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Every boy must take his place cutting props

by Carolyn Newman

SOCO, NNM — “Son,” a father might say a century ago, “tomorrow you are going with us to cut mine props.”

As an honorable way to bring in a little cash, the father, the uncles, the cousins would take off for the mountains to cut timbers.

Certain rules were to be taught. If we cut for a CF&I coal mine, the father might explain, leave a stump of eight inches to prevent erosion.

On the other hand, the private land owner might want us to cut the tree to ground level so he can clear the land for cattle grazing. (We have to pay him $40 an acre for timbering.)

On government land you should leave every 15th tree standing.

For your own comfort, father would continue, find some burlap to use for overshoes. Make two pairs, they don’t always dry overnight. Rubber inner tubes will protect your pant legs from the wet snow when you kneel.

Carry a bottle of kerosene in your pocket. Tree sap will gum up your saw and kerosene removes it.

Bring along the chains, we can chain 10 logs at a time for the horse to skid down the slope.

Carry your files in a leather pouch. Every night you will sharpen your saw blades and set the teeth at the right angle for soft or hard wood. Your 12- lb axe will mean sore muscles at first.

Don’t bother with aspen. It doesn’t hold up in the mines.

Peel the logs; the fungus caused by mine damp has less chance to start under the bark.

Use the thick part of the tree bottom for the mine props; let the top part be for the mine track ties.

We want credit for what we do. Brand the family initial into the logs or bring along chalk.

Above all remember the safety rule: if the wind blows hard, we won’t cut. Danger from falling trees.

At the end of the month maybe we will get $30 for our family group. Then we buy groceries. As always, the day before pay day is “The day of those dying of hunger.”

The photo of miners placing mine props in the coal mine is courtesy of the Bessemer Historical Society, Pueblo, CO. Notice that a wedge is placed at the top of each prop for a snug fit. Information is from the booklet, Los Properos: A Forgotten People by Mason and Mason.

The History Detective is a service of the Huerfano County Historical Society 719-738-2346.

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