For me, there’s something captivating about the story and the experiences lived by the people that once spent hours digging for coal. Their work helped fuel trains and steamboats that paved the way for easier and faster ways of transporting goods across the country. I had heard Sam Jones of Glouster, Ohio could tell me more about his town’s rich history in the mining business.
Commonly, coal miners settled in company towns— towns owned by the same company that owned the mine. At the turn of the 19th century there were more than 50,000 coal miners in the state of Ohio. As a result of environmental regulation and decreased demand, that number dropped to 10,000 in 2020, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
By word of mouth, I set out to find Sam Jones, who I knew nothing about. Ralph Withem, a mechanic I met in The Plains told me Sam is the man I needed to talk to if I wanted a story. He gave me vague directions to his house, and I set out to find Sam.
This is the part where I thought it would be a smart idea to put the road name on my GPS and follow it rather than follow Ralph’s directions, but this was a big mistake.
The GPS took me through Millfield and the backroads of Athens County, which were unpaved, hilly and muddy. It was warm, so all the snow that had accumulated the previous week was melting. I essentially went off-roading for about five miles in my 2003 Toyota Camry.
This—unsurprisingly— resulted in me getting lost somewhere in Athens County. Out of frustration and because I refused to give up, I decided to change course and type in another landmark Ralph had given me to follow. I was lucky I had enough reception on my phone to get me there.
After that ordeal, I get myself oriented once again and actually found the road Ralph directed me to go. I did have to stop by a house to ask where Sam Jones lived, and I learned I was close. It was three houses up the road to the right, the man said.
Eventually I found his house. After a big sigh of relief, I drove up the driveway, got out of my car and knocked on the door . After a few seconds of nervous waiting, his wife Ellen answered the door— it would’ve been unfortunate if I made it all this way to find no one home, I actually didn’t think about that.
After hours of talking, I came to learn Sam Jones is the owner of Sam’s Gym in Glouster, which has been in operation since 1936. Back then it was owned by his father, and he told me it was the place miners came to once they got out of the mines. In awe, I learned about Sam’s long career in boxing. He told me what Glouster was like before the eventual fall of the coal industry, how he met his wife and how they operated The Wonder Bar, home of the famous Wonder Dog.
It was, by all means, a reminder there are big stories in small places; they just need to be found. It turns out, Sam is a big deal, and he’s been the subject of various news articles throughout the years. Still, it’s stories like his that get me to want to seek out more. Each story completes a piece of the puzzle of a broader story of a community, and for that reason, I’m glad I found Sam Jones.