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19.

 

    Frank arrived at the mine early that morning looking haggard and deprived of sleep. And, in fact, he had precious little the night before. Rebecca had gone into labor three weeks early, and when her water broke, he galloped into Morgantown in the middle of night to rouse Doctor Schuyler and drag him to her bedside.

    Two hours later, he was summoned upstairs to comfort his wife and cradle their newly born son Nathaniel, named in honor of Rebecca's father, the Pittsburgh lumber merchant who had once disapproved of his son-in-law but now thought him a wise and prudent businessman, apparently just like himself.

    He paused at the entrance to the new mine office building. It was a rambling two story, wood frame affair with black metal, ornate shutters, painted a mixture of white and grey, a colorless combination chosen to reduce the inevitable weathering from airborne coal dust. The skeleton of a second building was rising next door: the foundation had been poured and two sides of framing propped into place. It was the future miner's bath house where men could shower and change into clean clothing at day's end before continuing home.

 

    Further down toward the mine, two more buildings had been recently completed. One was a commissary where hot meals were served, lunch and dinner, for miners on break or perhaps beginning and ending shifts. Quo Chung, who once cooked pork and beans over a camp fire on the plateau, was the culinary dictator in charge of the facility. Of course, consistent with Frank's other policies, the food was provided to the miners free of charge. Many praised Frank as a benevolent and enlightened employer; others whispered that he was appeasing a complacent work force. But wherever the truth lay, and it probably held elements of both extremes, Frank had undoubtedly won the sympathy and loyalty of his miners.

    The other building, behind the first but closer to the stream, was a large stable for the three dozen horses kept by the mine. The livestock were divided into two groups by size and function: the larger animals were used for personal transportation and  hauling wagons of freight and supplies between town and the valley; smaller horses, better suited for working in confined places, were employed pulling rail cars loaded with coal along the entryway within the mine. Before the building was completed, all of the mine's livestock were tied overnight to hitching rails positioned just inside the entrance, but Frank thought they would live healthier and happier lives outside with more fresh air and room to roam.

 

    Frank opened the door, turned immediately left, and walked to the foot of the stairs leading to the second floor. He hesitated for a moment, looking out across the spacious room. Most of the space was enclosed behind an L-shaped mahogany counter spanning the room from the foot of the stairs to the far wall on the shorter side of the building, opposite the front entrance. The counter effectively partitioned the first floor into two areas. The first, a narrow, L-shaped corridor between the counter and perimeter walls, was reserved for visitors: miners or people on business from the coal camp or neighboring communities. A rack for time cards was fastened to the far wall near a window at the end of the corridor. The long interior wall facing the counter held a large clock-the official company time-a few pictures of elected officials, the President and state Governor, and a cluster of bulletins containing local news and notices: items for sale and announcements of future events. A few benches were positioned here and there.

    Behind the counter, six clerical desks and chairs were arranged in two columns of three rows each, facing the front entrance. Columns of chairs for clients and other visitors were positioned alongside the desks. Visitors and employees entered through a low, swinging panel door, built into the counter near the foot of the stairs. Several doors on the long rear wall led to bathrooms and storage, but most of the wall was crowded with file cabinets. A lone water cooler and a few plants were the other occupants.

    Frank left the administrative area on the first floor and climbed the stairs to the next level. The second floor was really a loft or mezzanine, built over the rear storage areas and extending out like a platform over the first floor, providing a lower, secondary ceiling over a third of its area. Thick wooden posts and beams rose from the first floor to carry the second story weight. A polished wood railing, about waist height, supported by a column of decorative pickets, extended across the front of the loft, lending the second floor a vaguely balcony-like appearance.

    The four private executive offices, divided by a conference room in the middle, were arranged in a row against the rear wall. All the owners were allocated space: Frank, Cameron, and Bevens. The last office in the row was occupied not by another owner, but by Isador Cheek, Mine Superintendent, a position to which he was promoted after the company was incorporated the previous October. He, more than any of the others, ran the mine from day to day, and all the foremen and bosses received their orders directly from him.

    

    Herbert Wiggins was now Senior Foreman and Steve Reynolds, cousin to the Cheeks, was named his assistant. Maurice Cheek was still mine fire boss, still a paid employee of the Montague Mine Company, and still spent most of his day at Frank's mine; but he had acquired additional responsibilities. The Governor of Virginia, or at least one of his surrogates, had appointed him Mine Inspector of Monongalia County, an office that required that he travel frequently and conduct periodic, unannounced inspections at all the coal mines in the county. Although his expenses were reimbursed, and he received a modest stipend, the position was coveted for its prestige rather than any monetary reward. At first, Maurice wanted to refuse the commission, it entailed too much time away from his real work, but Frank convinced him otherwise; it was a personal honor and would enhance the reputation of the Montague company.

