Family Life in the Shuler Mine Community

By Dena Angaran Forret

Shuler Company built and rented small homes to miners who lived a simple and humble life with their families in a very tight knit community. Mining was not steady income which created poorer living conditions. When the need for coal was low in the summer, there was less work so miners worked as laborers. Women did their part to feed the family by raising vegetable gardens and canning the produce for future needs. Likewise, men hunted and fished for food.

The original home had no indoor refrigeration or plumbing; a neighborhood well provided the water that was drawn in buckets and brought in the house for cooking, washing and bathing needs. Since there were no indoor bathrooms, the outhouse was a popular fixture in the neighborhood backyards; and the stories of young men tipping them over on Halloween are true! The yards were long and narrow with out buildings used for raising cows or chickens; and nearby, vegetable gardens and flower beds flourished.

Our family home, which had electricity and running water, consisted of two small bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, and small room that eventually held a bathtub but no other accommodations. Bruno Andreini recalls using the showers at the mine for personal hygiene. He says, “I was about eight-years old. It was either walk the quarter-of-a-mile to the showers housed at the mine or bath in the two-foot gray tub at home.”

Each year, trains brought California concord grapes to the camp and surrounding communities for wine making. My grandfather made a very stout home brew in his cellar that you entered by way of a trap door in the house by descended a ladder into a very dark and cavernous dirt-floor room that held large wooden barrels along the exterior walls. Dad was famous for sweet-cherry wine made from the fruit from trees that grew in our yard. During this time prohibition laws existed and authorities would sometimes investigate the possibility of unlawful activities in the Shuler Camp homes; however, most families only made alcohol for private consumption.

Fun activities included swimming in the gravel pits, bocce ball, horseshoes, baseball, and music which included accordion music polkas and waltzes. Bruno has fond memories of Louie Ceretti, a deceased St. Boniface parishioner, who was an exceptional accordion player. On hot summer nights, he sat on his front porch with wife, Serena, playing his accordion as people came from all directions to enjoy his music. The Italians were known for elaborate weddings that lasted for days. Education and church, which will be discussed in the next article, were also important parts of the mining community life.

Testing Wine Terzo Fiori Pete Nizzi

After work, miners would gather at the Shuler Mine camp tavern owned and operated by Feruccio and Dima Lami (below), deceased members of St. Boniface along with their daughters Lucy and Diane. The tavern was the gathering place for dances, weddings and church receptions. Bruno remembers the camaraderie among all the people in the camp; no matter what the skin color, culture or nationality, there was a deep respect for one another.

OriMine020

Jerry and Delores Davisson, St. Boniface parishioners, speak fondly of the camp people. Delores Biondich Davisson was born and raised in the town of Moran by her parents, Anka and Mike Biondich, both Croation. Mike worked in many mines – silver, lead and coal before working as a miner in the Moran mine. Dee states, “When we moved to the Adel-Waukee area and became involved with St. Boniface, I was welcomed by many other folks with a mining background – Frances Andreini, Jake and Lena Angaran, and Louie and Serena Ceretti. The bond between miner families was strong.” Dee’s dad worked in the Moran mine until it burned in 1940. Miners survived by gathering around the 300 foot air shaft and climbing to safety.

Historical resources:
Images of America Waukee
The Shuler Coal Mine
Photos courtesy of Waukee Area Historical Society

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