The Wedge of the San Rafael

The Wedge of the San Rafael
Someone has to live here, in the middle of desert beauty. Might as well be the Kellys.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Sometimes the mountain talks

It's been a tough week in coal country. People turning on light switches in places other than Carbon and Emery counties probably have no idea how expensive coal was this week. While retreat mining, Elam Jones, continuous miner operator, died when part of the roof collapsed. His partner and friend, Dallen McFarlane, suffered a knee injury, but survived.

It was the Rhino Mine, located up Huntington Canyon in Emery County. It's also not too far from Crandall Canyon, where 6 miners and 3 mine rescue team members died in 2007. Elam had been part of that rescue, so he knew the dangers first hand. All of them do, but they mine coal. It's hard and dirty and at times dangerous. It's also a generational thing around here. Elam was a third generation miner on his father's side, and a fourth generation miner on his mother's side. His mom, Julie, is a city councilwoman in Huntington. We know Julie.

This just hurts. The Rhino Mine is the mine I was allowed to go inside, when I was researching My Loving Vigil Keeping. The surface superintendent is a church friend, and he kindly gave permission. I spent a few hours underground, just getting acquainted with a mine. I assure you that my friend is hurting in the worst possible way right now. MSHA has closed the mine while an investigation is ongoing, but it's a good mine, well-run. These are the risks inherent in digging that electricity out of the ground.

Elam and Dallen were engaged in retreat mining. This is when a section has been successfully "mined out," and it's time to pull the pillars, get that coal out, and let the roof naturally collapse. When I say pillars, I don't mean skinny little faux decorations. These are massive. Retreat mining is a common practice, but it has its dangers, obviously.

It's interesting what happens after a collapse. Mine rescue teams from all over the area converge, and the men go in to get out their buddies. Mike McCandless, economic development director for Emery County, said this is the March 28 Deseret News: "This work binds miners together and that brotherhood means they'll drop whatever they're doing at a moment's notice to find a trapped miner."

Dallen echoed this: "Everybody is your brother. Everybody's got your back." And Dallen added, "Nobody here blames the mine, it was just a bad accident."

Elam leaves behind a wife, Jaqlynn Jones, and two little boys, age 4 and 5. Sadly, they now belong to that miner's club that no one wants to join. But here's the thing: There were more than 1,000 people at Elam's funeral in the Huntington Stake Center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These tight-knit communities of miners, family and friends will keep the little Jones family close to them. It's a Welsh thing, it's a mining thing, it's what people do around here.

I just wish it didn't hurt so bad.


  1. So sorry, Carla. You brought me to tears because I know whereof you speak. Our family buried our son, brother, nephew, cousin this week, and it is a sad Easter for us.

  2. Wow, Diane. This sort of thing reminds me that we're never in charge. And Easter reminds me that it's OK.

  3. Wow, Diane. This sort of thing reminds me that we're not in charge. And Easter lets me know that it's OK.

  4. Wow! Such a sad story. It's good to know they will be watched over by the community. They will be in my prayers.

  5. Thanks, Heather. Elam was on the mine rescue team for Rhino Mine. The team is headed to New Mexico next week for rescue competition. The guys are all wearing Elam Jones patches. These things are not taken lightly and no one forgets.