Coal and an eight-day ordeal underground following the 1958 Springhill mine disaster never left Herb Pepperdine.
Pepperdine died at All Saints Hospital in Springhill on Friday. He was 95.
“He was the type of man that everyone just loved and he never growled about anyone,” niece Darlene Hunter told the Amherst News on Monday. “He was just a guy who loved to be around people and people loved to be around him.”
He was just 14 when he first went to work in the Springhill coal mines. He was above ground when the 1956 mine explosion occurred and raced to the mine, like many others, to assist in rescue efforts, only to discover his brother had been killed.
Two years later it was his turn when an underground geological phenomenon, known as a bump, occurred in the Springhill mine on Oct. 23, 1958. He had just two hours left in his shift and he was four kilometres underground, shoveling coal in the Number 2 mine when the floor of the mine slammed into the ceiling.
He told Aaron Beswick of the Chronicle Herald in 2013 there was a big crash and he was thrown down, while some miners were pushed right up against the roof. Then it was darkness and the groans of nearby injured miners.
He found a chocolate bar and shared it with the seven people in his small group.
He would be stuck there for more than eight days, and just when all hope was lost he was rescued. He was the last man out of the mine.
“He didn’t like to talk about it, but he would when asked,” Hunter said Monday. “There were times when he would just sit and cry about it. He wondered why he lived when so many others, people who were his friends, died. It really bothered him.”
Hunter said she could never imagine the horror miners like her uncle faced.
“He couldn’t see two feet in front of his face and there were miners all around him dying. He could hear them dying, but he couldn’t do anything for them,” she said. “It had to have been horrible.”
Pepperdine is the second Springhill mine disaster survivor to die in a month. On Aug. 7, Ken Melanson, who spent several days trapped underground following the 1956 mine explosion, passed away at age 81.
The bump occurred Oct. 23, 1958. There were 175 men working in the mine at the time, 75 of them never made it back to the surface.
Nephew Glen Pepperdine got to spend a lot of time with Herb before he died. He said memories of the mine haunted him.
“He had PTSD afterwards,” he said. “It really affected him. He told me one time that on the last day they were there they figured it was the end, then he saw the light. At first he thought it was an angel coming for him, but it was the rescuers.”
Pepperdine, like Melanson, was proud of Springhill’s mining heritage. They didn't want the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in the major disasters of 1891, 1956 and 1958 and the other mining accidents to be forgotten.
After full-scale mining ended with the bump, Pepperdine went back to work in the syndicate mine until 1970 and then worked for Surrette Battery until his retirement 30 years ago. He loved to four-wheel, play the accordion and get outside – something he wasn’t able to do much in the final months of his life.
As recently has just a couple of years ago he said he’d go back underground to work, and there were times he took tourists into the mine at the miner’s museum, located at the site of the old syndicate mine.
Tony Somers, the underground manager and tour guide at the Springhill Miner’s Museum, said Pepperdine was a people person – a community treasure.
“He enjoyed making people laugh and playing his music,” Somers. said. “He would come out to the museum almost every day. Even if he didn’t get out of his car, he would just stop by to see what we were up to, wave and drive away. This place meant a lot to him.”
Somers said Pepperdine considered mining a brotherhood and his fellow miners were his brothers. He loved the friendships he made underground in the mines and was very comfortable working in a place many would find uncomfortable.
“He was definitely someone to look up to,” Somers said. “When you think of someone who was brave and was tough as nails you think of Herb. Even after what he went through in 1958, he went back to work in the syndicate mine until 1970.”
There is no funeral planned for Pepperdine, but a graveside service will place at Hillside Cemetery in Springhill on Saturday at 1 p.m., followed by a reception at 1:30 p.m. at th A.H. Brown Funeral Home.
Donations in his memory can be made to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Lung Association.