Home Sweet Home

"Home Sweet Home" in coal camp company housing consisting of unpainted clap board siding with no insullation, no underpinning and limited roofing.  Holes in the walls allowed insects in during the summer and snow in the winter. Some coal companies provided electricity to their coal camps. Others did not see the introduction of electricity until the late 1940s to early 50s. There was no indoor plumbing, except for water lines that were usually attached to a community well which delivered water to the housing by gravity in metal pipes that often were rusted inside and out and frozen on most winter days.  

Wash day was a particularly frustrating experence when washing cloths on a wash board in a round #3 wash tub. This was during the pre-dispisable diaper days. So the number of wash loads was multiplied by the number of children still in diapers. Some camps had a bathhouse for the miners. If not, bathing that horrible coal dust off was done in the same round #3 wash tub...minus the washboard and the dirty diapers that were manufactored that day. Removing the black coal dust from around the eyes was a daunting challenge. If there happened to be a traveling salesman in the camp one day (usually one selling Rawleigh products door-to-door) he stuck out like a rabbit at a raccoon rally. 

The camps had dirt streets in dry weather and ankle deep mud streets in rainy weather. Which ususlly posed little or no difficulty since most strip mining was not done on rainy days allowing miners a day off to worry about "how and where the next meal is coming." The shanty housing had no air conditioning in the summer and window fans only helped to circulate bugs (if one was  fortunate enough to raise one of the single glass-pane windows that were usually dry-roted shut). Winter heat was provided by a coal/wood burning stove in the kitchen and/or grates (a smaller version of a fireplace that could only burn a very few pieces of wood at a time) in every other room. The kitchen was often unbearably hot while the remainder of the house was uncomfortably cold. 

On a high note, one rarely, if ever, had to mow grass. If there was an inch of tillable soil it was occupied with a vegetable garden in the summer that often was the difference between eating and going hungry. If there was no garden, grass often did not grow due to smothering from the collection of coal dust. Coal dust had the same affect on shrubs, trees, flowers, and if not shaken off, the vegetable plants died too. 

To relieve stress, boredom, and occasional depression families often visited the company's recreational center...the company commissary. There the family could enjoy spending the spoils of their labor in company "scrip" (often miners were not paid in U.S. currency, rather in pieces of worthless metal, embossed with the company name, that could only be exchanged for goods at the company commissary). This early rendition of a shopping center housed the grocery store, barber shop, gas station, doctor's office, post office, and most often the only location within miles where one could access a public telephone. All these services were conveniently owned and provided by the coal company. When Tennessee Ernie Ford sang "Sixteen Tons" he expressed the plait of every coal miner, "Another day older and deeper in debt....I owe my sole to the company store."

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