Thursday, June 30, 2005

Blue Heron Tipple and House

This is a typical picture of the coal mine tipple. It could have been taken in any of the states that had coal mines and camps. It reminds me of the coal camp where I grew up in southern West Virginia in the 40's and 50's. Here is the story of the Blue Heron Mining community in Mccreary County,Kentucky.

Blue Heron created a string of impressions for those who first went there to live or work had moved from other coal camps in the Stearns Company or in the region. When some arrived they thought the landscape was beautiful, but those who were accustomed to the vast expanse of mountains, river and woodlands paid more attention to that all metal tipple and the hope of good mining.
Still others, particularly the women resented the isolation, being too near the tipple, the lack of transportation in and out, and the pervasive dirt and noise of the screening operation. Some had breathing troubles there, but others merely objected to the small size and remoteness of the camp.
Men, more than women, seemed to enjoy it there. It appealed to the mountaineer spirit and the love of tramping the mountains, good friends and the comrade of mining. It meant independence, and good fishing along the river.
Some loved Co-operative camp because it was a clean and "open" feeling camp with more people, more entertainment and activities and more friendliness in general. Other people favored Fidelity because it was a prettier camp but still had the natural wildness associated with Blue Heron, but without the dirt and rattle of the big tipple.
Others admitted Blue Heron’s beauty, some claiming it to be well kept, others saying it was a pretty place with flowers in the yards, vegetable gardens, a few cows and goats kept by some and some of the tree trunks painted to give a sense of brightness to the spot.
No one, however, seemed to prefer it to where they had worked or lived before. When one old timer declared his preference for Blue Heron over the other camps, his son retorted, "You must not have heard him right Dad."
Money was scarce and luxuries few. Owing the store for charges was common among many. The notion of getting away from coal camp life was not as possible for girls raised in the camps as for boys who could enter the service when they came of age.
Women had only their female teachers as role models for working outside the home, though a few women across the years were employed at the company store. When movies and, eventually, television influenced the hopes of coal camp women, other ways of life seemed more possible.
Early in the Blue Heron years, women knew no alternative to a life of marriage and children and caring for a miner husband, and his household. Later, greater access to education and knowledge of the work through limited travel, radio and television changed the hopes and aspirations of many.
Women, typically had five or more children, and occupied themselves entirely with family life. Few worked outside the home, as there was neither a place to work nor time free of house chores.
Today, in many coal mining areas across America, some women become miners wives, and others also become miners. Changes in both technology and society have altered both expectations and realities of mining camp women’s lives.

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