    Hershel Wade, the third surviving brother to Isador and Maurice Cheek was once considered a brawling, heavy drinker, constantly on the verge of being fired. He still exhibited a wild streak on occasion, but he had become one of the mine's most valuable employees. Bevens depended on him for everything, turning to Wade when he needed someone competent enough and responsible enough to supervise the drilling of the central shaft in his absence. He had been promoted to Foreman of Summit Operations, a blanket term that made him directly responsible for everything that occurred outside of the mine itself, including construction at the coal camp.

    Not only did he continue to direct the never ending drilling and expansion of the central shaft, he was also in charge of building the mine processing plant, and maintaining the railroad facilities between the headframe and the Baltimore and Ohio mainline. He reported to Henry Bevens alone, bypassing any of the supervisors, including Isador, the Superintendent. In everyone's opinion, no one deserved a promotion more than Hershel Wade. The trouble was that no one could identify a position to which he should be promoted, even though his various duties were critical to the well being of the mine. Everyone thought of an appropriate title, but Frank rejected all of them. They were either too specific or too general. Finally, Cameron settled the dispute: Wade would be appointed Director of Mining Operations. The title was general enough to cover everything and vague enough to be meaningless. And since no one wished to offend their invaluable Treasurer and Attorney, he was. Wade himself accepted the promotion with good humor, although the title was certainly a misnomer. He had not set foot inside the mine in more than a year.

 

    Frank approached the second floor railing and looked down into the clerical area.  None of the six clerks who were normally busy at their desks had arrived yet. He glanced at his pocket watch: a few minutes past six. No wonder the mine grounds appeared so empty when he rode in. Frank turned and entered his office. The wall calendar needed updating, he saw that immediately. In fact, it had not been changed in a week. He strode with great resolve across the room and torn off several pages until he reached the current date: Tuesday, March 9, 1860. My God, he wondered, where are the months and years going.  So much was changing about him so quickly, in his family, in the mine, to his friends.

   

    And things were changing rapidly for Frank as well. The mine, in spite of its limited coal production and shaky financial underpinnings, was widely considered a success. Indeed, with one hundred and thirty-seven miners on its roster, it was one of the biggest employers in the region. A town, a coal camp, a mountain, a mine, a company, a stream, and a valley were all named after Frank, although to be perfectly honest, he had done most of the naming himself.

    He was also becoming an embryonic tycoon in a rapidly expanding industry. Frank had recently purchased his fourth mine, all of them spread across Monongalia County. Only Cameron seemed privy to the precise details behind these complex financial arrangements. They were clouded in obscurity as far as everyone else was concerned.

But no one raised any criticism that he was being overly secretive; no one, for that matter, wanted to know what those arrangements were. When the marshals came, Frank remarked humorously to the others, he could, in all good faith, claim ignorance of his own wrongdoing.  

     In addition to acquiring new properties, Frank had also solved the problem of naming them. He had begun to follow his partner's example, numbering the mines in his portfolio as Henry Bevens did his mine floors and laterals. The original mine was now officially named Montague Mine, No.2, a designation that puzzled Rebecca until he explained, "Becky, you're the only number one in my life."

    The mine itself had also entered a new phase in its short but tumultuous life. With the completion of the trackside facilities and the turnouts from the mainline, a lifeline would soon be available for shipping coal to market. Of course, they still needed an effective means of bringing the yield to the surface. A significant step toward that goal would be taken today.

 

    Frank looked at the mirror above the sink in his personal lavatory and frowned. "My God, who the hell are you?" The reflection was the image of an unkempt fellow: gaunt, sallow, blood-shot eyed, bristling with whiskers. A shave and a clean shirt, he decided, it was the very least he could do.

    Once he had done his best to look more presentable, after he washed, shaved, combed his hair, and put on a clean shirt, Frank left the office and prepared to ride to the summit. A cup of coffee would be much appreciated, he thought, but Chung must have joined the others on the summit by now. He would have to do without breakfast until later.

    He turned his horse onto the valley road and trotted east toward the river. Six months ago, the ride would have taken the better part of two hours. The only passable route led north along the river to the railroad crossing; then it continued along the right-of-way to the mining freight platform, a mile below the headframe. Two months ago, a new road was completed. Now a spur from the valley road turned sharply northwest at the mouth and hugged the outer base of the northern ridge line until it joined the old summit trail. The trail itself was gone; a permanent road had been set in its place. It curved gradually uphill from rail to summit. Frank was able to join the gathering of miners, officers, and other dignitaries on top in forty-five minutes.

