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Blanford’s Mountain: A Gob Pile of Adventures and Memories

February 15, 2017

 

Blanford’s Mountain:  A Gob Pile of Adventures and Memories

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

When we were in an adventuresome mood in the 1950s and 1960s, we often turned to “Blanford’s Mountain”–actually, a gob pile (made from types of waste rock from coal mining).  At the time of my youth, this gob pile, which we said was made of shale, had hardly any vegetation; amazingly, today, this gob pile is covered with vegetation.

 

From the kitchen window of our Hoosier home, we had a view of “Blanford’s Mountain.”  From the yard on the east side of our house or from the field to the south of our Indiana home, the gob pile, a remnant of a small coal mine of the early 1900s, was clearly seen.

 

“Blanford’s Mountain” was always there during my childhood and school years; but at times, we were called to that “mountain” and just had to climb it–sometimes with my dad, sometimes only with friends and/or my sister.  When we were in the mood for an easier climb, we took the southern route.  The slope on the south side led to the area where the settling pond and old coal mine were; however, we almost always followed orders and almost never walked near the old settling pond.  At the top of the gob pile was a circular indentation which made me think of a volcano.  Although I never climbed the east side of the gob pile–the steepest side–we did summit both the north and west sides of the gob pile, which we considered part of the Bill and Clotene Toppas farm.

 

In the winter when the “hill” was covered with snow, I was never brave enough to sled down the north side of the gob pile; however, generations of young boys often provided us with entertainment as we watched them trudging through the snow with sleds and then swiftly sliding down the hill into the pasture.  Considering the steepness of the north side of the gob pile and the length of the sled run, these Blanford boys were rather daring.

 

On a warm or windy spring, summer, or autumn day–the view from atop “Blanford’s Mountain” was spectacular.  We could see a panoramic view of the farm fields, pastures, woods, roads, our house and a few others, the trees lining Brouiletts Creek, and a bountiful piece of the sky.  That view from seemingly the highest point of our hometown of Blanford, Indiana, gave me a spellbinding sense of the freedom and beauty of our blessed land–of the quietness and tranquility of a small, rural town.  Ironically, the noise, hard and repetitive work under dangerous conditions, sweat, and blood of coal mining gave us this wondrous place–a place for adventures and a peaceful place for a poet to grow.

 

Below, you will find one of my poems in which the focus is on the old coal mine of the early 1900s–the coal mine that was very near our property with its yards, house, field, and woods.  This small coal mine was one of many that dotted the landscape of Vermillion County during the first couple of decades of the 20th Century.

 

 

In a Dream Came the White, Mine Horse

 

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

 

 

In a dream came the white horse

whose story Margie told.

The massive, milky white horse,

who had worked at the coal mine

that bordered our property line,

galloped gracefully into my dream

to tell me the stories

of the turn-of-the century mines,

the Indiana mines of the early 1900s,

and much more.

 

Born in Italy, in 1879, my grandfather–

who, despite his 6’1”-height, worked the mines for too many years–

insisted with only a light Italian accent and a couple of tears,

“None of my four sons will ever set foot

in a coal mine.”

None did.

 

Yet, the massive, milky white horse,

from the old mine near my house,

trots boldly into my dream.

“I know your story.  Go away!  Go away!

I do not have an apple nor hay for you,” I say.

He whinnies with laughter and does not obey.

The massive, milky white horse speaks in my dream,

“Don’t you know I eat coal dust?

Do you know why my eyes are yellow?

Because from all those miners,

I caught the lust for gold.”

He whinnies with laughter, and my body turns cold.

“Forget this pretense of the present tense,”  I snap.

“Margie told me you drowned in that old pond—

the pond, near the shale hill, our mountain.”

“Oh, so, you do know why I am

so massive and milky white.”

“If you had really worked in the mine,

you wouldn’t be so tall and white.

Just go!  Go, and let me sleep.”

“Listen, I was not always a horse of twenty hands;

as a colt, I was a white or cream.

Of course, when I worked, I grew gray and black

from the ever-present coal dust.

How that life weighed down my back!

But, after all those years

of washing in that old pond,

I turned a milky white

so that I could take flight

into your dream to tell you:

lobby against Connally Coal Company—

they will blast and scrape and sour

your pretty, little town.”

