“I’ll be working in a coal mine... goin down, down, down”
State 2: West Virginia - June 7th, 2017
We woke up in Beckley, WV feeling bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. As we said on a previous post, there are two things that run deep in the history of West Virginia: Moonshine and Coal. I explored moonshine back in Morgantown, and now it is time to learn about coal.
On the agenda today was touring the Phillips-Sprauge Coal Mine in Beckley, WV. Nate had been looking forward to this for the past two years, and I have been absolutely dreading it. I am claustrophobic and being in enclosed spaces, in the dark, in old rickety cart is not my idea of fun. I thought about the first article I wrote on Cross Country Couple about facing my fears to help release the control it has over me, and enclosed spaces is definitely one of them. I decided to ask the cashier a few questions before touring the mine. She explained that the mine was well ventilated, well lit, and was only a 45-minute tour. Damn, I guess I am actually going in a coal mine now!
I learned a lot on the tour. The town of Beckley had purchased the coal mine in 1962 that had been out of commission since 1910. They restored the mine to how it would have looked in 1890, with original equipment, 1500 feet of working track, and a retired miner, named Martin to lead the tour on rickety motorized mining cart. Extracting coal from the earth was hard and dangerous work, it was really sad to see the conditions that the miners worked in. Aside from the long hours, poor living conditions, and remote locations, cave-ins, poisonous gas, and black lung were always a possibility. The pay was low at only 20 cents per ton of coal. Workers were paid in “chits” instead of cash which could only be spent at the coal company store. That is where the old saying came from: “I sold my soul to the company store.” In addition, half of their pay would go to the coal company for their housing. The tour also included a restoration of a typical 1800’s coal mining town, including school house, church, barber shop, superintendents home, and miners home. I left with a greater understanding of the life of a coal miner and with one less fear!
The New River Gorge Bridge
Our tour of West Virginia would not be complete without a visit to a structural and architectural wonder of the world: The New River Gorge Bridge. The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, and many geographers state in terms of age, it is second only to the Nile River! Here is another interesting fact, no one has the foggiest idea why such an ancient river, was named New River in the first place. Albeit oddly named, New River is an old and historic river, it deserved a equivalent bridge of grand stature. The New River Gorge Bridge was completed on October 22, 1977, and is the longest steel span in the western hemisphere. The bridge was voted the most photographed landmark in West Virginia, is depicted on the West Virginia state quarter, and is listed on the national registry of historic places. I really wanted to walk across the bridge, but regretfully it is not open to pedestrian traffic. Usually viewing bridges doesn’t really get my juices flowing, but the New River Gorge Bridge it a testament to American engineering and a functional work of art. We had to walk down 300+ stairs down the side of the canyon to get these pictures, but it was so worth it.
Amidst the apparent signs of economic hardships during our trek towards Southern West Virginia, the bright spot was the breathtaking views of the Appalachian mountains. It is as if they just shot out of the earth and directly into the atmosphere! Unfortunately, there were not many lookout points along our route. Since most of views were obstructed by trees, we found ourselves playing chicken with the scenic views. One of us would be on the lookout for a picturesque view, and call out to the other. The other would then look briefly, and then shift focus back to the road as not miss the next hair point turn and plunge to our certain death! The speed limit was a constant, 55mph, and I don’t think I hit the speed limit once. Clearly whomever devised the speed limit on these sharp turned laden roads with 17,000 serpentines and drastic shifts in elevation that rival the worlds wildest roller-coaster clearly had a death wish. At times it was terrifying, and at other times it was exhilarating. However, our drive through the Appalachian Mountains of southern West Virginia was an experience we will never ever forget.
Exhausted from our 4-hour drive across south eastern WV we checked in to a Walmart parking lot in Elkins, WV and went to sleep,