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Book details
  • Genre:HISTORY
  • SubGenre:United States / State & Local / Middle Atlantic
  • Language:English
  • Pages:160
  • eBook ISBN:9781098330538

Anthracite Boot Camp

by Louis Scatena

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This is a true story about life around small Northeastern Pennsylvania coal mines called 'dog-holes'. It takes place midway between the Cities of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton from 1950 to 1959, as seen through the eyes of a boy as he grows from ages 8 through 17 while working under the intense guidance of a hard-working father. It describes true stories that are often historical, amusing, or life-threatening, such as:

• Dangerous events, as seen on the book's cover in a view of a dragline about to topple into a deep pit, or when the boy must crawl under the roaring dragline to help manipulate brake clamps off and on as the dragline slowly climbs up the side of a steep hill, or when a mine's rock roof suddenly and unexpectedly caves in, 8 or 10 feet from his feet .

• A collection of humorous events as when miners tease the 9-year-old into believing he is pursued by a hungry bear, or tease him with crude stories about women that the boy doesn't understand (nor repeat in the book), but tried to comprehend by naively quoting the miners that evening to his horrified mother, or when he eventually adopts his father's practice of administering hilarious, but dangerous, pranks toward friends.

• An adventure as when the boy travels underground at age 11 to assist miners in black chambers where they can barely fit, or when at age 13 he enters an abandoned mine with his father to help drill and blast a drain hole beneath a water-filled strip mine, or when only a young teenager, he eagerly operates bulldozers, steam-shovels, and dump-trucks; but sometimes unsafely.

• To help readers understand the odd behavior of miners in later chapters, the first 3 chapters present a historical reminder of their parents' disappointment with life in the coal fields after immigration from Europe, their typical response when rudely awakened to dangerous working conditions that they encountered underground prior to formation of labor unions, and family household battles for economic survival during The Great Depression.

• Amusing references to the angry linguistic(and untranslated) outbursts of the boy's Italian elders when equipment fails to operate, their joyful linguistic outbursts at bocce matches and other sporting events, and his grandmothers' fearful emotional reactions when each is initially introduced to their future spouse prior to their upcoming marriage that was pre-arranged, and sometimes imposed on them, by others.

* It includes a reliable account of the mining methods, means, equipment, and terminology applied by the miners of that period of time, including definitions of mining terms, figures for specialized mining equipment, and diagrams of precipitous, undulating mines that educate readers in little known facts about this very dangerous, dying, and nearly defunct industry.

• The final chapter lists the valuable lessons in hard labor, teamwork, and sense of honor handed down from previous generations of miners, including a description of the manner in which these "Gung-Ho" lessons can inspire our current society to improve its' quality of service to country, clients, and humanity, and perhaps help reduce our current level of civil unrest.

* "ANTHRACITE BOOT CAMP" is wholesome and educational entertainment for readers of all ages, and also includes many references to famous and exciting hit songs that help readers interpret and appreciate the level of passion surrounding many highly emotional events, as they truly occurred. In one example, the author refers to "The Ecstasy of Gold" to help the reader interpret the potential catastrophe as the boy's Father fiercely battles with the tipped dragline's controls to free the sunken bucket from the mudhole.  The very emotional experience is also depicted on the book's front cover.


