As a child, growing up in the small coal mining camp of Wevaco near the head of Cabin Creek, the worst news was always associated with a mine explosion, fire or slate fall. All who lived in our area were acquainted with danger.
The explosion in the Sago Mine near Tallmansville, Upshur County, shattered mining families who were looking forward to watching the West Virginia University Mountaineers take on the University of Georgia Bulldogs at 8:30 that evening in the Sugar Bowl.
Family members and the six miners who escaped gathered in the Sago Baptist Church with friends and relatives for progress reports on efforts to reach the remaining 13 miners who were trapped thousands of feet back in the bowels of the mountain. People often huddled in small groups praying for their safe return.
In a coal camp, people are not embarrassed about praying. Prayer is an important part of each day. When I was in public schools, hearing Bible stories read, memorizing familiar biblical passages and praying were not under attack from any self-serving group that seeks to deny these God-given rights.
I have heard words used in recent days that were familiar during my childhood years. I recall the long hours of the day or night when my dad, Clarence Ellis, who did maintenance work for Carbon Fuel Coal Company, would be called to go inside the mines to build a wall to seal off a fire or to redirect air flow so vital to working miners. Those partitions were called “brattices” and built of wood, concrete blocks and “brattice cloth.” It was always a relief when he safely returned home.
When I was a junior at East Bank High School and had a daily 42-mile round-trip bus ride, I was up at five o’clock each morning to deliver The Charleston Gazette to homes of coal miners who were eating breakfast and having their last cup of hot coffee before leaving to work eight or more hours in the mines. In winter months, many of them left and returned in darkness, never seeing daylight until Saturday or Sunday.
It is not easy to write about the miners and their families of Tallmansville. But you can be sure of one thing, as it is for most of us, when things go wrong, they are not ashamed to call on God. They trust in the words of Psalm 23:4, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” The life of a coal miner is not easy. It is dangerous. It has brought injury, illness and death to members of my family and thousands of others.
Remember this: Most of the energy and electrical power of this nation are made possible by coal miners.
Our country mourns the loss of strong, talented and brave men. We will, as a nation and world, continue to pray for their grieving families and friends. In years to come, other lives will be saved and mining will be safer because of the tragic deaths of twelve courageous hard-working coal miners.
Ellis is an evangelist living in Scott Depot.