Coal Mining

Of Labor Days Past

Your life isn’t behind you;
your memories are behind you.
Your life is ALWAYS ahead of you.
~ Steve Maraboli

Garrett Elementary School (center) Floyd County, Kentucky

Garrett Elementary School (center) Floyd County, Kentucky

On this Labor Day holiday, it is with somewhat mixed emotions that I contemplate returning to work tomorrow. I recently decided that this school year will be my final one, and I look forward to full retirement next June.

So, it seems today is my last Labor Day holiday. I imagine I’ll be seeing and experiencing any number of “last time” things before leaving school for the final time next June. It has also occurred to me that, as student or teacher, I have returned to school after each Labor Day for the last 65 years.

When researching family history, I’ve often wondered what sort of jobs or work my ancestors were involved in to support their families. Except for some census and employment records, that sort of information was not documented very often. When asked, many of my ancestors simply said they were farmers and their wives were house keepers. In more recent times, coal mining became a common occupation.

John Wesley Baldridge

John Wesley Baldridge

There were some notable exceptions, however. My great grandfather John Wesley Baldridge was a farmer, but I know that he also served as a magistrate in Knott County, Kentucky, for a time. A magistrate, sometimes called a justice of the peace, was an elective office and their main duty involved serving on the county fiscal court, but in Kentucky, all justices of the peace could perform and legalize marriages as well.

Five Cent Scrip, Elk Horn Coal

5 cent scrip, Elk Horn Coal

After John Wes moved his family to Lackey in Floyd County, he owned and ran what was known as a scrip store at that time. Scrip were tokens or paper issued as wages to workers by coal companies which could be used for purchases in scrip stores. Later, they lived in Hueysville and he operated a general store and a corn mill.

Of his nine sons, eight were either farmers or coal miners. Pearl, the eldest, worked as a bookkeeper and attended seminary to become a minister. Two daughters were married and did not work outside the home. Minta, the youngest child, went to college and became a teacher.

Seco, Kentucky, coal mine

Seco, Kentucky, coal mine

My grandfather Fair was a coal miner for over 20 years until he moved to Ohio to find employment. I will tell more about his work life in a future story. His only son Rudolph, my father, also worked in the mines for a time, as did both of my brothers, Eddie and Bobby.

On my mother’s side, my grandfather Henry Workman was a coal miner for many years, and so was his father William, and all three of his sons. I plan to tell more about his work in mining in another story, too.

I began college the fall after graduating from high school in 1965 and finished graduate school six years later in 1971. I began teaching that same year until I retired in 2002. I have continued working each year in one school or another since then.

Apparently, it’s difficult for some people to adjust to retirement, the getting up every morning with nothing to do and nowhere to go. I don’t understand that. I won’t have nearly enough time to do everything I want to do then.
I have enjoyed my work life, but I can’t say I’ll miss it.
It is my past — my memories. My life is still ahead.

Categories: Baldridge Tree, Coal Mining | 2 Comments

Hello, Dad, glad to finally meet you

Dad as a boy


My mind still talks to you.
My heart still looks for you.
My soul knows you are at peace.

The son of a coal miner, born in the Letcher County, Kentucky, coal company town of Seco in 1925, college was never an option for Dad, or even part of his reality. His father Fair had worked underground, mining coal to support his family since 1920, and there was no reason for Dad to think his path in life would be any different. Completing high school might have been a possibility, but even that accomplishment was denied him when he chose to go to war instead.

I did graduate from high school, but, with little hope for college, I had no plans for where I was going or what I would do next. Fortunately, I was presented with an unexpected opportunity to attend college that summer, and I did. I soon developed an interest in the theatre and decided to major in drama. We had always gone to the movies when growing up, but live theatre had never been a part of our lives, and since my family remained mostly unaware of what I did in college, it never occurred to me that there would be any interest.


Then, one day, many years after Dad was gone, I came across a Floyd County Schools yearbook from 1942, when Dad must have been in high school. I had always known that Dad attended Garrett High School in Floyd County, Kentucky. My grandmother often mentioned that he had worked on the old gym building when he was in school there, but that was literally all I knew.

When I browsed the pages of that 1942 yearbook, I was excited to find pictures of Dad that I never even knew existed. But one unexpected photo I discovered was particularly astonishing. On a page devoted to the Garrett High School Dramatics Club, below the photo of the club’s members, the first name in row three was Rudolph Baldridge.

And sure enough, there he was. That would have been Dad’s sophomore year and he was 16.
I actually recognized his picture, but I simply could not comprehend that Dad was in the drama club in high school; and I never knew. The subject simply never came up between us.

Garrett Dramatics Club, 1942

Rudolph Baldridge, freshman, Garrett HS, 1941

Rudolph Baldridge, freshman, Garrett HS, 1941

Dad was also in the Garrett freshman class picture in the previous 1941 yearbook.
In the Floyd County Schools yearbook from 1940, I later discovered that he attended Wayland High School — as a freshman. I have no idea what that means. Dad was in the Science Club at Wayland as well.

Not long after the 1941-1942 school year at Garrett High School had begun, on December 7, 1941, our country entered World War II. Dad would have been 17 at the end of his sophomore year in June of 1942, perhaps still too young to serve. But it appears that Dad did not return to start the next school year at Garrett, and he never attended high school again.

