Friday, July 21, 2017

Double Take: Re-Opening the Thurber Mines


By Lea Hart
Historical interviews serve as a window into a past most of us will most likely never be able to fathom. Thurber interviews detail smaller bits of history not everyone thinks of: daily life. Some detail their favorite teacher with her long black skirt, white shirt with lace down the front, and hair in a bun on the top of her head (apparently a popular hair style in Thurber); others of the boy down the street who they would fight with about climbing a tree before later becoming best friends. A few interviews offer clues that lead historians on a hunt for buried history. On June 10, 2000, interviewer Curtis Tunnel sat down with a former Thurber resident Billy Gene McGinnis, during which McGinnis shared a tantalizing bit of information about the short- term reopening of the mines after Thurber closed. 
After the mines closed, steel, copper, and miners tools were left
behind, useful for later salvaging efforts.
Mine Number 1
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library

Mr. McGinnis recalled that during his high school years, around World War II, a company re-opened the mines to salvage copper wire and steel left when the mines closed in 1920s.  McGinnis added that only one or two of the mines were opened and that this was done for military purposes. This retrieval process only went on for one or two years as a few people died due to the black damp (a mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitrogen and other gasses) which suffocates those who inhale it. This was one of the first times some of the Gordon Center staff had heard of the reopening of the mines, sparking our interest.

An article from The Dublin Progress, of Dublin, Texas, published on January 14, 1938, sheds some light on this matter. The article, written prior to World War II, tells us that the Ab-Tex Equipment Company went into a few of the mines in order to salvage the mass amount of equipment, copper wire and other miscellaneous materials and tools left onsite when the miners left for the last time in 1923. The article lists Gomer Gower as head of the operation, as well as seven other former Thurber miners. After the mention of Gomer Gower we were able to piece just a bit more of this puzzle together with our own collections.
         
Gomer Gower, a former Texas and Pacific Coal
Company employee later worked for Ab-Tex to
salvage materials from the mines.
Courtesy: Miles Hart Collection, Haley Library 
In a letter to Mary Jane Gentry, Mr. Gower writes that Ab-Tex employed him from November 25 to December 31, 1937, to salvage the material left inside the mines by the Texas Pacific Coal Company; specifically in mines number 1, 3, and 10. Gower’s differences in opinion with Ab-Tex safety policies cut short his time with the company. Shortly after three deaths involving the black damp Ab-Tex packed up. He also writes that later the government took over and placed the job in the hands of the Federal Bureau of Mines.

            
If this is the case then not only was Mr. McGinnis correct about the opening of the mines during WWII to help with the war effort, but also that the mines were opened during the Great Depression to help provide more tools to other miners, across the nation, when needing mining  materials were at an all-time low. All this means that this long dead coal mining town was brought back to life, not once, but twice, if only for a short time.