Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Blind Miner

A couple of months ago I went with my son and his wife and couple of their frends to a place called the Cotton Bottom for a Garlic Burger.  They serve good garlic burgers, and as we were eating and talking I became rather nostalgic and some of my memories of the area and the Cotton Bottom came to the surface as we shot the bull. 

The area where the Cotton Bottom is located is called Knudsens Corner which is at 6200 South and 30th East in Holladay, Utah.  In days gone by I used to spend time there because there was a cafe right across the street from the Cotton Bottom that was called Smiths.  We used to go there in the mornings for coffee a lot of the time and breakfast quite often too.  Smiths was a local coffee stop for most of the men in the area at that time.

What struck me was a memory, a flashback from those days and a blind miner that used to come to Smiths now and then.  He was a miner and he had an active mine in Big Cottonwood Canyon that he worked even though he was blind.

I brought up the memory to the friends that I was with wondering if the memory was real or just something vague that I had hung onto.  Dan, one of the others I was with also knew of the blind miner that used to be in the area.  It was unusual for anyone to be mining in the Wasatch Front Mountains in the 1950s and 1960s because the BLM had closed down all mining in these mountains with the exception of the old Silver King Mine in Park City, but it was closing down in that time period.

Curiosity peaked I did a little research and found more on the blind miner.  He was real and not my imagination.  His name was James Leroy Newman, or Roy as he was called.  He was a son of pioneer stock and was born in Holladay in 1893.  My grandfather's farm was in this area also on Highland Drive and about 60th South and in that same time period.  Roy and his brother had a mine up Big Cottonwood Canyon somewhere close to the old Maxfield Mine. 

One day in 1929, Roy and his brother were mucking out ore from blasts they had set off the day before when they discovered a charge that had misfired and not gone off and Roy decided he better take care of the miss before leaving for the day.  Somehow in the process of trying to reset the charge it went off and blew up in his face.

With the help of his brother he was able to get out of the mine and down the canyon but he had cut an artery in his hand and his face was bloody.  Worst of all though he had lost his sight.

Roy was laid up for a year or so before he decided that he was going back to work on his claims and so back he went.  At first he hired a man to help him in the process but he quickly learned to solve the daily problems of being blind.  He once made the comment that it was hard to cook for yourself when you can't even read the labels on the cans.  But he solved those problems and also the problems of being a miner who was blind.

Roy learned to take care of the daily tasks required to drill and blast and then muck out the ore from the blasts.  He was able to keep his tunnels perfectly straight by placing a carbide light in the center of the tunnel about 300 feet from the face he was working on and then he would place a pick in the center of the tunnel about 15 feet from that face.  He would stand the pick on end with the handle sticking straight up.  Then he would back up to the face and then move right or left until the pick handle blocked the light and with the light blocked he would know he was in the center of the tunnel.  That way he could keep the tunnel online and going straight.

He was able to do this because his left eye had a small window at the bottom of the eye through which he could detect light.

He also learned to tell the difference between regular rock and ore by the weight, hardness and the ease with which the drill would sink.  He would do the drilling, blasting, mucking, timbering, whatever there was that needed doing.  He kept up the active mining for over 40 years from the time of his accident.

James Leroy Newman died in April of 1974 and he kept mining through the whole time except for the last year during which terminal cancer forced him to quit active mining.  It is a fascinating story about a rather miraculous individual.  I am not sure where he lived but was told back in those days that he walked to the cafe when he came there.