Consider interactive memorial park to fully honor state’s coal heritage &


What deep anguish our state collectively felt at the deaths of 29 miners April 5, 2010, at Upper Big Branch, and 12 miners in January 2006 at Sago.

It’s hard to imagine, then, the brutality of working in a coal mine in the early 1900s, as the industrial age began booming full force.

There had been two coal mining disasters in the Mountain State before the calendar turned to 1900, with 39 dead Jan. 21, 1886, in an explosion at Mount Brook, Newburg, and another eight dying Nov. 20, 1894, at the Blanch Mine in Standard.

But then the numbers got worse: Disasters with 46 and 15 deaths in 1900; 10 more dead in a 1901 disaster; and 17 and 6 in 1902.

That 1903 and 1904 were free of mining disasters in West Virginia really was the calm before the storm.

In 1905, 7, 24, 6, 5, 7 and 7 died in separate disasters. Then in 1906, separate disasters claimed 22, 18, 23, 23 and 6. Then came 1907, arguably the most tragic year in West Virginia mining history.

It started with the death of 12 at Penco; 85 on Jan. 29 at Stuart; 25 on Feb. 4 at Thomas; 46 on May 1 at Scarbro; and then the unimaginable catastrophe of at least 361 perishing Dec. 6, 1907, at Monongah.

All of the early disasters involved explosion or fire until Dec. 31, 1910, when 10 died from a haulage accident.

The West Virginia mining world is much safer now than it was in November of 1968, when 78 died at Farmington; or in January of 1940, when 91 died at Bartley; or in April 1927, when 97 died at Everttville; or in April 1924, when 119 died at Benwood.

Coal mining became safer as miners learned to better deal with dangerous gases underground. The advent of better technology also helped. And today, coal mining’s decline adds up to fewer individuals working in the industry.

Even so, going underground seems like one of the toughest, most dangerous jobs around to this very day.

And it’s hard to imagine just how bad it must have been for those in the early 1900s. They had to be wondering not if, but when, they’d be among the dead, the crippled or among those who wasted away from black lung.

As we move further away from an identity as a coal mining state, it seems like this would be a good time to look to dedicate a memorial to this oh-so-very-important industry and the many, many, many unsung heroes who made it work. Maybe it should even be a small, interactive park. This seems like something all our lawmakers could agree upon and make happen sometime over the next five or 10 years.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when I packed up my little old beater car with my handful of belongings and left the home I’d made in the desert Southwest for a job in Charleston.

But it has been a long time — it’s closing in on 35 years, in fact.

I’m not sure why time seems to move so much more rapidly as we get older, but I’m sure many of you have noticed this, too.

There was a time as a freshman and sophomore in high school when I wondered how I’d ever make it to the days when I’d be done with education and on my own. Time did seem to move much more slowly; again, I’m not sure why.

As many around me retire, it’s hard not to want to look years ahead to that future, too. But there’s that whole adage about not wishing your life away. There are also the hard lessons of life that remind that nothing is guaranteed.

Each fall as winter weather closes in, I’m reminded why I liked a stick-shift vehicle.

Sure, there are many downsides to it. Automatic’s much easier. And the way it’s made today, it’s more economical. Plus, automatic’s probably better in most cases in trying to avoid a wreck. And finally, there’s nothing like trying to move a stick -shift vehicle from a stop on a hill with someone right up on your rear bumper.

When it’s snowy and icy and time to go downhill or uphill while you’re moving, though, it’s hard to beat a stick. Downshifting is a great way to cut speed. And it’s also a way to stay in control while trying to move up the road through slippery stuff.

I’ve left stick shifts behind, probably for good. It’d be tough to find one anymore, anyways. But I definitely enjoyed driving them, once I got past that first drive — also in the desert Southwest — on a super busy street. First gear all the way home, and just lucky someone didn’t decide to go full road rage on me.


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