Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on August 3, 1975 · Page 57
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 57

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, August 3, 1975
Page 57
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Sunday, Augiut 3, 1975 IJRRENT A1FFAIRS · Editorials · Seiler · Strout · Herblock Thanks to Coal State's Economy Greatly Changed NAUGATUCK (API-Back when John F. Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey were .stumping the state in West Virginia's 1960' presidential primary, millions of people across the nation were given a televised tour of a depressed and isolated land that many had only vaguely heard about but had never before seen in such stark detail. The West Virginia they saw on the Six O'Clock News had been going downhill for years. Mechanization of the mines had eradicated thousands of jobs in the early '50s and forced countless men and boys to flee to industrial centers in the Midwest where they banded together in what came to be called "Appalachian ghettos." Then, the economic slump of the late '50s came along and put the finishing touches on an already dismal picture. So bad was the job situation during this period that many youths across Appalachia left home shortly after graduating, from high school. Some, like James Hannah, boarded the bus for Cleveland the very day they finished school. THE LAND THEY left behind provided the background scenery for Kennedy's emergence as a national political force. It also provided a portrait of neglect and suffering that moved the national conscience and resulted in a variety of federal economic programs and a flood of youthful" volunteers from · the.- nation's more affluent urban:areas. During this time. .Bill Brewer was a storekeeper in Naugatuck, a . little Southern West Virginia community nestled in the hills just across from the Kentucky border. He well remembered those dark days: "Naugatuck was just a wide place in the road back then. Not many mines were working and most of the able-bodied men .had headed for Columbus or Chicago. I had five people working for me. outside the family, and that'made,me the town's biggest employer by far.--' "Things were so bad back then I was ready to quit when the people began getting food stamps. A lot of folks around" here will disagree, but those stamps are what saved us little merchants." ·Time brings change, however, and Brewer is no longer a "little merchant." He is now the proud owner of a large, ultramodern supermarket, coal is again king and West Virginia's economy has rebounded dramatically since the early '60s. Nowhere is this boom more evident than in the state's Southern coalfields. The hills and hollows are filled with activity and new construction. Shoppers in big, fancy automobiles jam the streets of such towns as Welch. Williamson. Bluefield and Beckley and new homes are swiftly replacing the once'-prevalent ramshackle shanties. By Strat Douthat The Associated Press rumbling of coal trains. Down out of the hills come long lines of heavily laden cars, their glistening black cargoes bound for Midwestern steel mills. Eastern Seaboard utilities and the industrial centers of Europe and the Far East. And as the coal rolls out. the money rolls in--and so do the people. "We're bulging at the seams." says Hannah, who failed to find his fortune in Cleveland but has since come home and made good in Williamson as a partner in a restaurant. "We put out a guest book about a year ago and since then we've had people in here from all 50 states and from 35 different countries." Brewer says much the same thing. "I'm seeing people these days that 1 haven't seen for years." he said as he put out bananas on a produce counter. "They've come back to work in the mines. We've got more than a thousand men working now in five or six mines in this immediate area and Henry Hall says there'll be another 10 or 15 mines put in here in the next year. "Go talk with Henry. He knows what is going on. He's one of the fellas who's putting in the new bank across the road from the store." Hall not only knows what's going on now., he also remembers what wasn't going on back in 1960. "I had just been laid off after 11 years in the mines." he said as he sat on the patio of his home on Pigeon Creek, about 10 miles from Naugatuck. "I had a wife and four kids to support so I started driving a truck from coast to coast. I nearly starved to death. "I used to drive out of West Virginia and I'd notice how shiny things looked in other parts of the country; Then I'd come back home and things looked flat and worn out. It was plumb pitiful." · He opened his own small mine operation in 1964 and began selling coal at $3 a ton. He said he just barely made a living until a couple years ago when the Arabs put the squeeze on U.S. oil imports. "I watched the price of my coal go up from $6 a ton to $53 a ton in the space of a year." said Hall, who now counts himself a millionaire. "I watched it go up day by day, week after week." Hall sells his coal on the spot market. He is just one of the dozens of small, independent miners who were in business when- the price soared and who have literally made millions during the past two years. He bought a 58-foot yacht on a Kentucky lake, spent $50.000 remodeling his home and is helping establish a bank. But he's not known as a big spender locally. Across the Tug Fork, in Pike County, Ky.. two brothers drew national attention last year when they built a $1 million gymnasium for the local high school. And it's not uncommon to see a Rolls Royce come wheeling around one of the narrow mountain roads. ACCOMPANYING this economic outburst is a round-the-clock clanking and WHILE THE coalfields shine and miners are earning an average $55 a day-- not counting overtime--the entire state is enjoying unprecedented prosperity. Back in 1960. State Commerce Department statistics showed 561.500 West Virginians earned $2.37 million for an average per capita income of $1.608. Today. 