The Darkness was absolute.
The silence overwhelming.
Breathing cold air, moist and heavy.
My senses were overrun
like being on the Moon.

A man in a hole. The rough walls of the family mine were not created for aesthetics, or any other eyes to see but the miners. [Steve Koletar]
Hundreds of feet under ground,
Hunched forward squeezing down the tight triangular tunnel,
braced with rough timber, this shaft runs more than 1,500 feet into shadow.
My mother told me she didn’t want to be buried underground.
Panic won’t change a thing
just keep moving
further into darkness.
Courage is action in the face of fear.

Surprisingly rough timbers seem impossibly frail against the weight of a mountain. [Steve Koletar]
After the blackness, the light on the surface is overpowering.
Jordan Harris bumps his flat track racer to life,
roaring through the gears, banging off the rev limiter at end of the straights,
drifting through the turns,
reveling in the freedom that motorcycles bring.
The contrast could not be greater.

At one entrance of the mineshaft, a steep incline and repurposed steel greet you: there’s hardly a need for a ‘keep out’ sign – who would enter unless one labored below, as Jordan Harris does? [Steve Koletar]
There is no doorway to the mine.
You climb into a metal cart that’s on a steep incline:
slip or fall and you’ll tumble hundreds of feet down the main shaft.
There are no nets or reset buttons here.
The descent was unnerving.
Jordan yelled in a happy-go-lucky voice;
“Michael! Keep your hands in or they’ll be crushed off!”
We finally stop and get out.
I fumble for the light on my helmet.

Yes, that’s a crate of dynamite. Surprisingly stable and safe, in most circumstances. [Steve Koletar]
Jordan Harris walks off, whimsically singing ‘Friends in Low Places’.
I’m aware of every step I take, searching for my ‘pitch legs.’
He explains mining operations – pitch, gravity and blasting.
Yes blasting, how many jobs can you name with dynamite in daily use?
Jordan tells us to watch out for the chutes.
They seem bottomless in the dim light.

Miss the ‘chute’ off to the right at your peril. [Steve Koletar]
We finally reach the man-way and start upward.
It’s a narrow, near-vertical climb on a wet, crude, handmade wooden ladder
that feels like it goes up forever.
Water runs past us,
our backs hit the wall behind us as we climb.

The sledge on the way down, lowered by a motorized cable, operated from above at the engine shed. [Steve Koletar]
As I reach the next plateau, I look back down to see how my friend, photographer Steve Koletar is doing.
Weighted down by his cameras, it’s slow moving, one step at a time.
Suddenly his left hand swings loose.
I think ‘Oh No!’
He reaches back and grabs one of his cameras.
I am blinded by the strobe, as he fires off a series of shots.
A consummate professional at work.
His grunts and chuckles tells me he’s enjoying the madness.

The ladder in the man-way: wet and black with coal dust, with narrow boards and little foothold. ‘The madness’, as photographer Steve Koletar said.

Jordan Harris grew up around coal.
He entered the mines at seventeen.
Once got a job up top, but couldn’t deal with the bullshit.
Six months later he returned to the family mine.
You are a self-made man here, living and dying with the price of coal.
Not worried about the future,
laughing that “its going to take a lot of coal to power all those electric cars.’

‘It’ll take a lot of coal to power all those electric cars.” [Steve Koletar]
He talks about how there were hundreds of privately-owned mines but now there are just a handful due to MSHA.
The miners are pushed hard by the government,
and joke it would be easier to sell drugs than earn an honest living.
The fines and punishment would be less too.

He cleans up well: Jordan Harris on his Pro Twins racer. [Steve Koletar]
Motorcycles, strip pits, beer & blowing shit up.
It’s all part of growing up in mining country.
His dad got him riding as a boy.
Racing MX at six, ovals by eleven.
At fourteen, he was hit by a truck when he was riding a berm on the edge of the road,
his badly broken right leg require ten surgeries to correct.

Night racing under the lights. Always working in the dark? Almost. [Steve Koletar]
Later in teen years, summer weeks were spent riding at the Texter’s farm.
Central Pennsylvania is a flat track talent mine.
Jordan now rides for RRCF Racing in Production Twins class.
He married his high school sweetheart Whitney, and now they have a daughter, Everlee.

An amiable sort, with a smile that lights up a coal mine: Jordan Harris between heats on race day. [Steve Koletar]
The Springfield Mile is one of the premier events of the season.
With TV cameras rolling, he gets introduced to the crowd.
The warm up lap burns off some of the anxiety.
Focus on being calm, blipping the throttle, lights go Green.
Hole shot! It’s the start he prayed for.
Now its about hitting his marks perfectly.
Just ‘two-wheeling’, flat track slang for keeping your wheels inline.

Just two-wheeling on the Springfield Mile. [Steve Koletar]
The Mile looks simple from above, but it’s a complicated game.
Its all about getting the drive onto the straight to attain and maintain top speed.
Drafting is critical.
The entry into the turns will take your breath away, lap after lap.
Harris must remind himself to breathe or else he will tire too early.
All is going perfectly until he hears the sound of engines getting closer.
Jordon is doing everything he can to be perfect.
Still two riders beat him home.
Gutted but smiling, he stands on the podium in 3rd.
They wonder why he did not keep his pace.
It’s not until weeks later we learn from the engine builder Roy Miller, that the motor was close to dropping a valve. He writes it off to God’s will.

A sign in the engine shed holds advice for miners and riders alike. [Steve Koletar]
(Want to get ahead of the next fitness craze?
The cold temperatures of the mine are perfect for a total body workout.
Swinging a pick, shoveling, and endless climbing.
Add the dark and silence for meditation: mining could satisfy your physical & spiritual needs.)


Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our ‘Poet of Packed Earth’, is the Flat Track Editor for, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman
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