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The Old Miner's Refrain, song lyrics

Song: The Old Miner's Refrain(1)
Lyrics: unknown

Music: to the tune of the "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane"
Year: before 1925(2)
Genre: Ballad
Country: USA

I'm getting old and feeble and I cannot work no more;
I have laid my rusty mining tools away -,
For forty years and over I have toiled about the mines,
But now I'm getting feeble, old and gray.
I started in the breaker(2) and went back to it again,
But now my work is finished for all time;
They only place that's left me is the almshouse(3) for a home,
Where I'm going to lay this weary head of mine.

Where are the boys that worked with me in the breakers long ago?
There are many of them now have gone to rest;
Their cares of life are over and they've left this world of woe;
And their spirits now are roaming with the blest.

In the chutes(4) I graduated instead of going to school -
Remember, friends, my parents they were poor;
When a boy left the cradle it was always made the rule
To try to keep starvation from the door.
At eight years of age to the breaker(2) I first went,
To learn the occupation of a slave;
I certainly was delighted, and on picking slate was bent -
My ambition it was noble, strong and brave.
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At eleven years of age I bought myself a lamp -
The boss he sent me down the mine to trap;
I stood in there in water, in powder smoke and damp;
My leisure hours I spent in killing rats.
One day I got promoted to what they called a patcher,
Or a lackey for the man that drives the team:
I carried sprags(5) and spreaders and had to fix the latch -
I was going through my exercise, it seems.


I next became a driver, and thought myself a man;
The boss he raised by pay as I advanced:
In going through the gangway with the mules at my command,
I was prouder than the President of France.
But now my pride is weakened and I am weakened too;
I tremble till I'm scarcely fit to stand:
If I were taught book learning instead of driving teams,
Today, kind friends, I'd be a richer man.
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I next became a miner and laborer combined,
For to earn my daily bread beneath the ground.
I performed the acts fo labor which came in a miner's line -
For to get my cars and load them I was bound.
But now I can work no more, my cares of life are run;
I am waiting for the signal at the door;
When the angels they will whisper, "Dear old miner, you must come
And we'll row you to the bright celestial shore."



1 - From Minstrels of the Mine Patch by George Gershon Korson, published by University of Pennsylvania Press, 1938, p.273-274.

2 - This song is before there were mechanical slate (a dark shale rock) pickers, when manual labor by boys (as young as eight in this case but sometimes younger) and also men who grew too old to be miners, would work in the "breaker", a building where the coal is separated from slate to make it saleable.

3 - An "almshouse" was charitable housing provided for poor, usually too elderly and infirm to work.

4 - "Chutes" are inclined troughs which the coal tumbles down by gravity.

5 - A "sprag" was an about one foot long stick of wood, often having a tapered end, to insert between spokes of the wheels of mining cars to check them.