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Merle Travis (1917-1983) was an American singer/songwriter.


"There were two coal mines in Beech Creek. One was called No. 5, the other No. 9. You were lucky if you worked in No. 5 because No. 9 had a low ceiling which made it harder to dig your daily quota of sixteen tons.... My Dad never saw real money. He was constantly in debt to the coal company. When shopping was needed, Dad would go to a window and draw little brass tokens against his account. They could only be spent at the company store. He used to say: 'I can't afford to die. I owe my soul to the company store....' Taylor, my oldest brother, would come home and get 'washed up.' How well I remember the galvanized tub set in the middle of the floor—the big black pot of water poured in—the steam—and then enough cold water to make it just right. When I'd watch him wash the black coal dust from a little rose tattoo on his arm I longed for the day when I could work in the mine and have a tattoo.... He practically broke every rib in his body in a mine accident and it changed his whole life.... I have known the fruits of strikes. The bitter and the sweet. Hunger and music.... Who deserves more credit than the wife of a coal miner? Mother was one. She never complained about the hardships that were hers in abundance. Lighting the coal-oil lamp long before daylight, and cooking breakfast for her children and husband."

—Merle Travis


Dark as a Dungeon

Sixteen Tons


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