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.
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.