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Smokeless Coalfields of West Virginia

A Brief History

W. P. Tams, Jr., Introduction by Ronald D. Eller

Publication Year: 2001

The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia: A Brief History first appeared in 1963, a little book by a man with no training as either a writer or a historian. Since then, this volume has become an essential sourcebook, consulted and quoted in nearly every study of coal field history. The surprising impact and durability of the book are due to both the information in it and the personality behind it. Through the first half of the twentieth century, William Purviance Tams lived coal. Rising from a young coal engineer to a senior coal baron, Tams stood at the center of Southern West Virginia industrialization. When he sold his company in 1955, Tams was the last of the old owner-operators, men with no personal or financial interest outside of coal. Tams wrote a book which could only have come from an ultimate insider. The everyday work of mining coal is here-laying track, blasting and loading the coal. So is the everyday business of coal, from sinking shafts and ventilating the work area, to administering a town and keeping the workers happy. Tams gives the financial details of the volatile business, and offers capsule biographies of the other major developers of the Southern West Virginia coal fields. It was a passion for Tams. He never married, and tended his business and his town with paternal care. After retirement, this industrial baron spent his final decades in a modest bungalow in his little coal-camp community, watching the town he had built fade back into the mountains. It is W. P. Tams's passion and attitude, as much as his place at the center of history, which make The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia worth reading nearly 40 years after its first publication. Tams's 1963 account of his career, The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia, offers a unique perspective on the business and the life of coal mining. The book is especially valuable for its account of the daily life and work of the miners, engineers, and families in the mines and in the mining towns. Our reprint of this fascinating and important book combines Tams's original work with a new introduction by Ronald D. Eller, author of Miners, Millhands, & Mountaineers.

Published by: West Virginia University Press

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pp. 1-10

On a cold March morning in 1975 I pulled into the little town of Tams, West Virginia. Tams resembled scores of other declining mining towns in Appalachia. Double rows of gray company houses squatted in the narrow valley beneath a steep hillside to my right, while a rusting ...

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Preface. The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia: A Brief History

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p. 11-11

This brief and somewhat fragmentary history of coal mining in Southern West Virginia has been complied at the request of Dr. Robert F. Munn, Director of Libraries, West Virginia University. Dr. Munn has given a great deal of help ...

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pp. 12-14

In any law court, before a witness can be accepted as an "expert", he must qualify as such by stating his training and experience. For that reason, it might be well for the writer to give a brief account of himself. ...

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1. Location and Early Development

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pp. 15-23

The coal-producing areas of the New River Valley, the Kanasha Valley and that part of West Virginia lying south of those two rivers are called "The Southern West Virginia Coal Fields." The western porton comprises the Kanawha, ...

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2. Finances and Organization

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pp. 24-33

At the turn of the century mines could be opened with a relatively small capital investment. All that was required was to build houses for the miners, a store to supply them, and a tipple structure to dump the coal into railway cars. Many ...

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3. Work in the Mines at the Turn of the Century

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pp. 34-50

Coal mining was not a highly skilled occupation. Indeed, a man needed little more than a strong back and average intelligence to become a good miner. The miner often began work as a boy. There were then no minimum age laws, and ...

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4. Life in the Coal Fields at the Turn of the Century

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pp. 51-63

The company town and the company store have long been favorite targets of critics of the coal industry. Many appear to have believed that both were imposed on helpless miners by rapacious operators. However, such a view reveals a ...

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5. The Gulf Smokeless Coal Company

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pp. 64-73

In the preceding chapters I have attempted to outline something of the history and development of the Southern West Virginia smokeless coal fields. There seems some merit in supplementing this rather general discussion with a ...

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6. Personalities in the Smokeless Coal Fields

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pp. 74-99

The miner of 1903 would probably not have known what to make of his 1963 counterpart. Much the same thing might be said of the operator. The early operators were a highly individualistic lot, quite different from today's "organi-...

Place Names in the Smokeless Coal Fields

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pp. 100-107

E-ISBN-13: 9781933202754
E-ISBN-10: 1933202750
Print-ISBN-13: 9780937058558
Print-ISBN-10: 0937058556

Page Count: 106
Publication Year: 2001

Edition: Second