A Lump of Coal ain’t Bad to Some

coal In case you didn’t know (I didn’t) coal looks like rocks or slate.  And West Virginia is ripe with it. In the heyday of mining (late 1800’s-mid 1900’s) there were more than 40 coal mining towns along the New River Gorge, with train tracks on both sides of the river (and the river isn’t THAT wide). The volume of coal was so great they worked day and night (still do) and used every means to make every cent. For context, this is the same river that I rafted down and mentioned in a prior post, “Fun Fear and Giggles.” Lush nature to barren and return to nature. In fact there’s quite the political battle about coal, should that come as a surprise? Those who want the work and to tap resources, and those who want to protect the mountains. This slideshow presents the past and present, and both sides of the argument.

If you can’t see the slideshow, click here.

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Coal Politics, posted with vodpod

Beckley coal mine logoTo learn about coal, go to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. It’s absolutely fascinating and the retired miner who gives the tour is charming–I’ve heard they all are. You ask a question they don’t know and they’ll respond, “Were you a miner? No. Good–then I can say anything I want to!”

Miners wore (and still wear) ID tags for two reasons: 1) accident; 2) to get payment for their load. They put one of their tags at the bottom of the cart they fill and that way no one can claim payment for their work because once the cart is emptied you see who’s ID tag is there.

The work is grueling. In the old days each miner knew every task and did it for his own “room” that he mined: blasting, picking, coring, drilling, loading, etc. And each man worked solo. Today machinery does the heavy lifting, but it’s still incredibly physical labor. They spray the mines with dust from limestone rock to prevent the coal from catching on fire, and today’s standards call for 80% of the mine to be dusted at all times.

For all the hard work, the pay didn’t used to be great. It was credit in the company store that owned the mine in which you worked. The company pressed its own coins so your pay could only be spent where they deemed. Along came unions and things changed to two dollars a day. Now the starting salary is $60,000 per year.

This slideshow shows the interior of the mine. Thank you to Flickr for the pictures. If you can’t view the slideshow, click here.

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Coal Mine, posted with vodpod

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And I thought advertising was hard work …


Now go back and listen to the lyrics of “16 Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford. You can find versions on YouTube and elsewhere.

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