The Memoir of a Western Kentucky Coal Miner
Face Boss tells a story that few people have heard: what it is really like to labor inside the dark and dangerous world of a vast underground coal mine. With unflinching honesty, as well as considerable humor and insight, Michael Guillerman recalls his nearly eighteen years of working as both a union miner and a salaried section foreman-or “face boss”-at the Peabody Coal Company’s Camp No. 2 mine in Union County, Kentucky.
Guillerman undertook this memoir because of the many misconceptions about coal mining that were evidenced most recently in the media coverage of the 2006 Sago Mine disaster. Shedding some much-needed light on this little-understood topic, Face Boss is riveting, authentic, and often raw. Guillerman describes in stark detail the risks, dangers, and uncertainties of coal mining: the wildcat and contract strikes, layoffs, shutdowns, mine fires, methane ignitions, squeezes, and injuries. But he also discusses the good times that emerged despite perilous working conditions: the camaraderie and immense sense of accomplishment that came with mining hundreds of tons of coal every day. Along the way, Guillerman spices his narrative with numerous anecdotes from his many years on the job and discusses race relations within mining culture and the expanding role of women in the industry.
While the book contributes significantly to the general knowledge of contemporary mining, Face Boss is also a tribute to those men and women who toil anonymously beneath the rolling hills of western Kentucky and the other coal-rich regions of the United States. More than just the story of one man’s life and career, it is a stirring testament to the ingenuity, courage, and perseverance of the American coal miner.
Michael D. Guillerman worked for the Peabody Coal Company from 1974 to 1991. Over his long career, his jobs included belt shoveler, timberman, shooter, drill and shuttle car operator, rock duster, and finally section foreman. Now retired, he lives with his wife, Marie, in Union County, Kentucky.