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Fill up on Italian food and then lets learn more about mining zinc

Mike Crowell of East Tennessee Tire next to the Plain Talk has endured some cold days
to fix flats and put new tires on vehicles. Mike said that the coldest day he worked was
one degree. There is no heat and the bay door is open. It has gotten so cold that the
compressed air lines and water lines froze. He is enjoying the ‘warm’ 30-and-40-degree
Published: 8:00 PM, 02/07/2014 Last updated: 8:04 AM, 02/10/2014

Author: David Popiel
Source: The Newport Plain Talk

The bad news about cold weather is that we will be stuck with it and some snow for the next couple of weeks in our hometown, where thoughts of planting our sweat peas on Valentine’s Day may have to wait for Spring’s arrival.

Late in January with snow on the ground having some good Italian food for lunch lured me to Cosby, perhaps the last place you would have looked. I had gotten a call from Frank Aloi to visit his ‘Sub-Way’ restaurant next to his welcome office that opened four months ago. Plain Talk Circulation Manager Pat Helms and I found the light green building near the Cosby Post Office, as you turn to go to Gatlinburg. Frank is an upstate New York native with deep Sicilian family ties. This is how he learned to cook working with his father at the family’s NY restaurant. Frank knows his food and seems to be a keen business mind. He is selling timeshares in the office next to his cozy sub shop. Pat had the meatball sandwich with great sauce and spices. The lasagna I had was some of the best I’ve tasted. We came in and bluegrass was playing, but Frank switched to Italian music for the atmosphere change. He sells timeshares for Westgate, the largest timeshare in the world, and The Lodges. I don’t know how he lived in the county 15 years without me hearing about him and his wife, Mary Beth. You will be reading more about him when our 2014 Visiting the Smokies publications starts for the season, but I encourage you to stop in for a lunch or a supper meal. They live near the Yogi Bear Campground.



Drilling and blasting tunnels


We’ve been talking with William “Ray” Baker, who wrote the novel, Wrong Road to Eternity and I wanted to continue the most interesting chat because I learned so much about zinc mining in Jefferson City. Having never been into a mine, I learned more from Ray’s experience in the zinc mine. As noted earlier, his father, George, was a “cage man” who placed loaded ore cars onto the elevator that took these to the surface. A small engine on tracks pulled the loaded cars out of the tunnel to the shaft. There were main tunnels at 500 feet down, 1000 feet, and 1,500 feet depth. The elevator ran up and down the vertical shaft connecting the tunnels. These were miles long. So, imagine George’s long day. He walked four miles to work. Then started his 12-hour shift. Ore car after car would come up to the elevator and he would push these onto the elevator for lift to the surface where these were dumped then sent back down empty. At the end of the shift he walked the four miles home, no matter the weather.

When Ray worked in 1950, he was a drill helper and young at 20. Most of the men were in their 40s. The new tunnels being blasted followed the zinc ore vines. The process was this. The power drill rolled up on tracks to the rock face and during the day 28 large holes were bored 10-feet deep. Ray would often change the drill rods whose cutting bits got dull. After all holes were bored and cleaned of debris the dynamite packing began. Ray and another man packed each hole tamping the dynamite in firmly and placing a fuse on each hole. Each fuse was a little longer than the next one. The idea was that the explosions would take place staggered within a minute or two. Ray used what he described reminded me of a fireworks sparkler rod to ignite the fuses. Then, you didn’t wait around but ran away a safe distance and braced yourself against a tunnel wall “mouth wide open and fingers in our ears.” This was to prepare for the explosion concussion into the shaft. If a shovel was leaning against the wall near them, the blast wave sent it flying. Ray did this work for two years before getting sick with the flu.

He tells the story of “Tiny” a man 6-feet-7-inches tall weighing 280 pounds, sounded like “Big John” from Tennessee Ernie Ford’s song. Ray took the new man into the tunnel to teach him drilling and dynamiting. Ray kept telling Tiny it would be his job that if something happened to Ray, Tiny would have to pull him away from the dynamite site. Tiny kept saying, “I’m scared to death.” Or “don’t tamp that dynamite so hard.” When Ray started lighting the fuses, Tiny turned and ran “so hard he sounded like a horse running.” Later, Ray found him at the elevator. “I’m not going to say anything about this,” Ray told Tiny, who Ray advised to take another job at the mine. Tiny ended up setting timbers to shore up the mine roof. About 200 men worked in the mine during the 1950s in tow shifts.

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