Valley Home

by Joe Vickers

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Commemorative Centennial Album

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released July 19, 2011

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Joe Vickers Drumheller, Alberta

Deep down under the hoodoos of the Drumheller Valley lies dark mine shafts emptied of coal, but rich with history. Joe Vickers is digging deep to uncover these buried stories of the past with his collection of short stories disguised as songs on his album, Valley Home. ... more

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Track Name: Into the Darkness
I crossed the Atlantic Ocean
As a young immigrant man
Searching to build a better life
Upon this foreign land

I traveled to the western frontier
Where my new home was found
Upon the coal belt of Alberta
Pioneering the underground

Into the darkness, I go
Into the darkness, I go
Digging for coal in the mighty depths below
Into the darkness, I go

My brothers look just like me
A face darkened by the stone
Eyes hold many expressions
None of which are shown

Our courage is wrapped tightly
Underneath dirty work clothes
A kerosene lamps guides our steps
Into the darkness, we go

Into the darkness, we go
Into the darkness, we go
I am just one soldier in an army of brave souls
Into the darkness, we go

I’m no stranger to dancing with danger
Amongst the shadows of the shaft
My shaky bones feel the wrath of the dynamite blasts
Forever fearful of the methane gas

All throughout the pitch-black
Fires and accidents we endure the cruel conditions
All the risks that rage do not reflect upon our wage
I’d seek another if this weren’t the only way

Into the darkness, we go
Into the darkness, we go
Putting our lives on the line when we step into the mines
Into the darkness, we go

In the short winter days
It is darkness in the mornings
When my day long shift begins
And at job end it is dusk by then
No sunshine do my eyes ever see

I hear the haunting echoes; toward them I follow
Praying not too meet disbelief
All of my working days, I curse and I praise
My labour on my hands and knees

On the inside of my helmet
I’ve scratched a list so long
A list of initials to whom belong

The names of the men
I have worked with who have fallen
Into the darkness, they have gone

If there’s light at the end of the tunnel my friends
See for me there is enough room
For just another old Drumheller miner
Out of the darkness, I’ll be coming soon
Track Name: Pioneer Trail
The spokes were spinning
On a wagon wheel
Destined for the pastures
South of the Handhills

Beating down a new path
Over native treads
Leading toward
The founded homestead

I rustled me herd
Of cattle along
We crossed the creek
Then circled the canyon

Until the gentlest slope
Allowed for a descent
Down into the valley
The trail ended

The Pioneer Trail, the Pioneer Trail led
To the entrance of the prairie hinterland
Ranching cattle and breaking the land
I found settlement on the hinterland

The frozen Red Deer River
Served as a highway
For the car I hired
To drive me

Where a deal was pending
Between Greentree and I
I sought to transform the
Seams into a work site

We signed a deal on Sunday
His homestead I bought
But the lease was split
When doubted in the court of law

But as the tracks stretched
Into land we claimed
The district acquired
The title of my name

The Pioneer Trail, the Pioneer Trail led
To the entrance of the prairie hinterland
With an interest as a businessman
I found settlement on the hinterland

From Pennsylvania
I traveled to these hills
Where jobs were more plentiful
Than men could fill

I jumped off the freighter
At the first camp we passed
The boss gave me a
Pair of overhauls and a head lamp

I bunked in with some foreigners
In a makeshift shack
Figured I’d make some dough
Before returning to the tracks

But my story unraveled
Like other immigrants
Here within the badlands
My roots were planted

The Pioneer Trail, the Pioneer Trail led
To the entrance of the prairie hinterland
I built anew with my two bare hands
I found settlement on the hinterland
Track Name: In Struggle
The sunlight shines through the walls
Of the whitewash chicken coop I call
My dear old shack, my home sweet home
With three others I’m bunked along

In the labour camp I call “the world”
So it is as far as I can see
After all, the boys here to work are of
Nearly every nationality

We don’t share a language
We don’t share a heritage
Yet we are bound by this profession and strife
And in this struggle we are unified

All the fights have led to losses
Against the owners and the bosses
We’ve been silenced, we’ve been condemned
Yet we’ll agitate until we win

Because the roll backs
And credit given
Is no way to make
An honest living

When they take the bread
And give us the crust
It stratifies like the
Walls surrounding us

There’s no denying, brothers
We have strength in numbers
Right here is where our politics align
In this struggle we are unified
Track Name: Young Black Lungs
Down in the depths of the coulee
Yonder beneath the ground
I hear a funeral procession
In the key of a mournful sound

The preacher tells the congregation,
“Each winter a miner is killed
So that all may keep their houses warm
So all may cook warm meals.”

