There is something about driving your dad’s truck that makes you feel a little taller. Not only did this granny driver get a speeding ticket, but I also finally found the nerve to take the drive down the road that leads to Fola Coal.
Fola sits halfway between my house and my parents’ house on the Nicholas, Fayette, and Clay county borders along Route 16. If it were not for numerous friends and family members having been employed there, I would not have known it was there. There are no signs marking the operation and it is not visible from the highway.
The picturesque houses along Route 16 were quickly replaced with seriously dilapidated houses and trailers including a faded red, white, and blue trailer used as the Bickmore post office. The first thing I noticed were small number plates on the trees. After about a 1/2 mile, the Fola Operations sign. The sign’s arrow pointed up a steep hill. I pointed the truck in the direction of the arrow, but I did not expect to be able to get close enough to see anything. In fact, I was prepared to be hustled out as quickly as I came in.
The hill crested very quickly and I began the descent full of S-curves. After handling the first curve, I saw it. The mountain, what used to be a mountain, no more than 3/4 of a mile from the homes that screamed hard times. If I said that it did not take my breath away, I would be lying. I am certain I heard an audible gasp come from my body. You can look at pictures on the internet all day, but nothing prepares you for seeing something like this up close. This mountain looked as out of place in my surroundings as an Amish buggy would appear in Time’s Square.
I made my way down to the bottom and stopped near the blasting area sign. I did not linger. I did not want to hear these signals and, though I was doing nothing illegal, I did not want to be asked to leave. Forcing my dumbstruck body to move, I drove deeper into the holler. After a few miles, I saw the entrance complete with heavily guarded gate. I drove past the gate and found a spot to turn around. Upon pulling into the wide spot in the road, I paused for a moment to make sure that my aging camera had functioned properly. Across the road from me, a man was dousing large piles of logs with a gasoline can and I knew it was time to go.
As I drove past the entrance gate again, I saw a huge employee exit sign that read, “Did you work safe today or was it luck?” I will save my thoughts about this fear tactic, but I will note how safe Fola works: Fola Coal to Treat Mine Pollution in Twentymile Creek
This has been another very difficult blog entry for me. As I stated, many of my family members have worked this closing mine. Like many Appalachians, it is hard to find the balance between my hatred of mountaintop removal and the love I have for my multi-generational mining family. They still love me despite my views. They do not harp at me for them and I owe them the same courtesy.
Perhaps even more than the practice of MTR, what I really despise about coal is that employees were not and are not offered other options for employment after these constant closings. Once the coal has gone, and it will be gone for good someday, the jobs have gone too. Our lawmakers have done nothing to seek other industry for our citizens or to secure future hope for them. This is the fact that brought the tears. It was not, as I expected, the sight of another mountain done gone.