Stomping onto the stage clad in full mining gear, Fred “Powerhouse” Powers recreated his years in the mines during his Appalachian storytelling event last Monday, Sept. 22, at Shepherd University.
Powers, a retired school teacher and miner from MacDowell County, W.Va., provided the audience at the Byrd Legislative Center auditorium several tales from the coal mines that both he and his family experienced. “It was good times,” he recalled of the booming coal days.
He remembered his uncle trying to fish a dropped jacket out of the outhouse hole to retrieve a biscuit from the jacket pocket and his boyhood days hearing about Keystone’s Cinder Bottom red-light district being famous country round because of the women’s hospitality to soldiers.
Powers also told of the time he and his buddies once fell asleep in the mine dinner hole only to wake up to rats scavenging for crumbs on their overalls and the mine floor. They had turned the lights strapped to their helmets off, and his first thought upon hearing the rats was, “They’s demons out ther or somethin’.” After figuring out what was going on, Powers said he laughed. “These rats, it’s their job to get your dinner bucket,” he said.
Although several of his stories were meant to be humorous, one of them actually told of a near-death experience. Slim, a continuous mining operator who stood 6 feet 4 inches and couldn’t “hear a lick,” was working alongside Powers one day. Powers told of his head getting “caught tighter than a tick in a dog’s ear” underneath an 800-pound canopy in the mine.
Powers was introduced to the stage first by Adam Booth, a music appreciation professor at Shepherd. Then Susanna “Granny Sue” Holstein, another West Virginia storyteller, sang the ballad “West Virginia Mine Disaster” by Jean Ritchie, and she closed by singing “Dream of a Miner’s Child.”
In conclusion to the event, these are “the things you don’t hear in history books, these are true stories,” Powers said. They are the chronicles of a miner from a mining family trying to keep the things he has experienced alive.