1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


Was it Really that Bad?
John McCurdy June 17, 2010

I recently watched a show on television that was supposed to illustrate the plight of the West Virginia Coal Miners in the 1930’s and beyond. I nodded my head in agreement as they described how bad life in the Coal Camps was just prior to WW2 and until recent years. Much was made of the dirt and squalor and poverty of the life of those unfortunates who lived there. Much was made of the Company Store and the high prices of its goods, of the coal company script, which in some cases was paid to the miners in lieu of a check or U.S. Currency. Comments on the lack of indoor plumbing in many of the company houses and of the miners bathing in the kitchens in a washtub were mentioned prominently. A picture of children being forced to walk a mile, sometimes more, to what was described as "a second-rate school". They spoke of the lack of organized recreational activities for the young people and of the inadequacy of medical or dental care for miners and their families. The program spent a lot of time on the dangers faced by the coal miner; the slate falls and the explosions, the cave-ins and the crushing and maiming of the men, the deaths by electrocution.

My father and my grandfather were in the mining business at about that time, the late 30’s and early 40’s. Theirs was not a modern mine, most of the work was done by hand, the drilling an blasting of the coal, the loading of the coal cars was done by men and shovels, and the coal cars were hauled from the mine by ponies destined for a life of pulling loaded coal cars out and empty cars back into the darkness. I often accompanied my father when he made inspections of the mines pumps and ventilating systems on the weekend when the mine was inoperative. In the four years we were part of the mining industry only one really severe accident occurred. My grandfather in a hurry to reprimand a worker on the mine tipple, slipped on the rails and suffered a deep cut on his head and a rather severe concussion. The only other incident was not an accident, one of the miners who lived in a company house came home drunk and severely beat up his room mate who required medical treatment.

Those years were the years of the Great Depression when nearly every segment of the population suffered, miners no more and possibly less than others, everyone was in the same leaky boat! Only World War II and the demand for war goods brought a semblance of prosperity once again to America. The rights given workers by “collective bargaining”, and the many new governmental regulatory agencies stopped many of the abuses that were prevalent in the work force of the USA, those Unions and Agencies now have grown so top-heavy and powerful they have the effect of hindering the American Economic Recovery.

I don’t really feel that there is much difference in grinding poverty, whether it is in mining, on the farm, or in the industries of the north or the mills of the south it is still poverty. The only difference is that once the government tried to train and educate these people to rise to another strata. Today’s programs seem to encourage the welfare folks to be happy and take their dole!