Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Coal miners' lives of risk and poverty

Comment by May 11 for a chance to win a copy of Wait for Me.

Coal Miners

In my latest novel, WAIT FOR ME, the main characters live in a coal community in Southern West Virginia in 1955. Coal communities, or coal camps as they were also called, tell the story of abandonment and poverty. The coal is still the heart of the area where monster trains battle steep grades to bring the coal to outside markets.

Coal miner's housing in a coal camp 
However, coal mining in America has dwindled. In 1950, West Virginia employed 143,000 miners. By 1997, that number was down to 22,000. During the 1980s the central Appalachian region lost more than 70,000 coal mining jobs. Yet, more than half of the electricity in the U.S. today is generated by coal-fired power plants.

Coal mining is a relatively dangerous industry. Employees in coal mining are more likely to be killed or to incur a non-fatal injury or illness, and their injuries are more likely to be severe than workers in private industry as a whole, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Coal miners leaving mine

In WAIT FOR ME, Julie’s daddy owns the coal mine where they live. Julie loves Robby whose papá works in the coal mine. Robby plans to follow his papá and grandfather into the mines to work. Julie tries to convince Robby not to work in the coal mine. In the book, their conversation goes like this:
“Robby, I hate to see you go into the mine after you finish school.” She pushed his dark hair from his face and allowed her fingers to linger there. “You’re so smart in school, you could become anything you want to be.”
“I don’t want to be anything except a miner.”
Robby faced Julie and placed his hands on her shoulders. He looked into her eyes. “Julie, my grandfather came here from Italy to find work in the mines. When my papá got old enough, he followed him into the mines. Now it’s my turn to follow them both into the Capshaw #7 mine. I’m expected—I want—to become a miner like they did.”
“Please promise me you’ll think about something else for your life besides be a miner. It’s honest work, of course, but they work in the dark, it’s difficult on the body, and not too safe. And all the coal dust. A coal miner is never all the way clean—the black coal dust never leaves the crevices of his ears or the space underneath his fingernails. You can see coal dust on a miner’s face but you can’t see it in his lungs. You could get black lung disease if you work in a mine every day. Promise me you’ll think about it.”
“Sure, I’ll think about it but I won’t make any promises.” He found her lips for a good night kiss. “I’d better get you home.”

Coal Camp  Country Store

A coal company provided not only a job but a unique way of life for West Virginia miners and their families. Since most of the mines were located too far from established towns, the coal companies built their own towns and included inexpensive homes, a company store, a church, and a school for the miners and their families.      Because of the need for daily supplies from the company store, a simplified method of bookkeeping was established, using coal scrip. The earliest coal scrip (tokens) dates back to about 1883. Miners could get advanced credit on their earned wages (in scrip) to pay for daily necessities at the company store. This use of coal company scrip eliminated the need for the coal company to keep a large amount of U. S. currency on hand. Each mine had its own scrip symbols on the tokens, and these tokens could only be used at the local company store.

Coal Company script

Coal miners worked 9-10 hours a day. Better jobs, with higher wages, safer working conditions and the opportunity to advance, were offered to native-born Americans first.


Immigrants from Wales, Scandinavia, Ireland, Germany, and Southern and Eastern Europe were forced to take jobs with lower wages and worse working conditions. Most had been peasant farmers in the Old Country, accustomed to working outside. The work in the mines was dangerous, especially for these untrained workers, and many industrial accidents occurred. The management grouped immigrants by nationality into work crews so that they could communicate in their native languages.

Coal miner with lunch bucket

From looking at these photos, is it any wonder that Julie doesn’t want Robby working in the coal mine? Will Robby and Julie ever get away from the coal community so that Robby won’t work in the mines?

SHORT AUTHOR BIO – Jo Huddleston:
Jo Huddleston is a multi-published author of books, articles, and short stories. Her debut novels in the Caney Creek Series and her latest book, Wait for Me are sweet Southern romances. She is a member of ACFW, the Literary Hall of Fame at Lincoln Memorial University (TN), and holds a M.Ed. degree from Mississippi State University. Jo lives in the U.S. Southeast with her husband, near their two grown children and four grandchildren. Visit Jo at www.johuddleston.com.

BACK COVER BLURB for Wait for Me:

Can Julie, an only child raised with privilege and groomed for high society, and Robby, a coal miner’s son, escape the binds of their socioeconomic backgrounds? Set in a coal mining community in West Virginia in the 1950s, can their love survive their cultural boundaries?

This is a tragically beautiful love story of a simple yet deep love between two soul mates, Robby and Julie. The American South’s rigid caste system and her mother demand that Julie chooses to marry an ambitious young man from a prominent and suitable family. Julie counters her mother’s stringent social rules with deception and secrets in order to keep Robby in her life. Can the couple break the shackles of polite society and spend their lives together? Will Julie’s mother ever accept Robby?


You can find Jo at:

You can purchase Wait for Me at: http://tiny.cc/xndfwx


Title of book: Wait for Me
Author: Jo Huddleston
Publisher: Forget Me Not Romances, a division of Winged Publications
Genre: Sweet Southern Historical Romance
Series or stand alone: The West Virginia Mountains Series, Book 1
Target age: Older teens, adult

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