- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

MOUNT HOPE, W.Va. (AP) - For three and a half decades, Thurman Miller went underground to make a living for his family, repairing machine equipment miles under Raleigh and Wyoming counties’ ground.

In Miller’s fifth book, the 96-year-old digs deep into the region’s mining history and tells his own story for readers of “Miner: A Life Underground.”

But this book is more than just dry facts and cold figures of the industry. Miller explains how mining machines work, how the United Mine Workers of America functioned and contracts and safety innovations.

In this book, Miller said he “wanted to describe something that few other (books) have, what a miner really does - or at least did, during the long period after that long and terrible war when coal rebuilt America into the greatest peacetime economy in history.”

Yet, there is still a good deal of personal history in the book. Miller, a Wyoming County native, worked in a variety of jobs after leaving the military, trying to save for college and avoiding the mines.

He said as a young man he had no wish to acquire the permanent ring of grime around the eyes like those of his uncles, nor would the damp, dark conditions underground be of any benefit to the malaria and other diseases he brought back from the South Pacific.

But he also didn’t want to move to California, where many of his siblings had already headed.

“I finally decided if I were to remain in the mountains of West Virginia it would be in the coal mines, for there is where the money was. I went to work on the same mountain where I had taken Huey’s (a family member) to him and was hired as a mechanic/electrician helper - although my formal certification for the position came only many years later,” he writes.

More than 70 years later, Miller still remembers the mantrip delivering him into the mine his first day underground in October 1945.

“I felt the same sort of feeling as when I approached Guadalcanal with the First Marine Division,” he said. “It wasn’t fear so much as just not knowing what to expect.”

Thankfully, Miller had two brothers and several uncles to watch over him in the mines until he learned the system.

It was the Corps, he said, that taught him one of the most important lessons in being successful underground.

“As in the Corps, I always studied the faces of the foremen to see what their expression told me. Sometimes it was hostility and sometimes they would patiently explain what the problem was,” he writes.

Despite being underground for a number of hours daily, Miller still wanted to obtain more education. In the 1950s, as electricity transformed American life, he spent his meager savings - at the time he and his wife Recie had young three children - on an electrical training course at the popular Coyne Electrical School in Chicago.

“This proved a wise move,” he said, “for I was never without a job until I retired in 1980.”

It might be that training which allows Miller to explain technical details of mining to the average readers.

Miller said “people need to understand that beneath any small West Virginia town there will be miles and miles of mines, entire cities ten times bigger than the hamlets above.”

The former miner uses mine maps to buttress his point that the real action in West Virginia is not in Charleston, but miles below ground - or at least was, during his era.

Miller said many of his books are based on detailed notebooks he kept during his mining years. He would write something down in the mines, get home and jot it in one of his notebooks. For “Miner: A Life Underground,” a number of friends offered advice and suggestions.

“This is my fifth book, all of them in partnership with my son David, and in every case my family and friends have been not just supportive but enthusiastic in helping,” he said.

“Miner: A Life Underground” is available at Tamarack and other bookstores, as well as online from Amazon and other online booksellers. Inscribed copies are available from the author. A special edition - featuring large high-definition photos, full-size underground mine maps, video interviews and more - is also available from the author.

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Information from: The Register-Herald, https://www.register-herald.com

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