A Miner in history
September 6, 2016
When I was a kid and I used to gripe about chores or homework or anything I found remotely unfair or uninteresting, one of my parents would inevitably tell me, "You think you've got it tough? Go read a history book."
It was their way of reminding me just how easy I had it. Clearing the dinner table or solving a couple math problems was certainly preferable to collecting water from a river four miles away and slogging it back home so I could hand wash the family laundry. I also didn't have to worry about smallpox, had more than a stick to play with and didn't have to walk to school shoeless in the snow (uphill both ways). So all in all, I had a far better life than children born generations before me and I should quit complaining. It was a lesson I was reminded of again this weekend as I enjoyed the Miner's Day festivities — indeed, we've got it pretty good now compared to our predecessors.
In Park City, we don't celebrate Labor Day, we pay homage to the miners who built this town. Once a year, Rotarians work to bring our town's legacy to life. After the pancake breakfast and parade and games at City Park, there's a competition that takes considerably more skill (and muscle) than a pie eating contest. As I watched the mucking and drilling events, I couldn't help but think about how difficult life was for miners a few decades ago. It's never been a cushy job by any standard — it was a rough gig even in rough times. And I have far more appreciation for it after watching a handful of men race against time using a 130-pound machine to drill holes in a massive slab of granite. It took the winner just under two minutes. Then they moved on to the mucking, once again in a race against the clock, hoping to be the quickest to fill their ore cart with heaps of broken rock.
By the end of it, the winners looked exhausted. They bent over at the waist, gulped air, then gulped a beer. They took home a nice cash prize and called it a day. They certainly earned their checks. But I couldn't help but think about the miners who used to do that for eight to 10 hours a day, and 600 feet underground no less. Well before OSHA. Those are the men we celebrate on Miners Day; they are the ones who made this town livable and enjoyable for the rest of us.
Not a lot of people sign up for manual labor jobs now. For many, wiping sweat from your brow and getting dirt under your fingernails just isn't as appealing as sitting behind a computer screen. If I had to choose between being a miner or being a data entry clerk, I know which one I'd pick. And yet, where would Park City be without the men who chose the mines?
It's not exactly something we think about while getting our skis tuned or dropping $250 for dinner on Main Street. But there is a group working hard to keep our mining history alive, or at least standing. Friends of Ski Mountain Mining History is focused on preserving seven historical mining-era relics, many of which are dilapidated. The group is raising money to stabilize and repair these mining sites.
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I've heard about their efforts, and while I applauded them, I'm not sure I realized the importance of their mission until this weekend, as I watched men compete using antiquated mining equipment for five minutes, in tribute to the men who used to do it 50 hours a week. Because if we don't appreciate our past, we take our future for granted.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. The opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the writer. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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