Home   Berwind White - My First Real Job  
May 19, 1992

It was almost impossible to obtain a job in 1934. The large electrical concerns had almost completely scrapped their cadet engineer programs. $125 per month was a top salary if you could find a job. I was fortunate to get a job In Windber Pa. at the Berwind White Coal Mining Co. Dad worked for them in their home office and had connections.

They had boarding facilities for the bachelor engineers in an old home next to the office. The board was $45 per month which was a major part of my $99 salary. I was fortunate to have my own room and it was very comfortable. They provided good meals and arranged special birthday and holiday menus. Windber was a small town and strolling through the company store was a major entertainment event on Saturdays.

I was part of the electrical engineering department and part of a three man team that was underground just about every day. We inspected electrical installations, underground machinery, and carried out special assignments. One of my jobs was to provide a monthly report on the department costs to be distributed to the different mines. One of these costs was for the pumping of waste water from the mines. Water flows were estimated by readings taken at weirs located in old workings in the various places in the mines. One Saturday I was sent to a mine and they gave me a "Motor" (locomotive) and told me to go into the mine on my own. As Chris would say I nearly S---. It was dark, I had to find my way, run the motor, throw switches, and be careful that I didn't run out of track. When I found a weir location, I had to crawl back through passages in abandoned workings and over cave-ins to get a reading. I'd mark the props so that I wouldn't get lost.

Another job, after I became used to the "Motor", was to get test data on chain machine bits. They were experimenting with a procedure that welded a Studite tip on the bit. I had to install the bits and keep track of the amount of cutting done by the test bits. Unfortunately the operators of the mine machines did the cutting before the miners started in the morning. At about 1 AM I would drive up to a hole in the ground, climb on the big "motor" that practically filled the entrance and take off into the cold darkness. It was a bit scary.

When we went into the mine, we would be at the drift mouth at 6:30 AM and ride in on the mine cars. In the winter we would heat up a "cap piece" on a pot belly stove, scrape the snow from a spot in the mine car and sit on the "cap piece". We had to keep bent over so that our heads didn't hit the roof timbers or the trolley wire that was close to one's head. One time my hard hat and light hit a timber hard enough to knock off my safety hat. At night when we got back to the boarding house, off came the "long johns" and then a shower to get the coal dust out of your eyes and nose.

Other experiences were teaching the mine electricians how to trouble shoot the DC motor and control problems, being a substitute operator at one of the substations on the surface, etc. A big project was dismantling a large air compressor in a mine, loading it into mine cars and taking the parts to the surface, and then reconstructing a compressed air supply at one of the substations. One vivid memory was the lack of welding and my work to thread 6 inch pipe by hand and to break through concrete walls with a sledge hammer.

All that for $99 a month but it actually was an interesting period and I did have fun socially. I bought a 30 Ford model A roadster for $144. Red wire wheels on the fenders and a trunk on the back. Bob Reitinger brought it to Windber and I drove him back to Philly for the weekend. On one of my trips on old route 30 as I was coming down into York there was a speed trap. They pulled me over; said "70 for that one" and I left my watch with the magistrate.

Another time I was driving back to Windber, Pa. around New Years and as I was driving along Route 30 near Bedford, a gust of wind blew me into the ditch and a wrecker had to pull my Ford out onto the icy highway.

I met a nice girl, Jeanne Vickroy, that lived in Johnstown. We enjoyed dancing to the big bands as they toured across the country. One time it was the Dorsey Brothers with Bob Crosby before the Dorseys split up.

Another time there was a big snow storm and I had a date with Jeanne. The road to Johnstown was snowed shut but opened a later in the day. Naturally I plowed across the mountain and kept my date. The road drifted closed again and I wasn't able to get back to Windber and to work for three days.

Just before I quit Berwind White, Johnstown had a big flood and it was a tremendous experience. We drove over to Johnstown and were able to convince the police that they should let us drive through the town. People were stranded on the hills all around the town.

In 1935 I bought my first new car, a Pontiac coupe, for $735. It was before the turnpike and one Saturday (Memorial Day) a friend and I drove it to Philly in 5 1/2 hours over Rt 30 and through the mountains. It's lucky I'm here to write about it.

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