628.700 workers are getting $5.48 million for a per capita average of nearly $4.000. Known as a "poverty pocket' a decade ago. West Virginia now is listed among the fastest growing states in personal income, according to the U. S. Department of Commerce. The federal figures show that while personal income increased by 38.8 per cent nationally during the past four years. West Virginia's per capita income increased by 47 per cent--compared to 29.1 per cent for New York. Personal income rose 13.5 per cent during the past year, making West 'Virginia, the fourth ranking state in that category behind Alaska, Hawaii and Washington, D.C. Between 1972 and 1973. the latest available figures, state building permits jumped 23 per cent, bank deposits went up 12.1 per cent, and retail sales climbed 5.5 per cent. At the same time, the value ol the state's manufactured goods increased by 6.9 per cent from $378 million to $5.867 million, a 121 per cent increase from a decade earlier. Also, the state's population is climbing for the first time in years. Even the Governor has underestimated the degree of growth caused by the massive infusion of coal dollars. In his 1974-75 budget to the state legislature in January. Gov. Arch A. Moore Jr. estimated revenues would total $450 million. Last month, a legislative committee learned that revenues for the fiscal year would exceed $600 million. Price Motor Co. of Williamson is a classic example of how sales are soaring in the coal fields. A small Cadillac dealership, the company has been in business for 50 years but enjoyed its best six months in history during the first half of this year. "Sales were up by 50 per cent over the best previous six-month period." said sales manager Jimmy Osborn. "Many people were buying Cadillacs for the first time and with them it wasn't a question of how much, it was how soon." The state's improving economic situation would appear to be a long term proposition. Coal demand is almost certain to increase and the West Virginia Coal Assn. has already begun a program to entice young workers into the estimated 40.000 new mining jobs anticipated over the next five years. "Yes. things are really looking good around here." said Williamson Daily News editor Jim Van Sant. "In fact, a friend of mine was saying the other day that since all those big cities sent VISTA volunteers down here back in the '60s. perhaps we should now return the favor and send some volunteers up to New York. "It appears that place could use some help." -- APWirephoto Self-Made Man: Independent Miner Henry Hall He Struck It Rich During Coal Boom Bloom Is Off the Coal Boom But Independent Still Going DELBARTON, W.Va. (AP) - Henry Hall grew up here on Pigeon Creek, quit school in the eighth grade and, a short time later, went to work in the mines. Today, he's a millionarie. But the money -- and the accompanying yacht and Cadillacs -- didn't come easy. A short, stocky man with blue eyes and slightly graying muttonchop sideburns, Hall is one of the dozens of small, independent miners in the Appalachian coalfields who scrambled for years and then suddenly got rich during the recent coal rush. "No, it wasn't easy, that's for sure," he said as he lounged on his patio. "I went to work in the mines for Island Creek when I was 18 and after 11 years I was laid off, with a wife and four kids to support and a new home to pay for." L.T. Anderson Gravy Boat Will Not Be Rocked West Virginia government officials, some of whom have demonstrated that they would steal a hot stove, can retire on pensions higher than the West Virginia median income for a family of four, which is just above $11,000. Unless the legislature can enact retroactive law, a gaggle of convicted felons will continue to be eligible for fat retirement pay. John Kelly, who pleaded no contest to several counts involving abuse of the office of state treasurer, will be comfortable on $12.000 a year, part of it coming from the taxpayers, after he does his time in one of the golf course prisons maintained for the better class of American criminal. But as the West Virginia Legislature wrestled last week with the embarrassing problem posed by convicted felons drawing pensions partially financed by you and me. it was difficult to cast legislators in the role of indignant guardians of the public purse. They took very good care of themselves in the pension department, you will recall. NO OTHER PUBLIC employe pension plan can match the audacity of the plan which West Virginia legislators unashamedly voted themselves. In 1967. when legislators decided to bring themselves into the retirement system, they arbitrarily determined that the "final average salary" for pension purposes would be multiplied by foot. A year later, the multiplier was doubled, making legislative salaries for pension purposes eight times the actual Figure. Legislative pen' / fc sions would be based not on $1,500, which was the salary at that time, but on $12,000, an imaginary salary which, of course, would bring a higher pension. Other complicated manipulations