Mining memories: Shamokin man recalls time in service and coal industry
SHAMOKIN - Charlie Rosini knows the coal industry - both the bituminous and anthracite variations.
He amassed this unique knowledge by having served as a federal mine inspector for both types of coal mining, a highly unusual accomplishment. How it came about was the question that led to an interview with the 92-year-old.
"It all started when I was a young boy," Rosini said. "My three brothers, Evoldo, nicknamed 'Ace' because he had been a boxer; Odone, nicknamed 'Donuts' because he allowed his workers to order only donuts when they stopped for breakfast on the road, and Reno decided to go into the coal trucking business. They bought an old touring car and removed the back seat."
The Rosini brothers picked coal at the Locust Colliery bank, loaded it into the car and took it to their home at 104-106 Diamond St., where they cracked and sized it by hand.
The home heating coal was sold in Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Baltimore.
"With the profits of this first run, my brothers could buy prepared coal from independent breakers," he said. "Then they decided to go into the breaker business with a breaker on Trevorton Road."
In 1939, the year Rosini graduated from high school, his brothers opened a "dry breaker" where the raw run-of-mine coal was processed without water, meaning all slate and rock had to be picked out by hand, a dirty, dusty operation.
"My job was hauling raw coal from the local small mines. They had no holding bins. The coal had to be loaded at the mine by hand, and unloaded at the breaker the same way," Rosini said. "At that time, Donuts bought out Reno's share in the business."
Wounded at war
Then along came World War II, and Charlie became a bombardier on a B 17 Flying Fortress.
"I enlisted in 1942 in the Army Air Corps program, graduating as a second lieutenant and bombardier. I joined the Eighth Air Force in England and flew missions over Europe," he said.
Charlie flew nine missions over Europe before being wounded on his 10th flight.
He missed three missions, including the 13th - when his plane and entire crew were shot down. The only survivors were the pilot and navigator, who became prisoners of war.
"It was just luck that I missed that mission. We lost a lot of good men to the thick flak the Germans put up. The worst was over the Cherbourg Peninsula. We flew in over the ocean, then turned and flew the length of the whole peninsula through the heaviest flak I ever saw."
Back home, the Rosini brothers opened a new wet breaker at the south end of Fifth Street in Shamokin. They processed coal from the Burnside area mines, and the business prospered. Following the end of the war, Charlie was assigned duty at a Air
Transport command in Morroco, then Liberia. He returned to his home town, married Pauline Melnick, and went back to his brother's breaker.
Off to Illinois
After several years, Rosini decided to become a federal mine inspector, but there were no openings in the Shamokin area, so he headed for Illinois and an opening there in the bituminous mine fields.
"I spent seven years there inspecting surface areas only. No underground inspections," he said. "They had a Home Safety Association there that required I inspect places each month for violations at the collieries. The soft coal mines were very dangerous because bituminous coal dust is very fine and could ignite when a spark or a flame was present."
To prevent this from happening, ground white rock dust, which does not ignite, was applied to the bituminous coal.
"Entering a bituminous mine you saw right away that the whole mine was virtually white from the ground rock dust," Rosini said.
During his years in Illinois, Charlie recalled, he saw just one accident, when a foreman stood atop a crusted-over crusher trying to free the flow of coal.
"When he poked the jam, it let go, taking him into the crusher. It was terrible.
"Years later, I saw the same sort of accident at a frozen crusher at an anthracite mine," he continued. "This time the man suffocated."
When a federal mine inspector opening came about, Charlie went back to the anthracite region mines.
"I got my foot in the door in Illinois. I liked it there because there were so many mines, so much going on," he said. "Anthracite is just a small piece of coal mining compared to bituminous."
Charlie returned, this time for good.
"I loved being back home with my friends and the characters of this region," he said. "Like the character in Brady, a mining village outside Shamokin. Charlie Podabinski was an immigrant and he saw a car go by with a dead deer on the fender. He learned that anyone could get a license and hunt on the land. In the old country, only landowners could hunt.
"So he got a gun and a license and went hunting," he continued. "Only one problem - he shot a cow. For the rest of his life he was called 'Shoot the Cow,' and so was his bar on Main Street."
Asked to recall the early years of mining, Charlie talked about the bootleg days, when miners worked small mines that didn't even have storage bins so all the coal had to be scooped with shovels onto trucks, and then unloaded the same backbreaking way at the breakers.
"During the '30s, bootlegging became a major problem. As the Depression got worse, the men started taking more coal for their homes and for selling to others. The P&R C&I (Pennsylvania and Reading Coal and Iron) cops blew bootleg holes shut and men were arrested. Mostly they were released by sympathetic judges when they got to Sunbury.
"Then some cool heads thought about it, and a compromise was reached when land was offered for lease. An organization of independent miners and truckers began leasing land, and things moved forward," Rosini said.
The '50s, meanwhile, were good for the industry.
"Trucks were lined up at the Glen Burn colliery all the way up Sunbury Street.
Sales were way up. Then oil came along, and then the mills started closing, and the region went into decline."
Loving the job
With the good times and bad, does Rosini have any regrets?
"Not really," he said. "The people I met over the years were decent, hard workers.
"Well, I did have one run in with a fellow, but that was just a one-time deal," he added. "I didn't know that he had been told a federal mine inspector was coming to his place and he had warned that that would be a problem. When I showed up, he came at me with his fists. He ended up closing his breaker because he refused to allow an inspection."
What about the future of anthracite?
"You'll have to ask the younger ones like my nephew Don, about that," he said, referencing the retired former president of Shamokin Filler Co.
"Anthracite is a good source of energy, it has high carbon ratings, and doesn't pollute like bituminous. There should be a place for it," he said.
There was certainly a place for anthracite in Charlie Rosini's working days.
"I enjoyed my years and retired at 70 because I loved the job," he said.