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24.

 

    One hundred and thirty-one days after Cameron Healey submitted an order for a replacement switcher, a new Memnon 0-8-0 locomotive was delivered to the freight platform at the foot of Montague Mountain. It had been manufactured in Great Britain by the Newcastle Company, shipped across the Atlantic Ocean, driven south from New York City to Philadelphia, west to Pittsburgh, and south to its ultimate destination in northwestern Virginia.

    "Where in the world did you find that beast, Cameron?" Frank wanted to know.

    "It is quite extraordinary, isn't it. Built low to the ground, sleek and elegant. The eight drive wheels look small, but I'm told they can generate massive power. Newcastle fabricated a handful of them for the Baltimore and Ohio about twelve years ago. This one was never delivered. We found it sitting on a wharf side storage track in Liverpool. Never been used except for testing and delivery."

    "Amazing. I'd ask you how we're going to manage the payment, but I probably wouldn't want to know."

 

    In fact, the Memnon far exceeded the needs of the mine. It could pull much heavier loads up more steeper grades than anything the Montague Mining Company would ever demand. Ownership of the Memnon came with another distinction: they were one of the few privately held companies in the United States to own their own steam locomotive, and they were the only American coal mine to do so. Hershel Wade would never have to worry about throwing a piston again.

 

    Frank's long struggle to bring his coal to the railroad was over. Henry Bevens had looked at his mountain six years before and envisioned a grand scheme of moving coal from below the ground to the summit above and finally down to the railroad a mile distant. A vision is one thing, of course, but nothing would have been achieved had Bevens not possessed the remarkable ingenuity and the incredible mechanical inventiveness that brought it all to fruition.

    And then there was Cameron Healey's astonishing contribution. He may, had things turned out differently, been a very competent lawyer practicing in Morgantown, Richmond, even Washington. He was, after all, a graduate of Yale, one of the most distinguished universities in the country. A competent lawyer, yes, but it was in the field of finance that Cameron became truly inspired. None of the projects designed by Bevens could have been implemented had not Cameron found the funds to buy the materials and pay the workers. He was, quite simply, a genius of monetary and legal manipulation.

    Finally, what was Frank's role in these landmark achievements? Although he knew the coal business as well as anyone in Virginia, it was Henry Bevens who built and designed the mine, and it was Cameron Healey who made it financially feasible. But Frank Montague was the great solver of puzzles, the man who made all the pieces fit together. He was the visionary in all of this. Bevens looked at a mine and saw a way to make it work, and Cameron found a way to pay for it. But Frank looked at a barren mountain at the end of a valley and saw a mine. He had the foresight to seek the help he needed, and the judgment to choose the men who would provide it. And he had the stubbornness and persistence to keep everyone at it, especially when the outcome was far from certain. In the end, it had always been Frank's mine.

 

    The problem, then, of using the railroad to transport coal had been solved. Lives had been lost, a fortune spent, and unpassable obstacles breached, but it had all been resolved at long last. There was, however, one curious footnote. From the beginning, the massive undertaking had one objective: to save the mine by transporting greater quantities of coal faster to market. Ironically, the mine was saved without railroad transport; and it would still have been saved if none of these projects-the hoist, the processing plant, and the rail line extension to the summit had ever been planned much less completed.

    At the outset, the problem of freight haulage seemed formidable if not impossible. The only practical market for coal lay in Morgantown, seven miles away over trackless, rough terrain. Frank could not haul his processed coal quickly enough over that distance to realize a profit, regardless of how many wagons and workers he employed. Coal piled up faster outside the mine than it could be loaded in wagons. That was the original situation, and the reasons that a strategy to bring railroad access to the mine was adopted.

    But over time, as work proceeded on the hoist, the processing plant, and the rail facilities, the situation changed, and it was the demand for coal that changed it. The simplest, most direct way of reaching the markets in Morgantown was to build adequate roads to the nearest bridges. And they were being built, although the pace of construction seemed agonizingly slow to those who needed them the most.

    Frank built the first one himself, a two lane road composed of sand and compacted gravel. It extended four miles from the mine entrance to the banks of the Monongahela River. At first, it was a crude thoroughfare, prone to washouts during heavy rainfall, the surface loose and rutted from the passage of wagon wheels bearing ponderous loads. But with time and frequent use, the road improved: the surface hardened and the embankment was raised through wet areas.

    Then he built a second two lane road, a mile long, using an improved design and  better materials, from the headframe building on the summit downhill to the mining freight platform on the railroad right-of-way. Finally, he tied the four locations together by adding a connector road from the mouth of the valley to the headframe.

    At that point he had done all he could to improve travel and commerce between mine, mountain, railroad, and river. Actually, he had done more that he could, for all of those improvements passed over publicly owned ground, and Frank had dubious access to some of it, and none at all to the rest. Moreover, he was prohibited from extending his road any further toward Morgantown; the steamboat companies had exclusive access to the river bank in either direction, from Pittsburgh to points below Fairmont.

