Coal Miner’s Company House

A little country village in West Virginia, during the 1930’s and 1940’s, situated between two steep and wooded rugged hills, was indeed to become a booming town. Underground coal mining was coming to the village. 

There was one mining company that began deep underground mining for coal and they employed a dozen or so men, including my father. Our family and others moved into the “holler” but were not fortunate to own property. When the coal company started operations they used the miners to build clapboard sided two-story houses for those without, which included our family, to live in as long as they were employed with the coal company.

Our house and every company built house had 4 rooms downstairs and 2 large rooms upstairs. They were all the same design.  No indoor plumbing. Coal was the fuel burned in a fireplace in the living room that supplied heat in the winter. It was like the house was built around the chimney. Heat radiated out from the sides of the chimney which was visible inside and ran straight up through the middle of the house into the 2 bedrooms upstairs. Coal was free. Dad would take us kids riding in the back of his 1940’s Ford pickup truck to the mines. There we would load up the truck bed with a week’s supply of coal and then unload it in the coal shed next to the house once we got home. Everybody used coal and there were some days black coal smoke would lazily float up out of the chimneys from every house and would linger over the valley tree tops with a gray heavy smog. There was always the smell of coal smoke in the air.

No indoor plumbing meant no indoor toilet facilities. So, every house had an outhouse and we took our baths from a big pan filled with water heated on the coal-fired kitchen stove. Water came from a deep well and drawn up by a hand pump outside next to a back porch. 

From the back porch to the outhouse my father and mother laid down a brick walkway. Also, they laid down a sidewalk around our house. The brick coming from the mines brick yard. My mother was pregnant with me when they built the sidewalk. A few years ago I returned to the place where the house once stood. The area was grown over with brush and years of rotten trees. I began digging around where the house stood and finally uncovered the sidewalk. I loaded my truck bed with as many bricks I could find, took them home and built a hearth for my wood burning stove.

After a short time my maternal grandmother came to live with us. It was a real treat to have her there. Many times my brother and I would gather around her as she rocked back and forth in her creaking rocking chair. Sitting on the floor next to the fireplace in the livingroom, we would listen to her tell of times long ago when she was a little girl. She told of some really ghostly scary stories that made the hair stand on the back of our necks. And to this day I can remember those tales and have passed some on to my grandchildren. Poor grandma, who was getting up there in age was unable to use the outhouse, so she used a chamber pot which was stored under her bed. Mother would empty the pot at the outhouse every morning.

One day mother decided that we needed a larger outhouse. So, the men from the mines were called on to tear down the old one and build a new one. It was a deluxe outhouse with 2 sitters. The only one in the neighborhood that would accommodate 2 people at the same time. My mother was so proud. Only in those days would this be considered a luxury.

Many years have passed and sometimes I yearn for the. return of those days. So simple, so uncomplicated. Enjoying lazy warm summer evenings sitting in the swing on the front porch with my mother as she chatted with a neighbor who lived down the road. I laid on the swing with my head in mother’s lap listening to them talk about the events of the day. Mother would swing slowly back and forth . Soon in the darkness of the evening lightning bugs would glow their yellow green light down next to the creek. Closing my eyes I would fall asleep. I was just a little boy, but I remember those wonderful days and how peaceful it was in that little village. The name of the village was called, Gloryholler.

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