Dennis Bouwens had planned on being an architectural engineer but ended up spending his career as a miner.
At the end of his senior year at Basalt High School in 1968, Bouwens needed to save money for school and was working graveyard mining shifts.
“I slept a lot in school,” said Bouwens, 63.
Then he met a girl, and instead of going away to college, he accepted a position as a full-time miner. Now 45 years later and with that girl out of the picture, he doesn’t regret the decision.
“I decided the career of a coal miner wasn’t as bad as I assumed it would be,” Bouwens said.
He began working at Twentymile in 1987 and, throughout the years, has had a number of jobs there, including assistant mine manager, foreman, supervisor on the longwall and a continuous-miner operator. Today, he is a technical safety coordinator and spends 90 percent of his time above ground.
“There is a satisfaction in coal mining,” Bouwens said. “Without coal, we wouldn’t have the ability to turn on the light switch.”
His two sons also work at the mine. One went to school to be a teacher. The other went to police academy.
“The decision, I guess, was the benefits of coal mining outweigh what they went to school for,” Bouwens said.
That is a recurring theme with modern miners, who operate sophisticated longwall equipment worth upward of $150 million. Bouwens said today’s miners are professionals much like lawyers and doctors.
“There is a lot of hard labor, but the equipment is more modern than what it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Bouwens said. “They worked very hard back then, and the employees now work smart.”