Night Comes to the Cumberlands: A Biography of a Depressed Area

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER THIRTEEN
The Great Depression

IN 1927, when spring came, the Big Bosses prepared for the seasonal flurry of coal orders generally referred to as "the lake trade." This business resulted from the increase in steel production when the melting ice on the Great Lakes made it possible for the ore boats to carry iron southward from the Mesabi Range. But in this fateful spring, the same season which saw the plateau hammered by the great flood, the operators were bewildered by a drastic falling-off of orders. As in past years, preparations had been made for the men to work extra hours and some of the mines had planned an extra shift for a few weeks, but the season for the lake trade came and only a trickle of orders reached the offices of the coal companies. The larger companies operating in the thick, high-quality seams of coal received the lion's share of the business and after a week or two of uncertainty began production at a rate approaching the normal level of previous years, but the smaller companies, producing from the inferior seams, found themselves short of orders. After their managers had sent a rash of futile telegrams and telephone calls to their coal brokers their operations began to lurch to a halt. A few of them were never to work again, but the greater number began to receive orders after a time and their tipples bummed once more.

But operations were never again at their old tempo. The high level of production which the fields had known with relatively brief interruptions for so long had ended. Beginning in the spring of 1927, the region's coal industry commenced to sag, sliding bit by bit into

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