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Sharing memories about the mines

On Saturday, the Missouri Mines State Historic Site in Park Hills had a number of special guests who came to reflect on their own careers in the mines and to pass along their knowledge of the industry that gave the Lead Belt its name.

The Annual Mines Open House gives the community the opportunity to come to the museum for free, while also having the additional resource of actual men who worked in the mines and used some of the equipment on display.

One such man is Charles Sitzes, now 92, who worked for the St. Joseph Lead Company for almost half of his life.

“I worked for the company for 40 years, almost to a day,” Sitzes said. “I was hired Sept. 2, 1944 and retired Sept. 1 1984.”

Sitzes said he did a number of jobs for the company before being moved down into the mine to work. For about a year, he ran a mainline locomotive, which was used to haul ore between the mine and the mill.

Once, while working on a 50-food ladder, Sitzes fell and broke 14 bones. The fall landed him in Barnes Hospital for about nine weeks. When he came back, he worked for a while as a machinist, then a sheet metal man, and finally a blacksmith.

“So I did about all the jobs,” Sitzes said. “Except I never did get on a St. Joe shovel. The St. Joe shovel — you had to be top-priority to get that job.”

Sitzes said the St. Joe Shovel, which is on display in the Missouri Mines State Historic Site Musuem, was really what put the St. Joseph Lead Company on the map.

“It’s the piece of equipment that really made St. Joe,” he said. “It was first made in the early 20s, and it’s the reason St. Joe survived and a lot of other companies didn’t.”

Sitzes said the 220 volt shovel was used the whole time the mines were active in Park Hills, but were replaced by diesel shovels when the company moved the focus of its operation to Viburnum.

Touring the museum, Sitzes explained how each machine was operated and for what purpose, occasionally stopping to tell a story or two, like the time a worker greased the rails to see what would happen, causing a foreman’s vehicle to run into a wall. Luckily for the man who greased the rails, Sitzes said with a laugh, the foreman was uninjured.

When all the area mines were in operation, Sitzes said you could travel underground from Leadwood to Delassus through the company’s tunnels, which connected the mines.

Being 92, it’s difficult to make it to the mines for every annual event, but Sitzes said he does his best to be there when he’s able. He said there’s not a lot of guys like him, who worked in the mines in the era that he did, but he’s more than willing to share his memories and knowledge of the 40 years he spent there.

Charles Sitzes, 92, stands beside a mainline locomotive in the Missouri Mines State Historic Site Museum. Sitzes was a locomotive operator for a time during his 40 years working for the St. Joseph Lead Company.

Charles Sitzes, 92, stands beside a mainline locomotive in the Missouri Mines State Historic Site Museum. Sitzes was a locomotive operator for a time during his 40 years working for the St. Joseph Lead Company.

Individuals get the rare opportunity to not only see the equipment used in the mines like they can any other day the museum is open, but to also speak to miners who actually worked with the machinery.

Individuals get the rare opportunity to not only see the equipment used in the mines like they can any other day the museum is open, but to also speak to miners who actually worked with the machinery.

Attendees of the Missouri Mines State Historic Site Open House have the opportunity to view equipment used in the past, minerals pulled from the ground beneath their feet and to speak to some of the men who worked in the mines while they were in operation in Park Hills.

Attendees of the Missouri Mines State Historic Site Open House have the opportunity to view equipment used in the past, minerals pulled from the ground beneath their feet and to speak to some of the men who worked in the mines while they were in operation in Park Hills.

Jacob Scott is a reporter with the Daily Journal. He can be reached at 573-518-3616 or at jscott@dailyjournalonline.com.

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