A Miner's Experience True Story

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Here is a little story about some inhabitants of a mine. The first is about an invisible man called Tommie Knocker. The other concerns rats. There has been many stories written about Tommie Knockers. Most of the stories try to tell you that he is the guy that makes all of the trouble. . .and is, therefore, a very bad guy; that is, he is the cause of ground caving, or timbers collapsing and breaking. That is not the case. The Tommie Knocker, more often referred to as the Little Man is a good guy that tries to give you a warning that something is about to happen that is dangerous. If a piece of ground begins to move, or to cave, most always a few pebbles begin to drop first, then possibly followed by a few larger ones. A miner will listen after the first pebbles drop, and if they continue, or if a timber cracks, he will say the Little Man is trying to tell us something we had better take a look. If it looks bad accompanied by more noise, the miner will say, 'the Little Man says, 'Let's get out of here!' '. He is the little invisible guy that gives a warning, and has saved many a miner's life. One story that I read said that miners left scraps of food for him, and that these morsels would disappear. This is where the story-teller confused his story with the presence of rats.

Now, about the rats. Most all dry mines have rats, even down to the lowest levels. Now nobody loves a rat, and I do not think the miners do either, but miners will never kill a rat underground. Mine rats live off feed for the mules, and on the scraps the men feed them. Rats also carry acorns, nuts, and the like from the surface down hundreds of feet underground. At a place where several men eat their lunches, several rats, as many as one dozen will show up for a hand out. They become quite tame, but you seldom see them during work hours. But they know the time for lunch to the minute. They will be around you' feet, and will stand on their hind feet to take an offering like a squirrel. Now the reason that a miner will not kill or harm a rat is that it will give you a warning just as will the Tommie Knocker. The rat is much quicker to note a ground disturbance than the Little Man is. The rat possibly feels rather than hears it. When a miner sees rats moving out of an area, he loses no time in getting out himself.

I have witnessed two occasions when the rats gave us miners warning. Once, as I was tramming car on the 30 level in the North Star at Grass Valley, an old man who was sweeping up the foot-wall close to the level called back to me, and said, 'Do you notice some rats running back and forth, and seem to be getting a little uneasy?' I stopped to watch, and saw a few rats running back and forth. If two met, they would stand up on their hind legs, put their noses together, and do a lot of squeaking and fussing; then one would go one way, and the other, the other way. While we were watching them come in more numbers, the Stop Boss came along. I said. 'Ed, something is wrong with the rats.' He stopped to watch them for a few minutes. Then along came a mother rat dragging all of her young ones hanging on by their dinners, as that is the usual way they are transported. She headed for the Station. In a couple of minutes along came another mother with her family hanging likewise. She was in a terrible hurry. The Boss says, 'Quickly get those two miners out up above you there, and make it fast! Drop everything and everybody go to the Station. I will get the men out of the next stope.' I ran, and shut off the air the men were drilling with, and then yelled to them that the Boss said to drop everything and to get to the Station as fast as possible. We all gathered there, and soon we were assigned to work at another place at a lower level.

About two weeks later the Boss gathered us at the surface before going down, and said, 'You men can go back to 30 level No. 4 again this morning as the rats are back.'

This is what had happened. There had been another vein about 100 feet underneath us that was worked out, and the place had been filled with waste rock. The area where we had been working, about 200 feet square, had settled some six inches. This caused all of the timber in our stop to fall out, together with the machines the miners were using. Timbermen had been working for several days replacing timber before we were sent back. No cave had occurred, but we could roll rocks down through the crack left.

I have said that a miner would not kill a rat, But I saw miners kill a rat on one occasion. Mine rats are not large usually, and are shiny black. They are mostly called a wharf rat. This one time a much larger than usual rat showed at dinner. It was a hog, and would not let the others feed until it got its fill. It would bite the others, and had them all squealing, afraid to come in. After about the third day one ole miner said, 'I think that we should do away with him.' Getting a nod of approval from a couple of men, he picked up a shovel, and hit it a pat on the back; then threw the carcass into the garbage can.

On another occasion, just at quitting time on a Saturday night, we saw the rats taking out of our working stop. We reported it, but it was all quiet there on Monday morning; yet, about ten tons of rock had caved out of the side, and had buried our track.

At the Champion Mine in Nevada City one day at lunch time, a rat came into feed. It had a very badly mangled and mashed hind leg. This mine had an incline shaft, and the rats often ran up the shaft rails from one level to the other ahead of the skip. Some times they got caught. As the rat was dragging its injured leg about, one miner took off his jacket, and caught it. He laid the bad leg out on a block of wood while another miner took the ax and chopped off the bad leg. The rat scampered away. We did not see it for several days; then one day it showed up with the amputation healing well. It ate with the other rats, getting around fine on three legs. It stayed around at dinner time as long as I worked on that level.