The end of the day arrives at last. As the last rays of natural light floods the Kanawha valley the day shift workers climb into their vehicles and head home. Along the way dinner is being prepared and sometimes the aroma wafts onto road. Children and pets rush out to greet the homecommers. The ties and work boots are abandoned with exuberance and those comfortable pants with the elastic band are picked up along with old tee shirt that feels like a welcoming hug. The say that the clothes make the man. If that’s true then taking your work clothes off is like taking off the person who you have to be and becoming who you are again. As I look at the feature image and see the parked train and the cars headed home it’s a great metaphor for the end of the workday and a little time for real life.
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A light breaks through the morning mists as if it is plowing a pathway for travel. The long mournful sound of horn in combination with the thunder of wheels proceeds the screeching of the brakes as the train pulls into the tipple. I ease my big blue truck into the wide spot near the berm. A mountain is waiting to be loaded onto the train and moved to the power plants and steel mills. If the miners are the men who pull light out of the darkness then the railroad workers are the men who move mountains.
One of local engines CSX 7979 was recently spotted in California by my fellow blogger Russel Ray. Russel is real train buff who was able to track CSX 7979 back to Huntington West Virginia. I never really expected that any of our trains would be found that far West!
I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me. Our coal goes into the grid as electricity and into the iron that becomes steel. It’s almost as if there is a little piece of our mountains in almost everything that is either made from steel or uses electricity. Look around. You probably have a piece of Appalachia in your home too.
Early mornings are a way of life in the Appalachian mountains. Many of us chose to live well away from where we work. I remember when I was a kid lying in bed and hearing the door close and then the car start before daylight. My dad was off to work. (My dad was a telephone lineman. He didn’t work with trains or coal.) I pass by this railyard every day and every time I do it looks like the morning crew had been at work for hours. I’ve never worked for railway but I know the kind of work that’s done there. It’s hot and grimey in the summer and bitter cold in the winter. I imagine that the coal dust gets into every little crevice of your skin as the coal comes off the beltline and pours into railcars. I have been told that one of the more dangerous tasks is keeping the chute clear of “clinkers”. Clinkers are large clumps of coal that clog up the chute and have to removed by hand. The work is hard and dangerous. The train here is a short one. It’s only about three quarters of a mile long. (A little more than 1200 meters) once it’s full it’s probably heading to a power plant where it will boil the water that drives the turbine that makes electricity that powers the servers that runs the internet that makes our lives so much easier. It all happens because someone got up before daylight and did the dirty work.
Most of us are familiar with The Little Engine That Could. However, it occurs to me that some of my international friends may not have been told the story as a child so here is a summery.
The little train engine was loaded heavy and faced a long stretch of tracks up a steep mountain. The climb was hard but he kept repeating “I think I can. I think I can.” Over and over until he was over the top. It’s a preschool classic tale about the power of positive thinking. Proverbs 23:7 tells us that the Heart’s thoughts forms us into what we are as a person. In other words, how we identify ourselves determines how we behave. Do we see ourselves as the happy one? The fun one? The smart one? Maybe we see ourselves as the one who has a good heart but is always being taken advantage of. Whatever it is it’s that self identity that influences what we will do in any given situation. Even if the choice is being made subconsciously we are still making a choice. What forms that self identity can be pretty complicated but as I understand it we get a lot of this from the opinions of others. I once witnessed one of the cruelest pranks known to mankind when working in a prefab housing factory. The short version is that multiple people who was in on the prank simply asked this person if he was feeling okay. No suggestion of what might have caused the question was to be made. After several inquiries the otherwise healthy young man left early claiming he felt ill. The opinions of the group had so much influence on his opinion of himself that he manifested symptoms of illness. The next day he was told by several people that he looked well and that his recovery was amazing and he had one the most productive days ever! It was all done by manipulating his opinion of himself. And that brings me back to The Little Engine That Could. By repeating to himself that positive thought over and over he brought out the best that was inside himself and overcame the obstacle before him.
I try to keep these two stories in mind when I’m feeling down. One of them I learned as a child and the other I witnessed first hand. The lesson I learned was that positive thoughts can improve my quality of life. Also, with the rise of social media we’re more likely to encounter people like the coworkers who made a person sick simply with the power of suggestion. Keep that in mind when listening to the negative opinions yourself and others that might be floating around out there and never hesitant to give a kind word to someone who might need it to get through the day.
Tonight’s image is the railyard at Cheylan West Virginia. If you look closely at the background you can see one of our coal tipples. The coal comes down the river in huge barges and is offloaded to the tipple where it’s moved by conveyor belt into the train. It’s some of the most dangerous work in the mining industry. My whole life I’ve heard stories about workers stepping between two rail cars at the wrong moment. The large piles of coal have been known to collapse and bury men alive. I know that coal energy is controversial in the world today but it is our main energy source in a large portion of the world. Here in West Virginia coal lights our homes, cooks our meals and powers our internet connection. It even powers our electric vehicles. Through the paychecks paid to the miners coal feeds families whose members have never set foot in a mine. (Every mining job supports between 3 and 5 others. ) It all centers on hubs like you see here and the workers who risk it all to pull light out of darkness.