home and reads on many topics. He is interested
in astronomy. He will tell you of the cosmic ray, its tremendous power
and the mystery surrounding it.
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