NOTE TO READERS: Some miners have foul mouths. This article contains material of a sexual nature that some may find offensive. We include this content to help paint a less filtered, first-person view of life in the mines. Reader discretion is advised. — Ed.
“I tell you what. I’ll give you $500 if you’ll come over to the house and get my sister knocked up. You ain’t even gotta touch her. We just need her to get on that draw so she can move out on her own. She’s 36 years old, ain’t never been on a date, and never lived on her own. You ain’t gotta worry about paying child support. We just want her to get that welfare check and some stamps to buy groceries. Just be warned, boys. You gonna have to take her on a date and that can be expensive, so I suggest ya just take her to McDonalds and get a couple of them Big Macs and a milkshake or two.”
It was a familiar claim some people made about Eastern Kentuckians, and not one I would appreciate hearing from anyone who wasn’t from my part of the state. Coming from my fellow miner, Lonnie, it was meant to be outrageous, not insulting.
I just shook my head, laughing a little when I replied.
“Lonnie, the last thing I want is a kid. Go ask Thor, hell, he’s already got about 10 of his own. Maybe she can just claim one of his.”
With my cap light shining on the coal piled behind Lonnie in his shuttle car the light reflected off of the black gold and it caused the white hair sticking out of his hard had to light up. His small stature and smile made him look like some sort of Arctic leprechaun. Lonnie started the electric pumps on the shuttle car, and as he trammed across the mine, I could hear him calling out to Thor, searching for someone to father children with his sister.
Lonnie was an older man, in his late 40’s on the day we met in the office of Enterprise Mining. The year prior to us meeting he had moved from Florida, to his family home in the community of Colson, Kentucky, to start over with his two sons. He had built a small family business in Florida, but through divorce and rough times he was forced to come back to the mountains and start over with a clean slate and a little cash in his pockets. On the day we met, he was being hired in the starting position as a general laborer for the mine after working as a contractor for six months. Lonnie didn’t tell me – in part because he was a humble man –that he was a skilled equipment operator who had taken some time away from the industry. Lonnie had more than nine years’ experience and could operate more equipment than I knew existed. And he did this all before he made his move to Florida some 20 years ago. In Florida Lonnie had decided to bring his two sons back to Southeastern Kentucky and renew his miner’s certification, knowing he would start at the bottom of the underground mining totem pole once again. Fortunately for Lonnie, he had a good heart, a strong back, and a sense humor that some would never understand but would always appreciate. These attributes gave Lonnie the chance to prove himself all while building friendships within Enterprise Mining.
“Hey, Thurman, I showed my sister a picture of you the other day and she said her panties got so wet that she had run ’em through the ringer washer afterwards.”
Thurman began laughing so hard that his hard hat fell off onto the ground.
“Lonnie, you ain’t even got a picture of me. Go haul that last load so we can pull in there and bolt that place. Jesus, you ain’t even right!”
After working on the section together, Lonnie and I became friends. We shared the love of old hot rods and custom motorcycles, which gave us plenty enough reason to see each other on the weekends outside of work. A normal Saturday for me would be customizing my motorcycle. When I was in need of welding, I knew that Lonnie could have me back on the road in just a few minutes. So I called Lonnie, strapped my fender on with a couple of bungee cords, and rode to his house. As I turned in at the abandoned coal tipple, the dust engulfed my tires. A mix of crushed coal, soil, and gravel made up the road circling the once-booming coal preparation plant. Traveling along the two-mile driveway, gravel bounced off the bottom of my boots and the dust clung to the leg of my pants. When I pulled in front of the garage, Lonnie’s two sons were outside working on an old Nova parts car that Lonnie had given them as a project. Lonnie was inside the garage polishing the chrome on his Camaro and drinking a Mountain Dew.
“Hey, you little sawed off bastard. It’s about time you get outside and do some work for once.”
“Hey Bentley, don’t say that so loud these two boys think we work hard for a living. We can’t let ’em know any different.”
Lonnie’s two sons just looked over, smiled, and waved.
“Pull that junky old Kawasaki in here and we’ll get you some fender struts made up. You better be glad you’re datin’ that little old girl from Hazard or I wouldn’t be doin’ this. I just hate to see y’all going down the highway and you draggin’ her behind cause you won’t buy you a real motorcycle.”
Lonnie was a longtime Harley lover and owner. He continued to make jokes as I pushed my motorcycle into the garage. Offering me a refreshment, Lonnie walked into his house for a glass of water.
Now, what most folks won’t get is that drinking water from Lonnie’s tap was like drinking some sort of fine wine at one of those restaurants with the napkins made of out of real cloth, the kind you don’t throw away after using. Lonnie had run a line from a fresh spring he had found in an abandoned pony mine just a few hundred yards above his house on the mountain. The water was filtered by the coal and rock and flowed from inside the mine year round. The water line he had installed traveled down the mountain about halfway to a storage tank where it passed through a mechanical filter into the buried line to Lonnie’s home. Straight out of the tap, the water was ice cold and crystal clear. To this very day it is the best water I have ever had the pleasure to drink.
I knew that taking my motorcycle to Lonnie’s to be repaired on a Saturday meant that this 20 minute welding job would lead to two hours of bullshitting with him in the garage. I didn’t mind though. Lonnie had enough entertaining stories to tell for decades, the two hours sitting in his garage would pass like minutes. Story after story, Lonnie would slowly roll his welding cart over to my motorcycle. A few stories more and he would mark up the fender struts. A few stories more he would tack weld them in place. Just as I had planned or not planned, three hours later he had me ready to be on the road, safe and reliable. When I rolled my bike out of the garage, I started laughing, I was thinking about Lonnie’s sister.
“Hey Lonnie, I’m in a tight spot and need some cash. You still want me to get your sister knocked up?”
“Why, yea, come on in. But we don’t want ya getting hurt now. She goes about 410 these days.”
Then from across the yard I heard his youngest son, around the age of 17.
“Dad! Who’s he talking about? You never told me you had a sister.”
Lonnie cackled out in laughter.
“I told ya, son, only believe about 10 percent of what you see and don’t believe nothin’ you hear.”
Gary Bentley is a former underground coal miner from Eastern Kentucky.