Life In A Coal Patch

I was doing research for an unrelated post when I stumbled on this quote about a small patch town named Salemville in Westmoreland County:

Salemville was a company-owned village which was enclosed by a fence, one of a few in Westmoreland County.  The fence was a symbol of the company’s authority and hold on each man and his family.  Their freedoms were curtailed in many ways and yet it was a better life than many of them had left behind in the “Old Country”.  If a man went to Greensburg and happened to see something cheap and purchased it to save money, his parcels were searched when he got off the train; and he was told to report to the super at the office the next day instead of going straight to work as usual.  Then he was sent home and lost a days work as punishment for purchasing something the company store had on its shelves.  Even though he had saved some money, in the end he would lose.  The fence was torn down by the Company around 1927-1929.

Being a coal miner and living in Monongahela was no picnic but it must have been a hell of a lot better than living behind that fence in Salem.

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don’t you call me ’cause I can’t go
I owe my soul to the company store

~ Chorus to 16 Tons by Merle Travis

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