Abram J. Thiessen also worked at Pickle Crow gold mines. He came from the forestry camps in BC to try something new, and he quickly showed his potential.
“[After Christmas holidays,] Pete Berg and I decided to work in the Pickle Crow gold mine. At that time there was no road and we flew to the mine 200 km or so north from Sioux Lookout in northern Ontario . After a month Pete decided to go back to camp but I stayed till almost the end of March. I rather enjoyed my work and the management did try very hard to get me to stay. They gave me a course in mining by giving me a teacher who was a fully qualified mining engineer and a very nice pureblood Native. After six weeks I passed all the necessary tests.” [ASM, 42]
Even so, he decided to return to the forestry camps in BC when his time in the mine was up.
Coal was even more important than gold to the Canadian economy. Coal from Saskatchewan was vital to Canadian society. It was used to heat homes during Canada's long, cold winters and to generate electricity. Even today, seventy percent of Saskatchewan's electrical energy comes from coal-powered plants. Since many miners had joined the army, the coal mines were in desperate need of workers. Justice Embury, a judge who worked with COs, even encouraged them to work in the mines.
The mining companies in Saskatchewan had both underground mines and surface mines. Henry H. Funk worked in an underground coal mine even before he got his call for military service..
“In June, 1942, I had graduated from the Altona high School. That summer was spent helping on the farm. That fall we were recruited for the coal mines. There was a big labour shortage in the nation. Many young farm boys were idle at home during the winter. Now employment people came to southern Manitoba to seek our help for the winter months for the coal mines in southern Saskatchewan. This was an essential industry. We were assured that our draft would be postponed until we got back – and it was. There were perhaps a couple of dozen fellows from Gretna, Altona, Rosenfeld, Plum Coulee, and Winkler who responded. We were taken by train on the Deloraine line, west to Melita and then on a different line to the Estevan/Bienfait area in Saskatchewan. Here we were picked up by truck and taken to Taylerton, the production site of the Western Dominion coal mine.”
“In due time we were outfitted with work clothing including rubber boots, coveralls, hard hats fitted with carbide lamps, etc. Soon the hoist dropped us 160 feet [49 m] down the shaft into the bowels of the earth and we were coal miners…. Our roles varied. Since this was a mechanized mine there was little traditional pick and shovel work. At home I was teased that my work was to pick up the little pieces…. I had only a slight build and at that time I was quite slim. They could not picture me as a tough, robust coal miner.”
“My actual job was to be a “trip-rider” – switch man for the underground railway. The whole mine was equipped with a rail system and all the heavy equipment moved on rails, driven by electricity from a heavy trolley line attached to the ceiling of the tunnels. I was assigned as a switch man to one of the heavy electric engines which were used to pull/push the coal cars around. These were open box cars that could hold 4 tons of coal each.”
“There was some danger there. During our four months two men died in industrial accidents. Some of us had close calls but we were young. Living with the situation on a daily basis we did not see the danger.”
The other miners looked out for these newcomers.
“The regular miners were good to us youngsters. Many of them… were fine people! Some of them were more crusty and tough. One old miner claimed he could swear for five minutes without repeating himself once. We never timed him but he sure knew how. A few of our boys felt the need to salt their language with profanity too. But we soon found out that even the tough miners did not respect that. They accepted us better if we [acted] straight.” [ASM, 140-141]
The surface mining was different, but equally difficult. George Schmidt worked as a coal loader.
“After the fall work was completed on the ranch he applied to work in one of the strip mines south of Tofield during the winter. The deep layer of earth 20'-25' [50-64 cm], was removed by caterpillar, ripper and scraper. The 8-foot [2.4 m] seam of soft coal was then mined by teams of four men each, filling rail cars by wheelbarrow, using a ramp. Each crew was expected to fill a forty ton rail car daily. Under normal circumstances, if the seam came apart easily and there was no snow on the ramp they could finish by early afternoon. Most of the coal was used in the domestic market. Since mining was deemed an essential service, men were freed from war service to do mining in the winter time.” [ASP, 159]