My tag was left at the entry way
In here, the hazards we trust
When I heard the rumble, the rocks did tumble
I choked on the devil’s dust

The roof came caving in
A rock pinned me to the floor
The place I slave is now my grave
Don’t call for rescue anymore

The tunnel bumped, the boulders crashed
And just like that I was done
My fears came to life and my thoughts were that
“The day had finally come”

The music was fading
The canary sang me one last song
Before I rest, I drew one last breath
From my young black lungs
Track Name: 1919 Strike
The year was 1919 and coal was king
The crown titled upon the head
Of a few mine owners while the
Working masses suffered at the hands of them

The United Mine Workers of America
Neglected to fulfill its obligation
To represent the workers’ interest
Of better wages and conditions

UMWA was a tight affiliate
Of the companies all along
So the One Big Union stepped into the valley
And answered to the struggle’s call

They rallied the miners and their families
To trust the powers held within the production’s mean
On the 24th of May, the workers organized
A walkout in pursuit of a better life

One by one, they marched out of the mines
Trading their pickaxes for the picket line
Chanting, “No more shall
This place be known as Hell’s Hole!”

The mine operators openly refused
To negotiate with O.B.U.
Instead they employed a special brigade
Of constables to bust the strikers’ parade

A ten dollar daily wage was given to these goons
Along with brass knuckles, crowbars, and booze
With the intent to break the back
Of the strike, they purged a ruthless attack

On patrol the “special services” coerced
Forcing the strikers back to work
If met with resistance, the outcome was grave
Often leading to a bloody fate

While the passives were hauled back to the coalfields
The others were beaten and abandoned in the hills
As conflict escalated, houses were raided
Not one place in the valley could you find a safe haven

One by one, they were beaten down
The movement was busted and burnt to the ground
All in the name of retaining control
Of Hell’s hole

In September the strike met its bitter end
The spirit was trampled but not left for dead
In the wake of violence, division was born
Ushering in the valley’s union civil war

For the next thirty years tensions kept a-brew
Until worker demands were introduced
All thanks to the efforts of the labour unrest
Help transform Hell’s Hole into the Wonderland of the West
Track Name: Weekend Waltz
Oh Mother Mary I’ve heard the praise
Of a hundred different voice calling our names
You’re curious of the red shaded lights
But if you ask me no question, I’ll tell you no lies

On the Western Front is where I live
It’s the business centre for my services
The bachelors are looking for deliverance
They’re looking for love but love I cannot give

The whistle blows the Friday countdown
It’s a shave and a shine then a race into town
With cheques in their pockets and fire in their eyes
It’s been a long week and the weekend has arrived

Anticipation fills the air
The buildings are packed and the streets are never bare
Temptations grip at their wage
As quickly as it’s cashed it is wasted away

From the banks to the bars, they’re on parade
Looking for excitement and to be entertained
Come Monday morning it’ll be all the same
Back on the job, broke and tired again

But for now, the first couple rounds
Are on the house and nothing is finer
They boast of the heaviest loads while
The courage flows, numbers keep getter higher

The sound of the Weekend Waltz
Won’t come to a halt until early Monday morning
There’s no regards, for it’s just a start
Going to lose their hearts and money while singing
Track Name: Our Valley Home
I saw her weeping
From the window of the train
Even though I could not guarantee it
I promised her I’d be coming home again

I would think of her standing on the platform
As I fought from the trenches of Europe
When my heart and mind wore with the attrition
The thought of her kept my spirits up

‘Cause my eyes have seen many horrors
None of which I will ever share
Amidst my despair, I painfully long
To be with her in our valley home

For every sight of pain I witnessed
I balanced it with an image of home
Cause the site of surrounding canyon walls
Captures beauty by the bushel

Stratum layers are stacked from high to low
The evergreen and sage brush grow
At the cutbank where the Red Deer River flows
I’ll wed you there I promise you when I come home

‘Cause my eyes have seen many horrors
None of which I will ever share
Amidst my despair, I painfully long
To be her in our valley home

And at the end of the war
I stepped back onto that old platform
She wasn’t there awaiting
Her mother came to informed

She’d fallen to the Spanish Flu
And it done carried her away
So just like overseas, longing for her
Forever in my heart she will stay
Track Name: Make Do and Do Without
When the winter dies
And the spring comes along
It’s the end of the work term;
Start of the off-season

There is no paycheck
To be living on
So we live off the land
And we nourish the bond

We’ll plant a big garden
And fetch saskatoons
We’ll can for the winter
To ensure full spoons

When the home needs repair
You know, you haven’t far to go
When items from the company
Are “free” to borrow

In these times that are hard
We’ll make a penny stretch real far
In solidarity, we help

Out each other’s families
What we have is all we need
And we’ll make do with what
we have and do without

On the banks of the Red Deer
Time is often spent
Whistling and fishing
Waiting for the sticks to bend

