Can you hear the whistle blowing……….

Sixteen tons and what do you get, Another day older and deeper in debt.  Saint Peter don’t you call me cause I can’t go I owe my soul to the company store.  ~Tennessee Ernie Ford

 I painted white paint for six hours today in a room, mostly by myself.    The room is finished and since it was so hot up there, I had the windows open.  Lesson learned: wind causes paint to blow off the brush leaving the person who is attempting to paint looking like a Jackson Pollack painting.

The boys are starting to warm to us and I hope to start getting some of their stories tomorrow.  They picked us up a little early from work so that we could go to the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.  I went into the shaft with some of our volunteers and learned about coal mining from our guide, Sonny. 


Sonny was our guide today.  He was a miner for 38 years.  So far, they tell him, he doesn’t have black lung.  Sonny took us 700 feet into the mountain where the temperature dropped from the warm 76 degrees outside to a chilly 56 degrees.  There were actually 5 levels of shafts below us that they used when it was an active mine.  They had raised the clearance and added lighting but you still got the general feel for their dark and damp atmosphere.   Sonny was very animated and talkative and seemed to love educating all of us.

Our guide Sonny

Sonny showed us how they used to the drill to drill holes in the side of the shaft, put the black powder (or later dynamite) in and then to tamp it closed.  The final step, yell, “Fire in the hole.”  I don’t know where I thought this saying came from, or perhaps I never gave it any thought, but now I know.  To end my day, here are some pictures of the shaft.  I will be up and back on the job site again tomorrow.

Miners preparing to blast to hopefully get more nuggets and less dust

(image source) 

Rock Duster
This is 2 tons - it would earn the worker about 25 cents for his labor


Country Road, Take me Home………

“In all of nature there is something of the marvelous.” ~Aristotle

New River Gorge, WV

Yesterday morning I decided to take a walk.  Rebecca spotted me taking off and ran to grab her camera so she could tag along.  We walked down the road in the quiet of the morning hearing only the sound of an occasional dog barking (and Rebecca talking).

Most dogs were chained to their porches or had a fence that ran in front of the house

I tuned out the incessant chattering of my walking partner and heard the gentle rushing of the creek, swollen from yesterday’s rain, that ran beside the road.  Houses dotted the banks along the road and creek separated by only a few feet on each side.

View down Beards Fork Rd

Immersed in my own thoughts I spun around to Rebecca and said, “I just heard a goat.”  She had heard nothing but I turned to look up the mountain side and sure enough, there was a little white goat looking down the hill at us.

We continued on our walk talking to people sitting on their front porches and waving to all the cars that would drive by.  Appalachians are very proud of their area and heritage.  They  were all willing to engage in any form of conversation.  Some were on their way to work in a neighboring town, some were retired and some were disabled from black lung disease or other mining related causes.  Mining decreases your life expectancy by 15 years due to increased risk of disease and accident.

Beards Fork, WV…….

Beards Fork is located about halfway between Oak Hill and Montgomery.  It is known as a holler.  In Indiana, hollers (hollows if you prefer) are usually valleys between two properties.  In West Virginia, this is an area in the mountains that dead ends.  One way in, one way out.  The houses are small and built right on top of each other.  In the beginning, the houses were owned by the coal companies and rented to the people who worked for them.  They started them out with credit and used their own form of money so people never went outside the community for any of their needs.  The companies had complete control over the people.

When the labor unions got involved and the people started using real money the company stores dried up and businesses within the small communities went out of business.

Coal companies are now mostly mechanized.  They dig less underground and have started mining from the top of the mountains.  They run huge conveyers up the mountains to bring the coal down.  Logging is also adding to the destruction of the natural scenery and evidence of mountain topping is evident in many areas.  Loggers are required to replace what they remove but many replace with non-indigenous species of plants that either don’t thrive or are more bush like then tree.

Beards Fork, WV

This is the area where I am living for a week.  It is down a one lane road that “Y’s” to two dead ends.  I am in a holler.  It is amazingly beautiful with flowing creeks on each side of the road which pose a danger of flooding every time there is a big rain. The spring wildflowers are starting to bloom and their fragrance is beginning to fill the air. There is a one lane bridge in a curve with a concrete structure overhead that makes it impossible for cement trucks to get to the holler if a new construction or renovation were to require cement.  Although they have many economic and logistical issues, the people we met on our walk through Beards Fork all had smiles on their faces and were more than willing to tell you about their town.

Creek along Beards Fork Rd

Today I am off to work construction.  I hear I am going to learn to hang drywall.  We will be working side by side with the youth in the youth build program who are learning a trade and preparing for their GED to hopefully better their lives.