    And there the matter might have ended. But Frank had another card to play. Henry Bevens had recently been elected mayor of Montague, and using a combination of carefully reasoned argument and sheer trickery, was able to convince his constituents to authorize the construction of a road from the town limits of Montague two miles south to the Morgantown bridge, where a road of much older vintage led south toward Fairmont. On reflection, it may have sounded like a shaky proposition, and almost certainly an illegal one as well, but in fact, it was a bargain. It cost the good citizens of Montague, Virginia absolutely nothing: Frank supplied all the labor and materials.

     Now only one gap remained in opening a continuous avenue from the mine to the wharf area of Morgantown, site of the coal retailers: the undeveloped one mile strip between the eastern terminus of Frank's valley road and the northern limits of Montague. If Bevens were able to justify a northern extension of the Montague Road to the valley, he could circumvent the exclusive easement enjoyed by the steamboats, for it prohibited private development only; the provision had no effect on municipal improvements. But there lay the rub; no such justification was possible. The Montague coal camp was not a municipality; it was a commercially owned property. And that invalidated the only argument for connecting the two communities. Frank had apparently played his last card.

    Then Cameron came up with an idea. If they could negotiate with the railroad, why not do the same with the steamboat companies? His timing could not have been better; for during the past several years, a steady procession of wooden coal barges had been floating down the Monongahela from Pittsburgh to points south. When Cameron approached a committee of four steamboat companies with a proposition that he assured them would benefit everyone, he found them eager to listen; he arrived with the opportunity they had been waiting for, a chance to share in the coal traffic on the river.

 

    The demand for coal had reached new heights and promised to continue its rise; that was the key. Cameron was willing to do three things for the steamboat companies: build a landing with wharf facilities near the confluence of the Montague Stream and the Monongahela River; build a small fleet of coal barges; extend the valley road to the new landing and south to Montague. The coal mine would bear all the expenses, including materials and labor. In return, the steamboat companies would agree to three provisions: they would share the riverbank easement with the coal mine; they would raise no objections to the road extensions or the landing; they would schedule regular freight stops at the landing to ferry Montague coal barges downstream at a preferred customer rate. 

    Cameron was not a newcomer to the bargaining table. He followed Frank's previous example during the original railroad negotiations and withheld some of his final concessions until absolutely necessary. And as a result, he came away with a much better deal than he might have.

    And so they hammered out an agreement. The four steamboat companies would form a limited conglomerate for contracting with the Montague Mining Company. They were willing to build the landing if Montague would provide the wharf facilities. A fleet of coal barges would be purchased by the steamboat companies from builders upriver and leased to Montague Mining for twenty years rent free, with an option to renew. Frank could build as many roads as he wished without their objection; in return, they would be the exclusive carriers for river borne coal from all of the Montague mines, needless to say, at most favored customer rates. 

    Cameron needed no further convincing; he signed the proposed contract immediately; the terms were much better than his most optimistic expectations. Montague Mining could begin shipping coal to southern Virginia. The mine was afloat.

  

     It took only three months to complete the facilities along the riverbank. Healey's Landing, as it became known, was now a busy port on the Monongahela. And along with the commercial activity at the wharf, a small community of fisherman and shipping people began to be established around the site. The mine had wanted a port; they had also gained a town.

    Once Bevens's road construction crew had completed the two stretches of road, each a mile in length, from the end of the valley road to the Landing and then south to the Montague town limits, a steady parade of heavily laden wagons began traversing the uninterrupted route from the mine, along the river, through Montague, and across the bridge into Morgantown, bringing coal to eager customers and a thriving market. There was, however, a growing bottleneck in the flow of traffic. Coal processing at the mine was a primitive affair: two columns of vats, one for separation, the other for purification; it was too slow and needed the constant attention of too many workers to  keep pace with the accelerating rate of coal extraction. The facilities on the summit were better, but hauling yield to the processing plant and back to the road and landing was a ludicrous waste of time and energy.

    One day shortly after the landing opened to receive its first shipments, Frank and Cameron were standing outside the office building, watching a line of wagons leaving for the river. "You know, Cameron, we should build a new processing plant, a much bigger one than we have now. It could be a regional facility serving all the local mines, not just ours," Frank considered

    "Where would you build? In the valley?"

    "No. The other mines would have to haul everything here and then back to the river. I was thinking about a site a little north of the landing, just a half mile or so. The terrain is flat and high enough to avoid the flood season. Most important of all, it would be centrally located, yet not disturb any of the residents. Do me a favor and ask Henry to take a look if you see him before I do."

 

    Evidently, from such casual observations do major projects grow. Bevens did take a look as requested, and, not surprisingly, he agreed with Frank's proposal. Blue prints were prepared, and a construction schedule set. But Bevens was far too busy to supervise the project directly. Steve Reynolds was promoted to Assistant Mine Superintendent and put in charge of its development.

  

January 2012

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