Frankie: I was born in 1908 in a little coal mining town in eastern Washington State. My dad was looking for a new mine to work in and we ended up in Wayne in 1920. That's when I had my first fight, too: I wasn't halfway down the railway tracks with the suitcases, and some kid challenged me and he got it. Oh yes, I went to school in Wayne until I was 15, then I hit the pits, the Jewell Collieries. I was a motor man for 20 years on the main haulage. My dad was responsible for me going into the mines because I wouldn't go to school: he said, "Okay, I'll fix that." Well, I wasn't sorry because I wasn't satisfied with the teaching. They were 17th-century teachers, still wearing the long skirts and celluloid collars.
In 1938, the Jewell Mine closed in Wayne and reopened in Cambria as the Western Gem &: Jewell Collieries. When I moved here, I studied up and made my third-class fire boss certificate.
I closed the mine here in Cambria in 1950: I was the boss on the job. When everything was taken out from inside, I closed up the airway and the main entrance. After shutting down the Cambria Mine, I firebossed for another 10 years in the Aetna and Murray Mines. When the Murray closed in 1960, I come home and told the wife, I said, "By golly, they're all closing up everywhere I go." I said, "Maybe I should stop going anywhere." I tried another mine, the Hy-Grade in Drumheller, and it quickly closed, so I said, "That's it."
Cambria was filled with people when the mine was operating. We had a hotel, post office, two grocery stores and a bus stop. When the buses went out any day, they were full. The hotel was the only place you could get beer when it was rationed. There was more beer there than you could throw a stick at. My friend Vince Papp and I used to spend a few afternoons in the beer parlour of the hotel until the hotel burned down. We were saddened by the loss of the hotel.
I've lived in this house since I came here in '38; originally, it was only a two-room house. We moved it from Wayne, which cost me only $65.
Author's Note: When the book, CoalDust Grins, was written, we decided to write a song about some of the featured coal miners, and the first song that written by songwriter Cathy Millar and me was about my neighbor, Frankie Zaputil. In this song, a reference was made to Frankie's neighbor, Mary Green, who in later years looked after him. Mary would get his mail and groceries, and often cooked large meals for Frankie, neighbours and friends. During these times, Mary often called Frankie, "You old bastard" just to tease. Those words ended up in the song we wrote about him.
A few years after Frankie had passed on and the CoalDust book and companion CD had been released, I visited Mary. The subject of the song about Frankie came up. Until this time, I'd been slightly worried that she might take offence with me for quoting her as saying to Frankie, "You old bastard." When I mentioned my concerns, she looked straight at me and said, "I did not call Frankie an "old Bastard." I thought to myself, "Oh, now I'm in trouble." Then she said, "I didn't call Frankie 'an old bastard' – I called him a 'dirty old bastard'."