Note: This is an encore post from 2007.
Dec. 7, 1906-Dec. 22, 1906,
Jan. 1, 1907
For 15 days, miner Lindsay P. Hicks lay trapped by a cave-in that killed his five companions tunneling in a mountain above the Kern River for an Edison hydroelectric project. On the 16th day, crews finally cut through the last of the steel and scraped away rocks and debris to free the man who had been kept alive with gallons of milk poured down a 60-foot iron pipe.
At first, Edison officials assumed that no one survived the collapse of the tunnel. Then someone heard the faint signal tapped on one of the steel rails for the mining cars: the code for “trapped miner.” The iron pipe was driven through the side of the mountain to provide air and food as Hicks lay either under a rail car or next to it, sheltered by a pile of collapsed timbers that prevented him from being crushed.
The painfully slow rescue was hampered by the mountain’s decomposed granite, which collapsed like sand, The Times said. To buoy Hicks’ spirits, a phonograph was placed next to the pipe and records were played for him, interspersed with jokes and stories told by men on the surface. The stench of the dead miners’ decaying bodies wafted up through the tube and Hicks complained of fighting off rats that scampered over him.
Then, at 11:23 p.m. on Dec. 23, Hicks was freed. “The last cut on the second rail was made at 11:12 and no sooner was the section removed and the way left open than Hicks began to scrape away the rocks and dirt and crawl toward the opening,” The Times said.
He stopped because he was out of breath, moved a few more inches and was pulled to freedom. With tears in his eyes, the doctor asked: “Well how are you, old boy?”
“I am feeling fine. I can never thank you, doc, for what you have done.”
On New Year’s Eve, Hicks went into show business at the Elks Hall in Los Angeles, but the subject of the heroic rescue was a terrible disappointment. “The reporter who quoted Hicks as shouting tidbits of Shakespeare up the pipe to his rescuers has an awful lot to answer for in the next world,” The Times said.
“Hicks was planted in front of an enormous cuspidor,” The Times said of his performance. “His broad Kentucky black slouch hat was pulled down dejectedly over his eyes. His overcoat was over his ears. He could find no cheer even in his new store clothes or in the amazing gilt watch chain that dangled from his vest pocket.”
Displayed on stage were Hicks’ well-worn pants from his ordeal, his shoes and a piece of the pipe that was his lifeline. “Hicks occasionally glared resentfully at them out of the corners of his sunken eyes as though he held them responsible for getting him into this.
“When he got the feeling that he couldn’t bear it any longer, he would grab out a dark object approaching the size of an upright piano and take another ‘chew.’ ”
Unwilling to describe his 16 days underground, Hicks answered questions from the audience.
Was he able to shave?
Hicks shook his head.
“What was the best thing that happened to you while you was buried?”
“What was the first piece they played?”
“Under the Bamboo Tree.”
“Which was the best piece?”
“Same; that was my favoryte.”
“Are you going back to mining?”
“Not to hard work…. But it ain’t because I am afraid. I would just as soon go back to mining as any other job. No more dangerous than any other.”
“Say, pal, are you from Kentucky?”
“You bet I am.”
The fellow Kentuckian invited Hicks to New Year’s dinner.
“Can’t do it pal,” Hicks said, and he “sank back in a dejected heap.” “This here manager, Smith, he won’t let me. I’d like to all right, but I reckon I’ll have to be foolin’ round up here.”
Hicks was displayed at several local theaters, appearing in Pasadena and at Chutes Park. The Times says he threw out bushels of post cards and mash notes from young ladies, some that came in the mail and others that were shoved under the door of his room.
After an appearance in San Jose, where he was kissed by “an elderly and sentimental damsel,” Hicks swore that he was going back to mining.
“Give me my little old $3 a day and a pick and shovel and I’ll be satisfied. I’m going back to Bakersfield—and honest work,” he said.