Thinking about the credit
I racked up in the store
And how I’ll pay it back
When the work is in order

It is bred into our bones
Not to waste anything
A budget mind makes
For living on a shoe string

If there’s food on the table
And a roof over our heads
It’s safe to say that all
Our needs have been met

In these times that are hard
We’ll make a penny stretch real far
In solidarity, we help

Out each other’s families
What we have is all we need
And we’ll make do with what
We have and do without
Track Name: Pit Pals
n the pits of the Monarch
In their stable I was born
At the end of the hungry Thirties
At the start of the second war

I was trained to be a leader
Of a driving spike team
Six full years of pulling and hauling
Before daylight shone upon me

At the command of your whistle
I knew where to wait
Right next to my harness and buckles
Where we began our work days

My intuition warned
Of tragedy below
I did my darnedest to keep our names
Off of that forsaken honour roll

Our partnership was strong
It was never in doubt
Despite the love we had for another
It was never talked about

Your wife was a darling
There always was without fail
An extra slice of rhubarb pie
Packed for me within your lunch pail

You mended my footwear
Whenever I tossed a shoe
The brushing of your callused fingers
Calmed me down whenever I was spooked

We worked through the hard times
We shared a few close calls
Like the head-on trip we derailed for
Oh lord, we managed through it all

On the last trip out
Of the familiar gopher hole
We switched roles and you guided me
To where the west winds blow

Then you removed
The bandages from my eyes
The hills illuminated as I caught
My first glimpse of daylight
Track Name: Flood of '48
In the spring of 1948
The river broke at a rapid pace
Ice was jammed at the Coulee’s gate
And a dam it did create

The current caught; pressure built
The tributaries quickly filled
Levels rose with only one place to go
So from her banks, she spilt

All the townsfolk were fleeing for higher ground
The river rising up and the city sinking down

If it weren’t for the mercy trip to Wayne
Old Johnny would have been left for dead
They found him lying underneath wet sheets
Surrounded by water in bed

The ponies were trapped in the mine
Mr. Guidolin couldn’t live to see them die
So he tied each tail to a bridle and guided
The train to safety’s side

All the townsfolk were fleeing for higher ground
The river rising up and the city sinking down

Together they banded
All one could do was withstand
And try to tread the lake
Upon the land

On the third day she peaked
At a height of twenty-one feet
All that was left underneath the line
Was washed away with her raging tide


Orders were sent to blow
The East Coulee bridge to let the river flow
The flying debris took the life of Dorothea
The flood ended in tragedy

All the townsfolk were fleeing for higher ground
The river rising up and the city sinking down
Track Name: Allan Cup
In the foyer of our old barn
There is a showcase dedicated
To the past years’ crowning achievements
Ever witness down here at all

Every winter as I walked
With a bag on my shoulder I would stop
To see the faces brightly lit up
In pictures holding that silver cup

And the year was ’66
When their name was engraved on it
The inscription was an epitaph
It’d be the first time, it’d be the last

In the stories told by my grandfather
This place was packed right to the rafters
Contrary to all I have seen
The empty seats once held belief

When the spirit of the Bentley five
Fought the depression and brought the town alive
Before the family split to the better times
The first squad folded was later revived

When the reincarnation led
To where they hoisted that prize overhead
Allan was traveling on the homeward path
It’d be the first time, it’d be the last

No need was there for pardon
The ringer held up his end of the bargain
The guardianship within the crease
Secured a guaranteed victory

For another decade, the team remained
But never again was that championship claimed
So the rink’s name took on a new meaning
To relive those glory days when in the building

And the year was ’66
When their name was engraved on it
The inscription was an epitaph
It’d be the first time, it’d be the last
Track Name: Gone Are The Days
So long, remember
Our rustic legacy
Every blue sky fades to grey
Gone are the days

Gone are the days of the bustle
Gone are the days of pick and spade
Gone are the boomers and industrial trade
Along with its pioneer ways

His grand-daddy was a miner
Like him his father was the same
When oil struck north, time turned a page
And it came to them as a crying shame

He shoveled a lifetime down yonder
Was a faithful workers through and through
When they closed down the mine, a part of him did die
And so did the life he knew

Gone is the smell of burning sulfur
Gone is the curtain of blue haze
When things shut down, uprooted was the town
And all that was left were memories

Production slowed down
Until it reached the end
The gears slipped and stalled, the writing was on the wall
The final chapter was being read

The departure left a mark
A bitterness left in their hearts
Saying so long, he couldn’t hold back the tears
After all, it’s what brought the family here

Our secondary line
No longer operates
So the kids of today who walk down the ancient lanes
Won’t count rail cars that we did at their age

So long, remember
Our rustic legacy
Every blue sky fades to grey
Gone are the days