By DIANA NELSON JONES
January 04, 2006
Through its history of boom and bust, automation, layoffs, close calls and tragedies, coal has resided as a deep cultural vein, a bonding element for generations of all but a few counties of West Virginians. It's as ever-present as tragedy.
In this picturesque Barbour County seat of 2,900, everyone knows someone who has worked in the mines and almost everyone has relatives who did. Many know at least one miner who has been injured or killed in an explosion or a cave-in.
In the past few decades, Barbour County has watched the mines play out. There is one deep mine left in the county, according to Joe Mattaliano, the county's economic development director who served for 38 years as the city manager.
In nearby Buckhannon this week, Crites Electric, Domino's Pizza, McDonald's and other businesses displayed simple messages on their roadside signs: "Pray for the miners."
Each time the outline of West Virginia popped onto a TV screen, with the dot for Tallmansville, the buzz died and heads turned to stare. Unsaid, and unsettling, was the paradox of men rendered helpless in a mighty-man's job.
"There should be a monument to miners," said Mattaliano. "They helped us win World War II, crawling underground, keeping the steel mills going."
At City Hall, Richard Moats watched the news update with a cluster of other city workers. His father, Isaac Moats, was killed in a mine accident in 1965, when Richard was 8. "I don't even remember where it was. My memories are vague, but I know this news has been hard on my mother. It brought back a lot of memories for her. I remember staying at my grandmother's and my mother telling me my daddy wasn't coming home from the mine."
As CNN moved on to news from Russia, other city staffers gave their troubled expressions over to talking about their own family mining stories.
"My dad was in a mining accident in 1971, before I was born," said Chris Starkey, a building inspector and recreation director for the city. "He said to me, 'There's one place I never want to see you, and that's in a coal mine.' That was a lecture when I was in high school. But he would love to go back. It's like a fraternity. To this day, you see old miners getting together and talking."
Tammy Stemple, the city's Main Street director, said she wanted her husband to go into the mines when they first married because of the money, but, she says now, "thank God he didn't. My father worked on a tipple weighing coal when it came in, and I had an aunt and uncles in mining. I could never have done that. I'm nervous enough just being in elevators."
Public works Director Buddy Shreve was a strip miner through the 1970s until 1985, when the mine shut down. He thinks the mining industry is "picking up again because of the demand for power. I believe they are looking for miners," but he isn't interested in being one of them again. "I think most people here are deeply affected by what's happening."
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