The Leith mine was located just outside Uniontown, Pa., and began operations in 1881 under the Chicago and Connellsville Coke Company, Ltd. It was purchased in 1889 by the H. C. Frick Coke Company. During the summer of 1893, the entire plant was rebuilt. Steel was used to build the head frame and the tipple instead of the traditional wood. Officials believed that steel would cost less in repairs and cut the threat of fire damage. Along with the head frame, coal bin, and trestle, steel “I” beams were also installed at the bottom of the shaft. Company officials also reasoned that rotten wood would be of no value when the structure was eventually demolished, but, at least in 1893, scrap steel could be worth ½ to 3/4¢ per pound.
In the early years, the coking industry was labor intensive. Everything was done by hand. The coal was mined with a pick and shovel. It was then transported to the ovens via mule power. The coke was removed from the ovens via manpower and loaded into waiting railroad cars. Pictured here is one of those early workers with his wooden wheelbarrow moving the hot coke from the ovens across a plank and into the box car. This scenario was repeated countless times on the usual 10-hour shift.
Struggles between the coal owners and their employees occurred with regularity throughout the 1880-1950 period of the coal and coke era. A few of the strikes reached monumental status, among these was the 1922 strike. The owners forced the striking miners from their company-owned homes and into the dirt streets. Furniture was removed from the homes and piled outside. Many sought refuge with local farmers who allowed the people to take up residence in their barns and, later with the help of the United Mine Workers of America, in surplus army tents placed on farm land not owned by the companies and life continued. Children were born in these makeshift homes, families depended on each other for survival, and eventually the men went back to work with nothing good coming from their struggle. Pictured here are members of several families gathered around the tent. Notice on the ground the auger and hand drill, necessary mining tools at the time.
Management and workers, and one of the horses of the Orient, Pa., Coke Works pose for the official photographer in 1928. The backdrop of coke ovens, lorries/larries, smoke and cinders are all reminders of the dirty and dangerous job for which the coke “drawers” were paid by the number of ovens drawn each day. The Orient Works were built by the Orient Coke Company around the turn of the 20th century and were located along Dunlap Creek, in Redstone Township. By 1908, 480 ovens were in production. However after World War I, only half the number were in operation.