When we left the campground this morning it was still raining. It started last night and drizzled all night. The clouds were hanging low in the mountains, but the driving was good.
We made an unplanned stop at the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. It was very interesting and really shed some light (no pun intended) on the life of a coal miner in the early days. I think some of the conditions have changed, i.e. lighting, safety, etc., but I am sure the job still sucks.
This particular coal mine is 6 miles long. This mine was referred to as a “low-seam” coal mine. In this mine the coal was only 36” high, therefore they onlu made the mine that tall. The miners went in on their sides and stomachs, working that way for 16 hours at a time, everyday. Mines are also very wet year round, not to mention the condition of the air they were working in. They had to fill 10 one ton carts before they could leave the mine. They made.20 cents a ton. They used a pick to get the coal out of the area it was in and then shoveled the coal into the cart. They used a mule to pull the carts out of the mine. In 30 days the mule would go blind because their eyes could not adjust. The guide turned off his miner’s hat and the light in the mine, it was very dark, pitch dark. The miner’s in this time period only worked with a light on his hat and one carbide light. There were not any other lights.
Fortunately for us, they raised the height of the mine so they could do tours. We only went in 1500 ft, but it was dark and wet. We stopped at several spots along the way and water was dripping on my head. The areas we toured were the only areas they raised. The rest of the mine remained at 36”.
The houses on the property were donated from people in the town of Beckley. They were dismantled and then reassembled on site. All of the furnishings were from that time period. Early 20th century. The superintendent’s house was given to him and he made 10 times more than the miner. He did not pick or shovel, the miner’s did the work. He just made sure they turned out their 10 carts and replaced the mules when they could not work anymore. His house was 3 stories and 10 rooms.
The bachelors’ house was one room and the bathroom was outside and the miner’s that had a family, their house was a little larger maybe 4 rooms.
We also toured the coal camp, which depicted 18th century coal mine life. Little House on the Prairie did not show things as they really were, starting with the General Store. It was quite small. I asked the guide if it was downsized to fit on the property and she said, “no, this is the size.” Then she showed us a 2 story house that had 5 rooms. She said there was 17 – 21 people living in that house. I told her I believed it, that my dad grew up in Anstead, WV and there were 13 kids and their house was smaller than this one.
Since this was an unplanned stop we needed to be on our way.