I have accumulated a collection of old coal mining equipment through the years mostly by accident. Unsurprisingly, this hobby has not proven popular with the ladies as mining gear is quite difficult to ever get completely clean and, I must admit, probably isn’t the most attractive living room decor. I’m not shooting for an appearance in Southern Living magazine so I’m fine with it and, if nothing else, it makes for a great conversation starter.
Like most mining equipment, the hats worn down through the years have evolved and improved in safety. The early days of mining saw cloth hats and then leather hats. Hats were continually improved to be more resistant to injury when bumped or in the case of a rock fall. As the miner has to wear them at all times underground, they have to not only be durable but light so they don’t completely wear out the miner who has to work in it all day.
I was recently asked was about the different colors of mining hats and if they had any significance. It dawned on me that other folks might wonder about that also so I thought I’d do a small post about what each color represents. As always, there’s exceptions to the rules but in general this is the breakdown:
Red hats – Red hats are worn by rookie miners to show they are new to the industry. These workers are called (surprise, surprise) “red hats” and their apprenticeship can last up to 18 months, but usually fall more into the six months to one year territory. Red hats work under the supervision of more experienced miners until they learn their trade well enough to graduate to the next level.
Black hats – Black hats are worn by more experienced miners. It is quite an honor and sense of accomplishment to put away that red hat in favor of the black hat. Technically, black hats are only supposed to work with one red hat at a time.
White hats – White hats are known are known to be worn by bosses. One thing coal miners love to do is play jokes on naive rookies. The first time I went to work for a coal mine as an 18-year-old boy (I worked on the outside, not underground), a couple miners told me to put on the white hat to let everybody know I was new. Like the fool I was, I put on the hat and walked around for a bit before figuring out why I kept getting snide remarks. I was inducted into the hall of shame for this faux pas.
I included pics of some older forms of mining hats as they were once made of cloth, leather or fiberglass at different points in history. You may notice some old carbide lights, just some throwback gear from another time period. – Shane
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