Monday, September 23, 2013

West Virginia Coal Mine Experience

We passed through some beautiful mountains coming through West Virginia. And under those mountains is a lot of coal. We stopped in Beckley to experience life in a coal mining town.
The town is comprised of restored buildings moved here from various West Virginia coal mining towns. The mine here ceased active operation in 1909, and was reopened for exhibition in the 1960s (I think).
 A monument honoring WV coal miners. He's holding his dinner pail which also carried his drinking water.
We start our tour at the Company Store. You've heard the song, "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford. The lines, "Another day older and deeper in debt," and  "I owe my soul to the company store" refer to the system which miners were paid in scrip which could only be exchanged for goods in the company store. We paid in cash for our tour tickets.
The tour started with a trip into the mine on this little train. We were not issued hard hats, but were cautioned not to stand up.
 The tour is narrated by a retired coal miner.
 Here we go...
 It's dark in here even with the lights on.
 Notice all the water on the ground.
It's constantly dripping on your head too, which is why they needed these:
 The veins of coal were about 3 to 6 feet wide.
 The tunnel we traveled in was made wider and higher to accommodate the tourist train. The actual mine tunnels were shorter and narrower.

We stopped in several places where our guide would explain what was done. Here he demonstrates the old way workers shoveled coal into this one ton cart. A miner would get paid by the number of these he filled.
 There were numerous ways the air was tested for poisonous gases. One way was using a canary. If the canary died, it was time to get out.
 An assortment of miners lamps and other air testing gear.
It's good to know the fire boss deemed the tunnel air safe at 9 a.m., about an hour before we entered the mine.
 On into the mine we go.
 This small miners oil lamp would last about an hour.
When the electric lights went out, this emergency lamp could be ignited for a little temporary light.
 Whatever was spoken on this telephone could be heard throughout the mine.
Here our guide is about to demonstrate how the pick axe was used to loosen coal.
 Then a drill was used to make holes for explosives...."fire in the hole!"
 These are more modern machines (as compared to a shovel) for loading coal.
 Our guide demonstrates how the ceiling is shored up using long bolts.
I could see numerous ceiling bolts all through the mine. 
Coal dust was a major problem....think Black Lung disease. One way to keep the dust down was to "dust" the walls with crushed limestone. (I wonder if there is something called White Lung disease...hmmm)
 These were another problem...but I can't remember everything he told us.
 Where scooters and skateboards got their a coal mine.
 Miners would load their dinner pail and tools and "skate" down the tunnel.
 Miners dinner pail. The meal was in the top, the bottom filled with water.
Moving on...
 Quittin' time!
Next we toured the restored mining town.
We started with the mine superintendent's 3-story house.

The house had indoor plumbing and modern appliances. Note the refrigerator with the motor on top.

 Washing machine and vacuum cleaner.

 Modern bathroom with bathtub (not shown).
If you were a bachelor or man working here away from his family, you would rent one of these single-person shanties.

 Inside the shanty.
This 3-room cottage would be for a miner and his family. The houses were owned by the coal company. Rent was deducted from the miner's pay.

 The "washing machine"...
 No indoor plumbing. 
 Ice box.
 About the scrip system of paying miners.
 Metal scrip
 Miners pay stub. Note of the $74.14 he earned, he only received $1.68 in cash after deductions.
 The miner's cap offered little protection, and the lamp was a live flame.
One good thing....each house had it's own outhouse. They didn't have to share with other families.
The coal company provided a school for the children of miners.

And a church was built for the community too.

Not related to the coal mine community, there was also an old homestead from rural WV to tour.
 Carol and I continued on into Virginia where we are camped in a nice National Forest campground. This one has paved sites and electric hookups.
 We took the dogs on a nice walk around the campground loop.
 Stony Fork Brook runs through the campground.
 Thistle and I took the Nature Trail through the forest of White Pines.
 I learned this was an experimental forest, but there was no sign telling what conclusions were made by this study. Perhaps it is still ongoing?
Tomorrow we will be on the Blue Ridge Parkway.


  1. Great tour of the mine and town. Nice campground too.

  2. Lizzie, you did it again..great tour guide..and ya know that one kitchen with the oil cloth on the table..looks what I grew up with and the school desks..what we had yeppers..great little area..enjoyed thanks so much for taking us along..God Bless