of legislative salaries for pension purposes were added. Some were invalidated and some sanctioned by the Supreme£ourt. Legislators enrolled prior to 1970 have a better dea. Since 1970, legislative pensions have been based on actual salary, which was raised first to $3.300, and then to $4,800 for a 60-day session. »· THERE SHOULDN'T BE any legislative pension system. All West Virginia legislators, with the possible exception of women who are the dependents of husbands, have private , employment. Most, presumably, are enrolled in private pension plans. The framers of the State Constitution never envisioned legislators as fulltime state employes. The legislative pension is gravy. Lesser West Virginia state government employes, including teachers, aren't as fortunate as legislators and treasurers. But as the big shots continue to seek ways to justify their own depredations, it is inevitable that the little guys will be invited into the gravy bowl. On the whole, prospects look bright for those in public service, and until very recently there was no reason to fear that retirement benefits might be lost because of a little old crime or two. That was in 1960 and coal was at a low ebb. Hall got out of mining for the next four years and drove a tractor-trailer rig from coast to coast. "I liked to starved to death," he said, brushing dust from his work pants. "And I finally gave it up because it's no life for a family man." So; he went back to the mines. Only this time he went into business for himself. "Coal was selling for $3 a ton in those days," he recalled. "I started in 1964 with a miner (a mining machine), a battery (engine) and two or three little coal cars. The first year and a half I worked like a dog and didn't take a cent out of the business." He almost went broke several times, but he held on and by the late '60s had accumulated some equipment and was making a decent living, although he often worked 18 hours a day. · "Things got better," he said. "The price of coal went up to $20 a ton there for a while and never dropped below $6 after that. Then, back in 1973, the price began to climb again. I watched it go up day after day, week after week. For me. it went from $6 to $53 a ton in the space of a year." Hall always has sold to brokers on the spot market. When the price began to skyrocket two years ago. he was still working underground with his 35 em- ployes. But he soon found he could make more money on the surface, wheeling and dealing. · HE STUFFED A CHEW of tobacco in his jaw and a lopsided grin lighted his face. "The price of coal was going up everyday and you had to stay on top of the market to make sure you were getting the best price. And then, too. hardly a day went by that someone wasn't coming by trying to buy the mine: they still are. in fact." Many small miners have sold out in the past two years but Hall is still awaiting the right deal. "There's been lots of fast talkers come through here." he said. "They offer me a million or a million and a half down and want to pay off the rest over the next few years with me running the mine for them. Heck, why should I work for them when I'm doing all right for myself?" "Doing all right" is an understatement. In 1973. he said, he sold 69.000 tons of coal at an average price of S20 a ton. Last year, he sold 110.000 tons at an average of $30 a tm. "I had to put in a new mine so there for a while I didn't get too much of it," he added, referring to the boom. BUT WHEN PRESSED for his current net worth, he can't put a finger on a sum. "My accountants haven't stopped counting yet," he said. "I reckon you could say I'm a millionaire. I've got $2 million worth of equipment alone." At present, Hall says he is negotiating with several parties interesting in buying his mine, a couple miles up the creek from his home here in Southern West Virginia's Mingo County. The figure he mentioned was S4.5 million. While Hall himself does not reflect his enormous wealth, the signs are all around him. His home, a two-story brick, is just across the creek from where he grew up. He's living in the house since 1960 but recently spent $50,000 remodeling the interior. And his carport is littered with Cadillacs, motorcycles and sports cars. His youngest son. 21, has a Cadillac, a 1923 Ford roadster and a couple of motorcycles. "All three of my boys own a piece of the mine and work there," he said. "The two oldest tried college but didn't like it. My oldest boy runs the mine at night and the middle one runs it on the day shift. The youngest boy takes care of the outside work." His wife and daughter haven't been home much this summer. "They're down on the Kentucky lake on the yacht." he said. "I just got back from there myself. I've got a special made 58-foot boat with a 19-foot runabout and a 14-boot fishing boat. It cost S70.000." »· ALTHOUGH THE BLOOM is off the boom. Hall's still making a barrel of money. "Coal's selling for S19 a ton." he said, "and the price is going back up again. Of course, even-thing else is going up. too. A continuous miner that once cost me S150.000 now costs a quarter of a million." However, coal is not his only source of income these days. He's one of several men organizing a bank at nearby Naugatuck and he's also a partner in a mobile home lot. "We sold four today." he said. "When we got into the business we figured the S6.000 model would be the big seller but it's turned out to be the S12.000 model. "Everybody's got money around here days." tk

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