The few "small pockets" of gas that Federal Mine Bureau inspectors had found in the cavernous Nottingham colliery were only minor enemies to Danny Lewis and the 15,500 mine people of Plymouth, Pa. There were gas pockets in almost every anthracite mine in Pennsylvania. Besides, Danny had known greater enemies. Last September, when his confectionery business waned, he had closed out and begun digging coal to support his wife and two children.

With his 22-man night shift last week, Danny went 835 feet down into the Nottingham's top Ross vein—a black and echoing tunnel under the Susquehanna River. The federal...

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