My parents, E. Styles and Verna Ely were married in
October, 1933 in Iowa and lived, for a time with my father's sister, Maurine and
her husband Jack Elliot in Missouri. These were the hard years of the Great
Depression. Later they traveled in a Chevrolet truck he converted into what they
called a "House Car", an early version of a motor-home. While my mother cleaned
and cooked and made their little travel home comfortable my father worked on a
highway construction crew near Bismarck, ND.
To the best of my knowledge, around 1935-1936, they
moved to Lewiston, IL from Bismarck, ND, where he continued to work for the same
road building company whose name is unknown to me. I remember him saying that he
was a "Cat Skinner", or one who operated a
Caterpillar Tractor, working on the section of IL Rt.78 downgrade south of
Little America into the Illinois River Valley toward Havana. According to
Maurine, they lived in at least one other house in Lewiston other than the one
we are familiar with at 1024 North Main Street.
Pop was already employed at the Truax-Traer Coal
Mine at Fiatt, IL before I was born in November 1937, so I would guess he
started immediately after the highway construction job. I think I heard him say
that when they found out I was on the way they began looking for a permanent
place/site to live and work.
As far as I know, he started out driving "River
Trucks", hauling coal from the mine to the river
near Liverpool where it was transferred to barges for shipment. (I later
saw one of his pay check stubs for one week; it was for $7.00!) This was
before there was a railroad spur to the mine in Fiatt. Sometimes he went through
Cuba to Lewistown and then to the river. He continued driving the trucks later
through Canton after we moved there in March of 1943. I can recall seeing him
come through Canton on Rt. 9 (Locust St.) on at least one occasion. At the time
we lived at 259 West Chestnut in Canton, a block south of Locust St.
When he quit driving was perhaps the time they
finished the rail spur. At that point he started working in the heavy equipment
shop as a diesel mechanic and all-round repairman.
This mechanic's job lasted for several years until
he landed the promotion in about 1951 to Oiler on a dragline - not the 9-W, that
came later on.
I can also remember how pleased he was with that new
position on the 9-W because it surely had to come with a pay raise. He had many
stories to tell about the 9-W and working on the point shiv out at the far end
of the boom - waaayyyy up there in the icy cold and wind!
In about 1952-53 while still an oilier Styles was
given the responsibility of assistant operator for relief of operators Ralph
Deushane and later Bill Raker. He would spend hours at home seated in a straight
chair making foot and hand movements that would equate to the operation of the
dragline i.e., swing-dump-swing-drop hoist rope-pull drag rope-raise hoist
rope-swing, repeat, repeat, repeat. He said it was sort of monotonous but it was
sure a lot warmer in the cab than out on the boom! He said at the time that on
different shifts he would operate more than just during their lunch breaks to
take up some of the time and that it also was a "challenge" for him.
And there he stayed until his retirement in 1963 at
age 62. So, all together, I guess he spent about 26-27 years at the Fiatt coal
What a story! He would be amazed to see the latest
heavy equipment in use today as well as that tremendous seam of coal in Wyoming!
The coal seams at Fiatt were, on average, perhaps 5 or 6 feet thick and buried
under maybe 90 feet of overlayment.
And to think he always wanted to write but passed
that up to maintain a steady paycheck and raise a family.
Styles Ely, my dad, died in October, 1983 in Mesa
Don M. Ely
1205 Sheridan St.
Port Townsend, WA 98368