While most of the nation's coal industry was based in the East, some companies took a risk in the mountains of the West in the 1930's and 1940's. This photo series provides a glimpse in to the harsh life experienced by the men, women, and children of the Blue Blaze Coal Company in Consumers, Utah in 1936.
The Company Store was the mainstay of all coal mining communities. Just like Tennessee Ernie Ford said, "I owe my soul to the company store." The company provided housing and work, but then anything the families bought at the store would be deducted from their wages. Very few miners ever ended up with anything left over at the end of the month.
In the case of the Western mountain coal mines, much of the capital to fund them was based in the East, and so the owners were not always aware of the harsh conditions the mining families were living in.
One journalist called these towns the "dumping ground of the west" due to the hard conditions and fact that so many people were trapped.
Here we meet our first mining family. You'll notice they arrived without proper winter clothes and they improvised walking paths out of wooden planks to keep their feet from getting too cold or wet.
Two young boys peek out from their family home. You'll see how much patching work has had to be done on the small house.
Joined by the other siblings to enjoy a bit of warmth in the sun.
Here we see some future coal miners taking some time to explore the town and try to have some fun.
One of the mining men of the town. The miners were small and equipment sparse in the Utah mines, so these men were expected to work much longer and harder hours than some of the miners in the East were experiencing.
One of the happiest times in the town was when the whistle blew and the families knew that all the miners would be heading home for the night. Here we see the men heading home with their lunch pails.
It wasn't usually a very glamorous walk home, however. Imagine what it must have been like to emerge from the hot, sweaty mine to have to tromp through snow to head home.
Once the railroads were built, these mining companies popped up throughout the mountains. Many of them failed in the 1940's as other mines became more efficient or the workers moved on to seek a better life.
One of the newer families to the town struggles to navigate their new life. We hope they found their way and a good life in the years after this photo was taken!