 

    Three weeks before, Hershel Wade had sent a message to Henry Bevens that he was shutting down the drill rig; the preliminary stage of sinking a central shaft from the summit had been completed. They had reached a depth of one hundred and fifty feet below the valley floor and widened the shaft to a diameter of thirty feet, the exact dimensions Bevens had estimated were necessary to accommodate the skip hoist elevator.

   

    When Frank dismounted at the summit, he was greeted by a wave of enthusiastic applause from the crowd. He smiled, nodded, and tipped his hat in return before mingling with the other members of the official party who had been awaiting his arrival.

    He glanced at the faces of the assembled officers, miners, and visitors from the neighboring communities who had convened for the brief ceremony. They were gathered in a wide half circle about the headframe: close friends, fellow workers casual acquaintances, and unfamiliar strangers, all coming together to witness a turning point in the mine's fortunes.

    Since his last visit, two weeks earlier, much had  changed. The scaffolding within the headframe had been dismantled, and one wall of the building had been taken down temporarily in order to gain greater access to the machinery inside. The drill rig itself had been swung back from its position over the shaft opening and once more been disassembled, the component parts packed away for shipment within sturdy containers.  This time, past mistakes would not be repeated; detailed notes were recorded that described the exact procedure followed.

    Bevens was reluctant to return the drill to the anthracite coal mine in Pennsylvania. Since the Montague Mine would only need it again in a few years, it made perfect sense to him that they make the original owners an offer, buy the rig, and eliminate the long term rental expenses, to say nothing of the substantial shipping costs. In principal, Frank agreed, but it was all a matter of limited funds and scarce resources: they should first identify the priorities. Nevertheless, he asked Cameron to look into a possible deal.

    Newspaper photographers had ridden out form Morgantown to record the day's event. After Frank had gracefully acknowledged the greeting he received, he shook hands with his friends and fellow owners, and the group posed for official pictures. Then Isador handed Frank a bullhorn and asked him to say a few words to the men.

    "Good morning, miners and guests. As you know, speech making is not my favorite activity. I'd rather dig for coal than listen to myself talk. I'd rather not use this horn, either, so if anyone can't hear me, just give a shout," he began, returning the device to Isador.

    "Since the mine opened nearly five years ago, we have faced the problem of bringing our coal to the surface and getting it to market. For a long time, it seemed that the obstacles were insurmountable, but thanks to your hard work, the goal has almost been achieved.

    "Today, we shall begin installing a custom made elevator that will bring coal from the depths of our mine to the top of this mountain and then down to the railroad from whence it can be shipped to the industries along the Eastern Seaboard, to factories  demanding our fuel in order to manufacture the great products of our nation. You can be proud of your achievement during the months and years that have led to this moment.

    "On behalf of the other owners, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. You have earned our eternal gratitude.

    "And by the way, I'm personally sorry for the delay this morning, but my son Nathaniel Montague was born at 3:41 AM this morning."   

    With those words, the crowd erupted in boisterous celebration; men threw their caps in the air and fired rifles in salute. Frank grinned and waved a response to the crowd before turning beseechingly toward Quo Chung who was proceeding in his direction bearing a steaming cup of hot coffee.

   

    Beyond the headframe, about fifty feet down the incline, the mine processing plant was nearing completion. A long coal chute designed to connect plant and hoist had been assembled and awaited final installation. Extracted yield from the mine would travel downward through the sloping chute from the headframe into the processing plant where it would be directed into large flotation tanks filled with heated water. The purpose of the tanks was to use the principles of specific gravity to separate coal from aggregate.

    As the yield submerged beneath the frothy surface, coal, a lighter substance, would disengage from the rest of the conglomerate and float to the top while aggregate sank to the bottom. The coal would be removed for further processing and cleaned of all remaining impurities while the aggregate was discarded. Finally, the processed coal would be moved by another chute and deposited into the hopper freight cars waiting on the tracks immediately below the plant.

    The next phase would involve moving the hoppers to the railroad freight junction downhill. After the enormous efforts needed to move the coal from the mine to the surface, the rest of the procedure would be comparatively easy.

    As the cars were filled, their brakes would be released, thus allowing gravity to move them slowly downhill where they would be directed into a freight siding, the loss of momentum eventually bringing the hoppers to a gentle stop. Once the desired number of loaded hopper cars had been assembled on the siding, an industrial switcher, leased by the mine from the railroad, would push the cars against each other so the couplers could be engaged and locked.

    The final step would be completed once the freight train arrived from Pittsburgh. The train would make its scheduled stop, and a designated car would be uncoupled, dividing the train into two sections. The locomotive would move forward pulling the first section of cars away from the second, thus creating room for more cars to be added between the two. The industrial mine switcher would move the assembled hopper cars into place between the two sections and return to the siding. The three sections of cars would be pushed together and coupled, and the train would leave for its ultimate destination. And finally, Frank Montague's coal would be transported to market.

January 2012

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