by Larry E Heck
PO Box 1897
Castle Rock, CO 80104

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The first coal mine in the state of ILL was in Du Bois, ILL.  The exact date the digging began has not been easy to find, however, the mine was in operation when Ulysses S Grant took Richmond in April of 1865.  It was normally referred to as the Kuhn Mine and the Kuhn Co-Operative.  No doubt it was the magnet that drew the Heck Family to Du Bois.  I have found no records that Mathew, Sr worked there, however, his sons and grandsons were very active in the mine. His grandson, Theodore (Ted) Mathew Heck, was the mine manager for many years.  Ted was my grandfather.  My father, Charles Heck also worked there during many winters.  I don't know how it was handled in the beginning, but in those later years, the mine only worked during the winter months.  During summer months, the miners went back to their farms.

When I was 12 or 13 years old, Ted took me into the mine.  We stepped onto a flat wooden platform at the top of the shaft with several other miners.  There were no sides to that platform.  A bell rang and the platform began to lower. One of the miners lit the carbide light on his hat as the platform was consumed in total darkness.  "I shore do hope he stops this thing in time today," the miner said quietly.  His voice barely carried over the groaning and squeeling noises made by the descending platform.  "This shaft goes a long ways past the tunnel and the bottom of the shaft is filled with boiling water.  Couple weeks back, he didn't stop the platform in time and lowered everybody into that boiling water.  It instantly boiled all the meat off their bones."  He turned his head toward my face lighting up my terrorized expression with the dim glow of the carbide light.  Although I couldn't see anyone in the darkness, they could all see me and they were all getting a good laugh at my expense.   Of course I eventually realized that same story was told to all the younger visitors who dared to descend into that shaft.  There would always be one carbide light to expose the victim's expression in what was otherwise total darkness.

The platform lowered enough to expose a lighted tunnel, then came to a sudden stop with a sudden jerk and more groaning and squeeking.  I stepped off the platform and into the tunnel beside my grandfather.  I am sure my eyes were wide and my mouth was open as I scanned the walls lined with magazine pages of beautiful women.  There were only a few lights near the platform.  Beyond that point was nothing but darkness.  I was given a hardhat with a carbide light on it.  If you have never used one, they provide about as much light as a kitchen match.  

I followed my grandfather and another miner into the tunnel of darkness behind a mule pulling an ore car.  About half way in, the miner said something like, "She's gonna blow a big one.  It'll light up the whole tunnel."  He removed the light and held it near the mule's tale.  A few seconds later, the tail lifted and the mule turned loose of enough gas to fill a canister.  The carbide light set the gas on fire causing a flash that lit up the walls and ceiling.

My visit to the tunnel of the Kuhn mine is a memory that has remained fresh in my mind for fifty years.  I wasn't asked to help load the ore car but I would have willingly done so.