|Rodney Galentin at the Buchtel SE Ohio Mine Museum, November 2021|
The road to Buchtel from my house is short. It’s a road I’ve traveled often. Memories of my grandfather and old friends surface. As a youth, I rode my horse through Buchtel many times, usually stopping at the Watering Trough (an iconic watering hole with old mine run-off) for a quick drink. But today I traveled to Buchtel to visit Rodney Galentin, an icon himself in the valley. Rodney is one of the curators of the SE Ohio Mine Museum housed on Akron Avenue.
Buchtel used to be a mining boom town. The museum holds a well-kept collection of local history, including exhibits that display the arduous work of long-ago citizens whose relatives still roam the area. I talked with Rodney about the museum and the importance of keeping history alive.
Rodney begins, “This building used to be out at Hocking College, but they wanted to move it and they didn’t know where to put it. Sunday Creek would have let them put it over where the old mine stood, but I don’t know if you’ve ever been over there or not, it’s way out in the country. Stuff wouldn’t have lasted very long if it had been put there. I called Paul, he was one of the last members of the Millfield Mine, who got the museum started. I told him I would talk with the village council to see about land for the museum. Paul thought that would be great. To make a long story short, we moved the museum here. Back in the 1900s there was a company store here – on both sides of the road. The store burned twice in the early 1900s.
“Hocking College paid to move the museum here. When we got it, there was no floor and no ceiling. The Catholic Church and the Methodist Church gave us $500 each to restore the building. It was all volunteer help. We had to buy the materials. People donated artifacts and memorabilia for the displays. We have all the tools they used inside the mines, some of the tools they used in the repair shops. Most of the items came with the building, but we have no idea who donated some of it, it was not labeled. We have newspaper articles and wooden structure replicas created by locals. Now, I always note who donates items.
“We have mine rescue equipment that they sent from Pennsylvania during the Millfield Mine Disaster. The mine exploded and they did not have any rescue equipment in the State of Ohio at that time. They put it on a train from Pennsylvania at 11 am. They say the engineer set a new track record to the Ohio line. The train was here by 7 pm that same day.”
Walking through the museum there are glass counters and walls of history. A birdcage with a fake canary hangs among the memorabilia. Rodney continues, “The miners would carry a canary in a cage into the mine. If the canary fell off the perch, you’d better get out of there! They cut the canary’s claws so that when it died, it fell off the perch. Otherwise, the canary would be dead on the perch. Here's a dinner bucket, hats, and other things.”
There is a wall of notebooks where newspaper articles, letters and photos are stored. Rodney has them all labeled and organized by city, township, etc. Some of the cities are no longer cities but hold memories for locals. “Younger people aren’t interested. Just like their family tree – they’re not interested until they get older, then everybody is dead who they could ask.”
We move forward, looking through the glass cases with tiers of relics. On the floor is a large rectangular case. “Carlos Brooker donated a first aid kit that they used in the mines. It’s a Miner’s First Aid Station. Lots of people around here have given us items. One of the Robinette ladies, the Robinette’s who had the hardware store in Nelsonville, she gave us most of these old coins. They are scrip from the company store. Everyone paid with scrip, not money. The only place you could spend it was at the company store.”
On the wall above one of the glass cases are two large lion heads. They seem to be old and, as my dad would say, ‘…they’ve seen many a hard winter.’ Rodney explains, “Charlie Townsend gave those to me. They used to be on the old show building down the street. I have a picture of the building. They were hanging at the entrance. There’s an old safe back here. It’s from Sayre’s store. Danny Sullivan gave it to the museum. It was made in 1871. It weighs about 2,500 lbs. This section over here is our school section. We have a lot of pictures and memorabilia from the old schools before they were consolidated. Forty-eight schools consolidated. Some of the towns are gone, like Cawthorne and Goose Run.”
There are many interesting stories hidden in the museum. Some you wouldn’t believe except for the newspaper article and photos that confirm the story. There are stones and pieces of old buildings, photos of high schoolers, basketball teams, and yearbooks. Rodney holds a photo, “It’s always exciting when you know someone in these pictures. Sometimes I get calls from people looking for genealogy information.”
Stepping slightly to the right, Rodney points to the corner. “Over here is our kitchen area. We have an old stove and kitchen things. Some people will bring things in and just lay it on the table. I don’t know where some of these things come from. There’s a written history of the Ohio Valley that explains all of these things. You can get a copy of it online. Here’s a picture of a local couple who became famous country music stars. Uncle Jack Nelson, who was born in Buchtel, began his radio career at WAIU in Columbus.”
We look at more photos of basketball, baseball, and football teams. “That was their only source of entertainment – playing ball. I came in here one day and there was a box on the table. I thought why in the Sam Hill would someone put their trash in here. Got to looking and there was all kinds of old newspaper clippings and photos. I have no idea who put it in here.”
Rodney used to be the Buchtel Postmaster. I noticed a photo of one of my distant relatives, Lynn LaFollette, on the glass counter. “Lynn used to be Postmaster, too. He was a character. He came down to the house one day. He liked to drink coffee. I never really liked coffee. I heated a cup of coffee and gave it to him. He took a full tablespoon of instant coffee and put it right in his coffee. He lived beside the ball diamond. He would give you anything. I told him one day my refrigerator blew up. He said to take his. Within two or three days, he had another refrigerator.”
Rodney’s passion for archiving the past shines. “My great-grandpa George Washington Galentin worked in the mine. He was from Longstreth. He worked in the Chauncey salt mines before he moved to Longstreth. My grandpa John Galentin and my dad, George, worked in the mine. They all lived in the same house. My great-grandpa Dixon never worked in the mine, but my grandpa Bill Dixon worked in the Buchtel mine. Grandpa was a blacksmith. One year in the 1930s, he was giving away coal from an abandoned mine for Christmas. No one had anything back then. Everyone was glad to get the coal. It was in the newspaper. But my grandpa Dixon was an artist by profession. He’d paint on anything – even cardboard. I only know of two paintings that remain. One is a summer scene and one is a winter scene. I got one of them.”
Nearing the end of the tour, Rodney talks about his childhood. “One time, my cousin Lester Harris and myself was walking down to Monday to watch TV at the Kinneers. It was in the 1950s and TV had just come out. Coming out of Longstreth where the brick church is now, was a school. It was about dusk in the evening. There was a great big hole in the roof of the school. We didn’t know what happened, we were just kids. We walked over and told Ed Sanborn, he was a trustee at the time. We all went over to the school. Ed must have had a key because we went inside. What had happened, the hot water tank had a big copper coil that went through the furnace and back to the tank. Someone forgot to turn the hot water valve off and it built up pressure in the hot water tank. It was a big tank. It was about six foot tall with one-inch pipes going through – a cold one and a hot one. There was only about two feet between the top of the tank and the ceiling in the basement. The pressure was so great, the tank flew up through the 2 x 10 ceiling joist, flooring, rafters, ceiling joist, and right on out through the roof. There it sit, way down in the corner of the school lot. At the time I didn’t think about how much pressure that would be, but it could’ve ended up on the moon if it didn’t have such a hard time getting out of the building. Lucky no one was hurt.”
Over an hour later, I thank Rodney for his time and say I’ll be back another day. For a tiny museum there is a lot to see. If you have a moment, contact Rodney for the grand tour. You won’t regret it.
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