This is a true story about men struggling in a black underground world as they and their families emerge from a very difficult period of industrial labor unrest and civil economic depression. It is also a story of a father's effort to train his young son to work with the degree of diligence and intensity that the father felt was a necessary foundation for a successful and rewarding life. The story is not about coal mining in coal veins where those seams are deep, thick, and overlain by many feet of solid rock. It is not about miners at major collieries who rode on cable cars down a shaft or slope, and stood erect in high underground, well-lit mine chambers. In other words, it's not about underground labor as often portrayed in such classic films about coal mining as "How Green Was My Valley", "The Molly Maguires", or on public television. Certainly, those miners persevered in a monumentally hazardous environment that is well documented, and their contributions to creation of an organized Miners' Labor Union were heroic, indeed. Instead, this story is about anthracite mining along mountainsides where coal seams slant upward to the surface, or in mining terms, where veins "outcrop". Here coal veins and roof rock above the veins are thin, and roof rock more often than not, is extensively fractured and ready to collapse. Coal veins may only be three to five feet thick, dip, turn, twist, abruptly terminate, resume a short distance away, and often cannot be identified accurately by the official names of veins in the library of mine maps. In such a confined layout, ventilation is also poor. All of the safety issues that confronted miners in large collieries were multiplied at these mines near vein outcrops. State and Federal mine inspectors also visited these small operations, but not with the frequency and enthusiasm focused on larger collieries where the majority of anthracite miners were at risk. For all of these reasons, miners commonly nicknamed these small mine openings that once dotted the mountainsides of the anthracite coal fields as "dog-holes". Classic stories about coal mines tell of helpful warnings a swarm of rats provided by squealing as they frantically ran out of a mine just prior to a cave-in that they sensed was imminent. During my youthful experience around dog-holes from 1951 to 1959, I never heard that any rats were seen. It's likely that there weren't enough lunch bags around to sustain them. It's also possible the rats took one frightened look at the ominous dungeons and decided to migrate and break into miners' lunches elsewhere. This story is also about my "boot camp" training from the age of 8 to 17 in mining operations, under the guidance of my Father, Pete Scatena. It took place in Northeastern Pennsylvania—specifically, the region between Scranton and Wilkes-Barre known as The Wyoming Valley. Most of the history of the Valley is rooted in its' coal mining industry, which was the Valley's principal attraction for mass immigration by impoverished families from Europe in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A portion of the Valley appears in Figure 1. My experience occurred within a 3-mile radius of the City of Pittston. Pittston appears in the upper left corner of the map, and is midway between the much larger cities of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. The story begins in Chapters 1 and 2 with a description of strife and hardship that existed in coal fields between 1878 and 1915 when immigration was at its peak. Chapter 3 describes family struggles for survival subsequent to immigration, before and during the Great Depression; i.e. 1916 to 1939. It is only with an understanding of these earlier hardships that one can accurately judge the sometimes odd and questionable motives of the generation of anthracite miners that followed in Chapter 4 through 12. Emotional events occur throughout, with many references to classic songs that help the reader interpret the level of passion surrounding many of the events.

About the author

Louis R. Scatena was born in Dupont, Pennsylvania on March 21, 1942. From the summer of 1951 until the summer of 1959, he worked at his Father's coal mines whenever Louis wasn't in school. In June, 1959, he graduated from Jenkins Township High School near Pittston, Pennsylvania, and joined the U.S. Marine Corps. In August of 1963, Lou married Frances Giovaninni, whose Father was a highly respected mine operator in West Scranton. In June of 1967, he graduated from the University of Detroit with a degree in Civil Engineering. From 1967 to 1975, he was a design civil-structural engineer for Burns and Loewe, Architects and Engineers in Scranton. In 1975 Lou and Frances moved to Arizona where they raised their three children. From 1975 to 2003, he worked as a design structural engineer and technical advisor to the General Manager of The Salt River Project(SRP). SRP employs approximately 5500 personnel in the design and service of electric generating stations and water distribution systems in central Arizona. After 28 years at SRP, Louis joined Carollo Engineers, Inc. in Phoenix. Carollo has many offices serving cities and utilities throughout the U.S. Today, Lou continues to serve Carollo in Phoenix as Associate Vice President, designing water and wastewater treatment plants for cities in the Southwest. Lou's previous book was titled ANTHRACITE GRADE SCHOOL ON IRISH HILL. The book was his first, but went out of print very shortly after initial publication because the publisher, Tate Publishing in Oklahoma City, went out of business. Many publishers offered their services to continue distributing Lou's initial book; but instead, he elected to take advantage of the publisher's termination by developing ANTHRACITE BOOT CAMP to expand and improve on his initial edition.