David A. Lucas earns spot among history books

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HEGINS - Much like the shard of coal permanently embedded in his right cheek, David A. Lucas's fight for justice for anthracite coal miners is deep-rooted.

Lucas has come forward over the years, becoming an unofficial mouthpiece for those who toil below ground, struggling to meet what they deem as strangling regulations, and for those too weak from battling for black lung benefits to speak for themselves.

"I've fought all of my life to keep the anthracite coal region alive," said Lucas, of Hegins. He prefers to be called "David A."

The now retired, 59-year-old black lung sufferer has also become the "face" of anthracite mining. Lucas's image has appeared in picture books, history books, magazines, and in movies. His blackened face and clenched fists have been the focus of numerous photographers, assigned to capture the essence of a man laboring underground.

Most recently, Lucas was featured on the cover and inside story in Advance for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine, in its October 2010 edition, with the article, "Shining a Light on Black Lung - Miners' Malady is on the Rise", written by Michael Gibbons.

Lucas's journey to harvesting "black gold" began as a young man, following in his father's footsteps.

Lucas operated Lucas & Partners Coal Mine in Donaldson with his late father, "Checky" Lucas, for about 20 years. He then worked in Blackwood-Tremont at the Primrose Slope, before mining at L&R and D&D in Goodspring with his brothers, Bimmer, David, Gary, and Ricky Lucas. He also worked at the Porter Tunnel, and Wolfgang Brothers in Joliett in the 60s and as a mine foreman. David A. retired almost four years ago from D&D.

Throughout his mining career, Lucas had at least eight close calls, but he also had one of the cleanest safety records through 2004, he affirms. "I always said to my men, safety's number one. I'd never send a man where I wouldn't go," he said.

"I wanted to mine until the day I died, but between my lungs, and my arthritis, I was getting hazardous to my men and I had to retire," he said.

Today, Lucas remains an advocate for his fellow miners. He assist them with obtaining black lung benefits and shares how to ease the often arduous process. Lucas encourages miners to show proof, have photos and documentation, and witnesses available who can verify their work history and condition.

He and his wife, LaRae, have also honored miners and their families during their traditional Independent Anthracite Coal Miners Picnic, held the second Saturday in August at Hegins Park. This year will mark the 27th annual event, to be held on August 13. The Lucases prepare homemade soups and other food for the celebration, which normally draws several hundred guests.

"It's like a reunion, when everyone can get together and where we can honor the living and the dead," he said.

And since the media attention, Lucas has gained a following outside of the picnic crowd. "With all the bad publicity during mine accidents, to me, it was a privilege to be able to show a new generation what it was like during our time in the mines. Everyman that works underground should get credit for what they do."

"I want them (the public) to know why we're shut down," said Lucas, as the number of operating independent mines dwindles.

Lucas said he's not sure why so many media outlets found his personal story - or personality - so readily accessible.

"I guess, I always had a straight answer, and was never afraid to speak up."

Other media sites where Lucas was featured include:

- Pennsylvania Magazine, "Last Man in the Mine," Independent miners pick away at dying trade, February 2009, by Cindy Ross, with photographs by Christian Abraham.

- The Pennsylvania Journey, a history book that was used in the Williams Valley School District, page 16 on "Coal Regions," with Jeffrey A. Davis and Susan Allen Myers.

- Pennsylvania 24/7, Amazing Photographs of An Extraordinary State, page 43, "Hard At Work," from Rick Smolan and David Elliot Cohen, authors of The New York Times bestsellers, America 24/7 and A Day in the Life of America, photograph by Sean Simmers, Harrisburg Patriot-News; Lucas's image was also used on the back of the 2004 hardcover.

- Hard Coal, Last of the Bootleg Miners, movie, a Woodshop Production, from Director Marc Brodzik and Executive Producer Seymour Levin.

- Schuylkill Living, "Standing the Test of Time," A photographic essay on coal mining, November 2006, by Christian Abraham.

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