Confluence to West Dravo - The woman who sat on the toilet too long (and other odd American tales) - CycleBlaze

May 11, 2014

Confluence to West Dravo

Riding the trail
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THE MOST delightful apology I have ever seen in a newspaper went something on the lines of:

Our column History in our region reported that victims of the floods in the 1930s received supplies of clothing, food and Coke. We are sorry but our reporter is too young to remember that coke was once something burned in a grate in the days before central heating.

This was real coke country. Connellsville, a town which shows bike-bound travellers its sewage works, oil plants and other industry before pointing them off into a not unpleasant downtown, sits on coal five feet thick. It used to be burned at high temperature to create the combustible residue known as coke which was the staple heating in the single fire of my boyhood home.

A horribly unpleasant man called Henry Frick owned half the mines and he and Andrew Carnegie dominated the steel industry. Frick's stance on labour relations was shown by an attempt to murder him in his office and by union raids on his properties. Frick all but owned Connellsville, if not in title then in influence. Not a man in the place didn't depend in some way on his continued prosperity, even though little of that wealth came their way.

How things once were
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His influence was such that even the National Guard could be called out to quell workers with the temerity to ask for more money. Thugs hired for the day as sheriff's deputies were implicated in the murder of nine miners. The strikers had only clubs against the guns of the hired hands. The killers and their bosses walked away unpunished.

It's so hard to think that all this could have happened as you ride, with happy sunshine families out on bikes for the first time, along a path lined with trees and occasional parks. Chris turned back for home this morning and I could have done with him to confirm I wasn't just imagining the seams of coal in the shallow cliffs that line the route.

There's little enough trace there now, but suddenly I came across the remains of a mine, two large, round towers and, hidden by bushes beyond them, the gutted, crumbling and dripping remains of what may have been a sorting shed.

When once coal was king. Now this is almost all that remains of one of the largest coalfields.
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What once was the life of men who toiled is little more than a dripping hang-out
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To me, this is real history. It is where men worked and provided for ill-housed families and hoped for no more than that they would still be alive and working by the time of the next pay packet.

I paused at West Newton for a cold drink, much deserved I reckoned, and to admire the life-sized statue made entirely of railway spikes.

Railway Spike Man, rusting peacefully
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Tonight I am in a wayside camping area beside the Dravo cemetery, where an annoying man has been telling me that "there'll be mountains the way you're going, sure enough. Not for me, doing what you're doing. You sure you gonna get over those Rockies? They're gonna be hard, sure thing."

I talked to him, I hope, politely, then added him to my mental compendium of global idiots, put up my tent and went to sleep to the comforting moaning of train hooters.

Clear road ahead
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Canalside art
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Today's ride: 101 km (63 miles)
Total: 613 km (381 miles)

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