With columns of wagons loaded with purified coal leaving for Morgantown at frequent intervals, and with Montague coal barges bound for southern Virginia crowding the Monongahela, it might be assumed that the mine had no further need for the railroad, that the projects completed on the summit had become redundant, irrelevant. It was true that railroad access was no longer critical for mine survival, but if the urgency had become less, the potential for future growth had increased enormously.
After the arrival of the Memnon locomotive, Wade's men began shuttling coal filled hopper cars downhill at a pace that could not be matched by any combination of wagon and steamboat. Hauling coal by river and road gave the Montague mine access to markets across Monongalia and Marion Counties. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad gave them access to the entire country. In four weeks, their production had tripled; the Newcastle Memnon was quickly paying for itself.
By the beginning of December, 1860, the Montague Mining Company had earned a profit during each of the preceding six months; cash was beginning to pour into the company coffers. Each of the three partners enjoyed a comfortable living; they owned homes in the surrounding area, wanted nothing of substance, and indulged themselves a few luxuries from time to time. They had healthy bank accounts, but real wealth was being deferred to the future. There were other priorities.
First, there was the question of the mine's indebtedness. For years, as their financial condition had improved, Cameron had been trying to gradually reduce the growing mount of debt by retiring as many of the oldest loans as possible. Now with profits accumulating rapidly, he was accelerating the process. During hard times, the infusion of burrowed money insured survival; now the resulting mountain of debt that had arisen was a burden.
Then there was the matter of ownership. Frank had recently acquired, by outright purchase, his seventh mine. He was determined that the Montague company become the predominate mining operation in Monongalia and Marion Counties, and that, in his ambitious mind, was just the beginning.
Frank also wanted their original mine back. To underwrite the early development of the business, investors had been courted, sometimes receiving a legitimate share in the company, but as often as not, only an unsecured promise that their capital would be protected and earn attractive dividends. Cameron estimated that during the past six years they had oversubscribed the mine, in excess of two hundred percent. His present goal was to redeem as many outstanding shares of publicly held interest as possible and to accomplish it quietly and expeditiously. Time was an important element since rapidly rising profits might induce an investor to demand a higher price; inconspicuousness was essential to avoid arousing government suspicions and risk legal consequences.
There was also the question of new debt as new projects were begun: the Memnon from England, the acquisition of more mines, the road building, Frank's processing plant at Healey's Landing.
Lastly, they had not yet freed themselves from their contractual entanglement with the railroad. If the thorny question of mineral rights could not be resolved in the mine's favor, then everything else accomplished would come to naught. The overall situation had improved, but they still had problems in abundance.
The area about the mine was changing rapidly as well. Montague Mine No.2 currently employed six hundred workers alone; Frank's other properties added another five hundred men to that total. The population of Montague Village, the mining coal camp, had grown to fourteen hundred people and was fairly bursting at the seams. The town of Montague itself now claimed two thousand residents, many of whom had some relationship with the burgeoning coal business about them. Healey's Landing, an empty strip of riverbank six months before, was a growing community of three hundred people, and a new town, Montague Station, with two hundred residents, had been established around the mining freight platform. Frank had to remind himself from time to time that six years earlier when he first entered the valley that none of these communities even existed.
Underground, Bevens was digging furiously, trying to make as much progress as possible, for he knew that time was growing short. His spiral entry, which the miners had christened "Main Street," had been extended to a second floor, eighty feet below the surface. Seven great laterals, four on the valley floor level and three on the lower floor, radiated outwardly from the central elevator shaft into the coal seam, each a half mile long and growing longer on every shift. Bevens had decided to replace Frank's antiquated and generally ineffective bellows ventilation with steam powered blowers and narrow, dedicated entries from the surface. In fact, if they were to reach even deeper levels, such a system was absolutely necessary. But Bevens was realistic about the prospects of beginning that work any time soon. It would have to wait; everything would have to wait.
There were a few personnel changes, too. Hershel Wade was promoted to Associate Mine Superintendent and was moved back underground for the first time in nearly three years from his summit operations. Bevens needed him in the mine. His former assistant Gene Platt was given responsibility for the summit.
And most curiously of all, Isador Cheek acquired a new worker. Cameron Healey had decided that he had experienced quite enough office work to last a lifetime. He wanted to become a miner. He already knew the front end of the business, better than anyone else in the company, in fact. Now he wanted to learn it from the bottom as well. So, everyday, Cameron reported to work, in spotless coveralls, a gleaming new helmet and davy lamp on his handsome head, tools at the ready. Eight hours later he emerged from the dark underground with the other miners, filthy with soot, black smudges on his fair complexion, his jaunty attire now ready for laundering. The southern gentlemen, the Yale educated Cameron, had elected to pursue the most incongruous career imaginable; he became a creature of the dust.
It was late December, and the days were growing shorter with the coming of winter. The long dark hours were expected to last until next spring, but Abraham Lincoln of Illinois had been elected the sixteenth President of the United States on November 6, 1860, and everyone knew they would last much longer.
In northwestern Virginia, men were drilling in the town squares, and drums were resounding across the hollows. War clouds were gathering along the Potomac, and nothing would ever be the same.