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

By Harry M. Caudill | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Big Boom

IF THE COAL INDUSTRY in the plateau may be said to have enjoyed a Golden Age, these years of the Big Boom were surely it. The companies which established operations early realized enormous profits on their investments. Since the mines employed many men and few machines, the rows of houses poured torrents of rent into company coffers. The tipples stood on the edge of huge tracts of virgin coal and the working rooms were never far from the driftmouths. Thus the cost of underground transportation was minimal. Scores of "coal drags" containing sixty to a hundred railroad gondolas each ran daily from the field, and during most of these years the only factor which limited production was a shortage of cars. Sometimes the railroad companies were unable to provide the "empties" which the billing clerks requested, and idle tipples were more often caused by this failure than by lack of orders.

I do not mean to imply that the boom was wholly without interruption. Between 1920 and 1922 a recession struck the nation and its impact was felt severely in the coalfield. Production declined for a year or two and the miners ran up substantial debts in the company stores and much of the confidence oozed out of the operators. But the recession was not prolonged, and after a year or so the downturn was reversed and the volume of orders began to swell. Confidence flowed back, and the old game of organizing coal corporations and building camps was resumed with new zeal.

But at intervals during the ensuing years tremors of uncertainty ran through the region's economy. From time to time the market be-

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