In September of 1942, Dad’s father, Fair, began work mining with Elkhorn Coal in Wayland. Dad’s Naval Service separation record shows that he was employed by the Army Air Base at Patterson Field in Dayton, Ohio, from September of 1943 until he enlisted on May 17, 1943, just before his 18th birthday. Fair was laid off by Elkhorn in April of 1943. Apparently, he was then hired by the same Dayton, Ohio, Army Air Base in May, just as Dad was leaving for the Navy.

Almost everything that I know about Dad’s time in the Navy is found on his military discharge document, but I was reminded recently that at least some of his time was served as cook on a Navy ship. Dad’s record indicates that he lived at 334 South Main Street in Dayton when he enlisted, and confirms that he completed two years of high school. It says that he served at NTS, Great Lakes, Illinois, and received $6.40 in pay each month. He was awarded medals for American Area and for Victory World War II.

It shows that he was honorably discharged on April 18, 1946, in Shelton, Virginia, after serving a total of two years, eleven months, and two days. It also says that he received $89.67 in pay at his discharge, which included a $36.55 travel allowance, with $100 in mustering out pay.

Rudolph Baldridge and Azlee Workman

    Rudolph Baldridge and Azlee Workman

Finally, it indicates that Dad will be returning to his home in Lackey, Floyd County, Kentucky, to seek employment upon his discharge.

Not long afterwards, Dad married his sweetheart, 16 year old Azlee Workman, who was living with her father, Henry Workman, and her new stepmother, 20 year old Inez. In July of 1947, their first born child, Kenneth Ray, came into the world.

My genealogy research has uncovered much that I did not know about Dad, but there is still much that I do not and may never know. I must say, however, that I don’t anticipate discovering anything that will surprise me any more or please me more greatly than his brief time with the Garrett High School Dramatics Club.


Categories: Baldridge Tree, Coal Mining | 1 Comment

Dad was a coal miner

It’s dark as a dungeon and damp as the dew,
Where the dangers are double and the pleasures are few,
Where the rain never falls and the sun never shines,
It’s dark as a dungeon way down in the mines.

DadI can still recall Dad returning home from work at the end of a day spent underground. It was 1958, and we lived in West Garrett, a small community in Floyd County, Kentucky. After Mom left us, Dad’s mother — Mamaw, we called her — came to live with us, doing her best to keep us all together as a family.

I was the oldest and I walked each day with my brothers, Eddie and Bobby, to Garrett Elementary where we went to school. Only four years old, our little sister, Luly, was still too young. Today, some might say these were hard times, but we were like most other people around us. We had a warm home, good food to eat, clean clothes to wear to school, and, most important, we had family who loved us everywhere we went.

Rudolph Baldridge (front row, last on right), Wayland HS, 1940.

Rudolph Baldridge (front row, last on right), Wayland High School, 1940.

Like his father, Fair Baldridge, and generations of men in our family before him, Dad worked for the coal mine. Dad was born in Seco, a coal company town in Letcher County, Kentucky. He grew up in

Wayland, the Floyd County town where his father worked in the mines. Wayland is where he met Mom, Azlee Workman, whose father Henry also happened to work in the same mines as Papaw Fair. There were not many options at that time for men to support their families, and Dad probably knew that his future was coal mining, too. But this was during World War II, and in 1943 Dad signed up to serve with the U.S. Navy.

By the time he returned after the war, his father, laid off by the mines, had moved his family to Dayton, Ohio. After they were married, Dad and Mom also moved to Dayton, where he found other work than coal mining. Dad and Mom lived in Dayton for several years and Eddie, Bobby, and Luly were all born there.

It was after their marriage ended and Dad lost his job that we returned to live in Floyd County where we had family to help us. Since there was little work other than mining, that is where Dad went to support his family.

Rudolph Baldridge and Azlee Workman

Rudolph Baldridge and Azlee Workman

I don’t know the height of the particular vein of coal that he worked, but it couldn’t have been any more than 4-5 feet. The miners couldn’t stand up and had to dig the coal out sitting or lying down. Like most mines, a lot of the coal had to be removed with a pick and shovel and loaded into a “shuttle buggy” to take it outside. I remember many days Dad would leave before the sun came up and not come back again until after the sun was long gone. He went to work in the dark, worked all day in darkness, and came home in the dark.

Dad was always covered in coal dust when he came home, from the hardhat on his head to the soles of his steel-toe boots. I sometimes wondered why miners came home that way. Why didn’t they clean up before they left work? Was it because the coal companies didn’t provide a place for them to do that? It might have been simply because they wanted to get home and away from the mine as soon as possible.

Any exposed skin was caked in coal dust, when Dad got home. When he removed his shirt to clean up, He only needed to wash his head, neck and hands. But it’s Dad’s face that I’ll never forget. Surrounded by all of the black, the whites of his eyes almost seemed to glow in the dark. Filled with powdery, fine coal dust, the lines on his face seemed blacker than the rest and stood out even more.

And that was pretty much all I could see of his face. At least until a never-failing smile broke through his usually grim expression whenever he came home.

And I remember that smile most. It was always the best part, because it was for us.


Categories: Baldridge Tree, Coal Mining | 2 Comments

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