The Spiker brothers — Harry, Raymond and Charles — were digging coal from their small mine in Gilmore on April 5, 1950. As 9 a.m. approached, they had already been at work for a few hours and were nearing their first meal break of the day.
Nearly half of the mines in Maryland had shut down in recent years because of a lack of demand. The once thriving coal industry in Western Maryland was suffering. Small mines like the Spikers’ Old Pine Hill Mine of Coney No. 2 could survive because they didn’t need large contracts to get by.
Charles had just pushed a coal car out of the mine when he heard the sound of rock shifting. Something gave, perhaps the timbers in the mine where Harry and Raymond dug at coal within 50 feet of the entrance.
Harry, who was farther inside the mine than Raymond, also heard the sound. He yelled for his brother to get out. Then tons of rock and slate fell into the shaft.
“As I was pinned down by the fall I threw my left arm over my face and landed on my right side. My arm over my face formed an air pocket and I believe that had a lot to do with keeping me alive,” Harry told the Cumberland Evening Times.
He thought that he was going to die as the rock pinned him face down with half of his body in a pool of icy water. A piece of timber that fell across his back bore much of the weight of the surrounding rock. The timber trapped him and at the same time kept him from being crushed.
“When the rock hit me I thought, ‘This is it,’ but then I found I was still alive. I didn’t feel very good about my chances, but then I heard my brother working to get me out,” Harry said.