Voices of the Ozarks – Norman Boland

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Norman Boland, born in Desloge, Missouri in 1930. Before that, in Desloge, they lived about a half mile from the chat dump. Before Norman was born his dad worked at the National mine mill. He was laid off around 1930 and worked at the WPA a few days a week but was otherwise unemployed for awhile. Norman eventually had seven siblings.

During their time in Desloge they didn’t have much. They would get out of date food from the dumpster and salvage food that was still good.  He talks about being six years old and going out to play for the day. He’d take off with cornbread in his pocket and pick fruit from trees and bushes.  Norman describes the house they lived in and tells the story of that house burning and getting rebuilt.


When the lead mines in Mine LaMotte were restarted in 1937 Norman’s father  started working there. They moved to Fredericktown  in 1941 where they lived on a small farm, around 18 acres, near Village Creek. They fixed it up and rented there a few years and then it was sold out from under them.

At that point they moved into what was called “String Town” which was on the north side of town on Village Creek Rd. His parents bought a house from Doc Barron for $500 which needed a lot of work. They fixed it up and lived there for many years.

During that time, at age 11, Norman worked as a farmhand. They raised a calf and cow which Norman took care of and milked. They had pigs, free range chickens and a garden. When he was 12 he started working on the thrash machine crew that would make the rounds. Many of the men during that time were in the surface which freed up some jobs so Norman, who was big for his age, got a position. He did that a few months every year for awhile.


Norman talks about walking to and attending Village Creek School. It was a small school and they would alternate grades so sometimes things would get out of order. 8th grade might come before 7th. He started reading when he was 6 and read the newspaper everyday. He was up on current events and mentions that when WWII was brewing he took an interest in the events happening in Europe. He read the news everyday and said that eventually he could predict what was going to happen as Hitler advanced across the continent.

He talks about not having electricity in the Desloge house but did have it in Fredericktown.


Norman begins to talk about early adulthood. He quit school in the 10th grade and went to work. He got his Social Security card  and started a bank account. Same account that he has today at New Era bank. His first job was at the shoe factory in 1946 when he was 16. He describes some of the things he did while working there.

During this time he and his wife bought and built their first house.  They added onto it and dug a basement by hand. They lived in that house until the late 60s. He paid on it 17 years. He’d put $1,000 down that he saved while working at Union Station in St. Louis. That job came after the shoe factory work and he was there a couple years. He loaded mail 7 days a week, 14 hours a day for about a year after flooding in Kansas City.  When asked why he got a job in St. Louis he answered that he just wanted to get out of Fredericktown.

He mentions the detail that he’d gotten married in 1948 when he was 18 and his wife was 17. He and his wife lived in St. Louis for about 2 or 3 years. His first job in the city was at Continental Can but didn’t last long.


They moved back to Fredericktown around 1951 and he took a job at the mines. His first position was walking the slime line which was the line from the mine at Mine LaMotte to the Slime Pond. He’d walk that a couple of times every shift to check for leaks. Rain, snow or shine, he walked that line.  He mentions wading through water and an incident of getting hit in the chest by an owl one night.

After walking the line he’d stay out at the Slime Pond where they were working on building the dam up higher as the Slime Pond was being made bigger. He talks about the perceptions of lead in the environment and the safety of mining. Eventually the Slime Pond became a place for local recreation as it is currently used today. Before it became a popular place he went out there for years and fished.

He describes a bit about how the dam was raised higher and also about a concrete overflow tunnel.  He  also briefly discusses the reservoir across the road that he often fished from and which was at one time sabotaged which drained it to nearly empty.


He discusses doing all the various positions at the mine and also describes the location of the mine off of Copper Mines Road, just south of Mine LaMotte Lake, now called Lake Harmony. The remains of the concrete mill can still be seen there.  He mentions various shafts that were dug later when there was concern about colbalt supplies but they were never used.


He worked in the mill until around 1953 when he bid to begin working underground.  It paid well. There were wages and then there was a bonus.

When asked about what a mill is he describes the processing machinery. The first crushing was underground, a primary crusher and then the material was pulled above ground on belts which would pass the material to secondary crushers that would process it further. The rollers would gradually reduce the size of the materials.


Norm describes the differences in the rock being mined in the region. The rock centered in Mine LaMotte, sandstone and granite, was the hardest. As you moved further away it became much softer and easier to work.

He worked until he was 54 after working for the mines for 34 years. His last job was driving a truck, above ground, in 1984. He worked underground for nearly 30 years.

When he started underground he was working with the column machine which could be difficult as it was a heavy, 100 lb machine.  After that he worked with a machine called a jack-leg which was lighter weight but harder to use at first as it required more skill.


Norm talks about working with explosives which was often fertilizer mixed with fuel oil which was just as powerful as dynamite.


Norm discusses some of the details about how supplies were paid for out of your bonus but that there were also regular wages. The bonus  was used against supplies that were “bought” from the company.


We discuss the economic cycles of Fredericktown in relationship to the mines.  They employed so many people and when they were running more people lived here and there were more businesses.


Norm talks about working with underground pillars that could be as high as 30 ft. He describes the mines getting bigger to accommodate larger equipment such as the Jumbo which had 3 arms and could reach up to about 20 ft. He bid and got a job on a 3 person crew. Two ran the Jumbo and one ran the transloader that came behind and cleaned the “drift”.


Norm is asked about the brick houses over by the elementary school. Were they miner’s houses specifically and when were they built? He says no, they were just houses built like any other, he thinks they were built in the 1950s.

He’s asked if there was a company store in Mine LaMotte and he says no, it was up in Flat River or Desloge. They’d go up there sometimes to get supplies. The building is still there.


Norm is asked about getting injured on the job. He describes several incidents but says he was never injured seriously.


Norm has a brochure for a historic mine exhibit and talks about it’s location up along Flat River. He discusses the various underground train tracks that were used. Towards the end of his time working up there he used a hand-car by himself. He was one of the last ones working up there. He discusses how the hand-car worked. It was powered by electric like a trolly.  He describes some parts of it as a small underground city. The walls were white-washed and there were different shops there such as a machine shop, fabrication shop, electrical shop.  Today it  is operated as a historic site and can be toured by the public.

In addition to using electric they also used mules to pull the cars.

The interview is concluded describing how others in Norm’s extended family worked in the mines as well.