I lie back down, but cannot sleep.

Wiping coal dust from my eyes, I begin to weep.

 

 

SPECIAL REQUEST:  If you ever climbed this gob pile or took a sled ride down the gob pile, please leave a comment on this blog post.  Other readers are also welcome to leave comments.

 

With thanks for reading my Wordwalk blog,

Alice and Leader Dog Willow

 

February 15, 2017, Wednesday

 

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9 Comments
  1. Sue McKendry permalink

    Hi, Alice–Never climbed a gob mountain, but now at least I know what one is! One day I hope to hear more about this ghost horse, who at 20 hands would be a giant.–Sue

    • Sue–Thanks for reading and commenting so quickly! Oh, yes, the ghost horse’s being described as twenty hands was the exaggeration of a dream. The coal mine horses, or “pit ponies,” that went into the mines of that era were chosen for being shorter in height. According to one source, a “pit pony” would have been, most likely, no more than twelve hands. For purposes of the poem, I turned the twelve into twenty.

      I do imagine that many stories have been passed down concerning the horses and ponies who must have worked so terribly hard in those old coal mines of over a century ago.

      Have a happy day on your farm! Alice and Willow

  2. Fran Rayce permalink

    Hi Alice,
    Jack and I both remember the Blanford gob pile. It was so large, truly a mountain, and easily visible if you were in the area. We also had a large one in Universal but it was where the large, original Bunsen mine had been, in a valley on the south side of town, and not readily visible so it had little impact. Who knew that they were really such a sign of pollution and waste materials? We just liked to slide on the shale portions although that seldom happened as the area was heavily posted with No Trespassing signs. No one must have been as brave as the Blanford boys as I don’t think I ever heard or knew of anyone sledding there.

    • Fran–How interesting to hear that both you and Jack knew of the gob pile in Blanford! Your referring to “Bunsen” reminded me that periodically my dad called Universal by the name of “Bunsen.” In my lifetime, I recall the mining company’s limiting access to the Rangeline Road which we used to take to Terre Haute as a short-cut. The small and large coal mining operations certainly did a part in shaping the topography of west-central Indiana.

      Always nice to hear from you–Alice

  3. mfanyo permalink

    Dear Alice,
    Thank you for your vivid memory of our “Blanford mountain,” which I climbed many times. I do remember Margie telling us the story of the white horse that supposedly drowned in the pond.. The water in the settling pond was a cloudy, eery color, and I certainly did stay away from it! Each time I ventured up the mountain from any direction I felt a great sense of accomplishment and independence. With Margie’s encouragement, I think I was even brave enough to sled down the east side a few times. In those years I never would have dreamed that someday I would live with the Rocky Mountains very near my own backyard!
    Love, Mary

    • Mary–The east side? Did you and Marge really sled down the east side of the gob pile? I think our former neighbor will have to verify this recollection!

      When I was writing this blog post about the gob pile, I thought of the comparison and contrast of where you grew up and where you live now on the Front Range of the Rockies. However, no view from any Rocky Mountain could ever mean so much to me as my recollection of the view atop Blanford’s Mountain–the gob pile.

      Waiting for Marge’s confirmation–Alice and Willow

      • Around here, we have mountains from strip mining. I wonder if this is the same thing as a glob pile? There is always a lake and many people have drowned in those deep waters. Did you ever take a chunk of coal and make a magic garden? We used some chemicals, as I recall, and a gorgeous garden grew on the coal – it was so pretty and fragile and brightly colored. Coal was also a punishment (gift) that a child who had been naughty all year might get from Santa Claus, in their stocking. Yep, I got one. I was devastated. Coal and steel were the two industries that kept us alive growing up in the 40s and 50s here in western Pennsylvania.

        Your dream in poetry is wonderful. I could feel it. Thanks for brining back memories for me, too.

  4. mfanyo permalink

    I stand corrected, Alice. We sledded down the west side of the gob pile, which was on the east side of our home. I was brave, but not brave enough to try the steep east side of the mountain.
    Love, Mary

  5. Carole Morgan permalink

    Since the “mountain” was forbidden territory for me, it was quite an adventure to make the climb. The last time I saw it, the gob pile was covered with trees and bushes.

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