Heritage History

Franc Volf, a miner from Kočevje: memories of a miner’s life in Kočevje

Unfortunately, there are less and less former miners from Kočevje still alive today. One of the few retired mine workers who still remembers his mining years with great joy and pride is Franc Volf from Šalka vas. He came to work at the Kočevje Mine directly after completing his compulsory military service in 1968. He also worked as a mine rescue worker at the coal mine, where he remained until its closure in 1978. As in many other Kočevje family of the time, his love for mining was passed down from generation to generation, as his father was also a miner. It could be said that mining was simply “in his blood”.

The retired Kočevje miner recalls that the coal mine held a great significance to the town of Kočevje and Kočevska region in general during the time he worked there. The mine provided livelihood for many families and the mining profession was held in high esteem.

“The mine was undoubtedly of crucial importance for the entire Kočevska region, not just for the town of Kočevje. To be perfectly honest, the then Kočevje practically “grew” from the mine. In industrial and economic terms, everything revolved around the mine. At that time, there was also a large Tekstilana factory that mainly provided employment for our wives, and LIK, another important company. But there is no doubt that the mine was in all respects the main driver of development in the town and its wider surroundings.”

Franc Volf, a retired Kočevje miner. Photo taken during the interview, author: Izidor Volf.
Franc Volf, a retired Kočevje miner. Photo taken during the interview, author: Izidor Volf.

The love of mining outweighed the difficult work

The following recollections of the retired miner from Kočevje best illustrate very strenuous and dangerous work in the mine:

“I got up at 5am because we started work at 6am. I was lucky to live near the mine. Before entering the mine, you had to change into mining work clothes. We miners were often wet because there was lots of water in the pits. We had to dry our clothes by the next day. There was a load of work, but it was also well paid. Because there were so few of us in the pits, we could not be “slacking”. We had to work a lot and hard. It was also dangerous. It is well known that a mine that is closing is the most dangerous for miners. There were times when the pressure around us was so intense that the mineral deposit collapsed before our eyes.”

Although the daily work in the coal mine was hard, he loved it. “We also worked on Saturdays and Sundays, there were practically no days off. We always had to be 100% present with our body and mind. Fortunately, I was young and was fit enough to withstand all the strains. It was also quite helpful that I led a healthy life, and didn’t drink alcohol or smoke, which was unlike many of my mining colleagues. In a way, working in the mine was like being married – we mine workers were a bit smitten with the mine. After the mine closed, I went to work at ITAS with a very heavy heart. When the coal mine ceased operations, it must have been us, the miners, who suffered the worst. We really loved this job, so it was really difficult to leave the mine behind.”

Not only colleagues, but also friends

As Franc Volf points out, the Kočevje miners were not only colleagues, but also true friends. Together, they spent many hours working in the mine and many afternoons socialising during leisure activities.

“We liked to spend time together. Mine workers are a special kind of people, so we stuck together a lot. In those days, there were still trade union trips or excursions. Mine workers from all over Slovenia met often. For example, people from Kočevje went to Trbovlje, Zagorje or Hrastnik, and they visited us. We visited each other, got to know each other and had a good time. We were friends. I don’t know if workers in any other line of business shared such a strong bond. We had quite a few friends in Trbovlje in particular, as Trbovlje was considered a kind of Slovenian mining centre at that time.”

Mining certificate of the Kočevje miner Franc Volf from 1971. Franc Volf, personal archive.
Mining certificate of the Kočevje miner Franc Volf from 1971. Franc Volf, personal archive.

There were many amusing anecdotes, and heavy tragedies as well

Despite the difficult working conditions and physically demanding working hours, the friendly relationships between the miners brought about many interesting stories. Franc Volf remembers particularly well an anecdote where older miners liked to “play a trick” on their younger colleagues.

“When a young miner came to work in the mine, the older miners would send him to the ventilating assembly, which was always running, saying that the electric connection was there. Not knowing this, the newcomers headed there, and when they arrived, they immediately rushed back to where they came from, because there was no oxygen up there. We also talked about the notorious Perkmandeljc, and we scared the young miners that he was watching us from above. These jokes could be cruel, and some colleagues were completely petrified. In the ten years I worked in the mine, there was plenty of such events.”

Unfortunately, his time in the Kočevje mine was also marked by two tragedies, which he still remembers vividly to this day.

“We have had two fatal accidents when the shaft caved in on two of our miners. Vinko Kotar and Jože Lipovec lost their lives in work accidents. Having also worked as a mine rescue worker, I have been personally involved in both tragedies. Both of them remained stuck in the shaft for about 14 to 20 days because we simply were not able to get to them before that. They were caught where the Mine Lake is today. At that time, there were two other lakes, and we faced a high risk of ingress of silt – that is, a mixture of water, mud and clay. So we had to break through to them from a completely opposite side. We miners always greeted each other with “good luck”, and we meant it literally, because we never knew what awaited us in the mine. We were always with one foot in the ‘afterworld’.”

Only a handful of miners are still alive today

Once a year, Kočevje miners meet on their special day, the Miner’s Day. Miners’ Day, which is commemorated on 3 July, is celebrated every year at the Kočevje Regional Museum, where a social event is organised to reminisce about miners’ lives. With the exception of this organised gathering of former mining comrades, the few who are still alive, according to Franc Volf, rarely see each other due to old age and illness.

“Unfortunately, there are very, very few of us left. I can count my Kočevje mining colleagues who are still alive today on the fingers of one hand. And those who are still with us are already very old and in poor health. I was one of the youngest miners at the time, but most of my peers have already passed away. In fact, all those miners who lived less healthy lives, who smoked, drank alcohol, etc., have passed away long time ago. Fortunately, what has kept me going, apart from a healthy lifestyle, is that I often hike in the woods where I hunt and pick mushrooms.”

Meeting of former Kočevje miners on the occasion of the 2018 Miner’s Day at the Kočevje Regional Museum. Photo: Milan Glavonjič, personal archive.
Meeting of former Kočevje miners on the occasion of the 2018 Miner’s Day at the Kočevje Regional Museum. Photo: Milan Glavonjič, personal archive.

Source: interview with retired Kočevje miner Franco Volf, conducted on 14 November 2023. 11. 2023.

In the previous post, read:Student project for the Gottscheer ethnological exhibition in Občice.

This post is also available in: Slovenian German

No Comments Found

Leave a Reply

Discover more from Gottscheer blog

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading