HANCOCK – Ward Cole grew up in the company town of Painsdale in the Copper Country where he’s father worked in the mines as an electrician. Although although he grew up with mining in the 1930s and 40s, a tour of the Quincy Mine in Hancock gave him a new appreciation for what his father did for living.
“As kids we never really understood what mining was all about other than just above the ground, basically,” Cole said. “During the war I remember – I was ten years old – they were actually doing three shifts a day. They were really working. I could hear the rock crushers pounding in my head because they were going 24 hours a day. We lived not too far from the shafthouse at that time.”
Cole’s father worked for 52 years at mines in Atlantic Mine, Baltic, Painsdale and White Pine. He said he could imagine his father down in the mine as he went on the tour.
“I remember one time when he was awaken at 2 o’clock in the morning. The miners at one of the levels underground could not put their drills in because they were getting electric shocks. What happened is they grounded the wiring in a level above in a piece of copper and when the guys down in the level below went to put their drills in they completed the circuit.”
Cole said life in the mines weren’t without tragedy. It affected even the kids in the community.
“My next door neighbor’s father was killed in the mines. He (the kid) was nine years old at the time,” Cole remembered. “There was a lot of tragedy but there were a lot of happy times too.”
He remembers the ethic diversity of the community. That was certainly a big part of the early mining in the U.P. On the tour of the Nordberg steam-powered hoist engine building the guide talked about how the miners communicated with whistles and signals rather than phones because of the differences in language.
Cole said he found how the mining techniques progressed over the years to be interesting. It was something he was not familiar with when he was a kid. Down in the mine the guide showed the difference between battery headlamps and candles and showed a variety of drills that the miners used.
Cole said it is important to remember the history of mining in the U.P.
“It’s interesting for me having grown up here but I think it also tells you how things have changed over the years,” he said.