Northeast Wyoming has provided coal for personal use and the economy for many decades. When the railroad operated with steam engines, they burned a lot of coal.

The CB&Q Railroad had coal chutes that coal was elevated into from a storage area beneath the rails of the tracks. The rail cars that provided the coal were belly dump rail cars.

One enterprising rancher citizen decided that he was going to get a free load of coal from the CB&Q Railroad Supply. He waited until the overseer of the coal chutes went to bed. He then pulled his team and wagon under the coal chute. He was successful in getting the coal to flow. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful in getting the coal to stop flowing. Needless to say, He had too much coal and his wagon broke down with too much weight. He unhitched his team and departed the area. The railroad inherited a broken down wagon and had a big job to clean up all of the spilled coal.

Dad had a 1946 Chevrolet truck. It would haul about seven tons with the sideboards up. We went to the Wyodak Coal Mine east of Gillette to get coal for our winter supply. Two loads of the coal would heat our house for the winter season. We burned a lot of wood too. If we had an unusually cold winter we might need more coal and wood.

The local hardware store shipped in box cars. The hardware store tried to sell all of the coal before the deadline to return the car to the railroad. If the hardware store was unsuccessful in this effort, it meant employment for me and my friends. We were paid fifty cents an hour to offload the coal into a storage location. The hardware store would be charged a demurrage fee if the car could not be returned to the railroad on time.

Sheridan Coal was a lot better coal than what we got at the Wyodak Mine near Gillette. It was a lot cleaner and did not have as much dirt and clinkers in the ashes. Of course it was more expensive. We paid $2 a ton at the mine for Gillette coal and $6 a ton for the Sheridan Coal.

There was an underground coal mine out south in the Black Thunder Creek area. The owner of the mine was a German man by the name of Ed Peterson. Since Dad was in the trucking business, he thought he could haul some of Peterson’s coal. He met Peterson at the mine to check out the situation. He told Peterson that the mine was too dangerous and he was not interested. There were rats living in the mine. Peterson said, “David whenever you see them rats, the mine is safe.” Dad did not put much faith in the rats’ judgment. He never entered that mine again.

The recent reduction in force of the coal mines is a bad thing for the people employed by the mines in the Gillette and Sheridan areas. It is a bad thing economically for the cities that were so dependent on the mines full employment and going full blast.

Bob Huff grew up in Upton. He is a driver for the mini-bus managed by the Senior Center. Center Stage is written by friends of the Senior Center for the Sheridan Community. It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.