Frank Grens

Of all the colorful characters who populated the coal mining towns of King County, perhaps none was more colorful than Frank Grens. He was the subject of a number of newspaper articles in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He lived in an old miners’ washhouse on a high bank overlooking Green River Gorge. Born in the anthracite coal fields of Pennsylvania in 1911, he struck out for Black Diamond at age 17 to join his brother. Once here he started as a construction worker on the Kummer Bridge, then labored as a lumberjack and clay miner. He drove mules at Bill Hann’s Old Lawson mine during the mid-1930s, and continued working through the war despite a back injury he suffered in 1941. Eventually he gave up coal mining. By the time of this 1983 photo, Grens passed his hours fishing, hunting, walking in the woods, and tending a small garden.

Frank was a trusted watchman for Palmer Coking Coal Company, which operated the No. 10 mine, the last coal mine on the Green River. That mine closed in 1971 with a celebrated explosion of the old bridge accessing the portal on the east side of the river.  State officials witnessed the event amidst plans for the property to Washington State Parks, to become a central part of the Green River Gorge Conservation Area. Frank Grens’ lived in the old No. 10 washhouse, where coal miners once took showers after their shifts. A special provision was placed in the 1973 sales agreements allowing Grens to occupy the 20-by-28 foot wooden building for as long as he lived. This photo was taken by Mark Morris, with Nathalie Overland, some of the 200 photographers who shot photos over a 24-hour period in a project dubbed “Washington Dayshoot,” later showcased at MOHAI. About two months after this September 23, 1983 photo, Frank Grens passed away. This image comes courtesy of Patti Chapman-Courtright whose father, Bill Chapman was a long time coal mine electrician for Palmer. Patti retains fond memories of Frank and his ‘live-off-the-land’ lifestyle in that old shack above Green River Gorge.