WITH THE OUTBREAK of war in Europe and the placing of huge orders by the Allied governments in American markets, the moribund coal industry took a new lease on life. Surviving mining companies initiated programs to improve their operations and expand their output and circa 1937 automation in the modern sense began. When the mines were unionized the operators were prompted to find some means of reducing the climbing payrolls. The answer appeared in the form of the "duckbill" loader, a product of the Goodman Manufacturing Company of Toledo, Ohio. The machine was primitive by present- day standards, but it was startlingly efficient in 1937. It could propel itself into a heap of coal and load it in huge gulps onto a conveyor belt by which it was carried onto coal-cars. It proved a huge success and opened the door to a massive program of further automation in the industry.
The quickening industrial pulse focused new attention on the Cumberland Plateau. The reorganizing and consolidating of coal companies speeded up, and the new boom rose rapidly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In the remarkable manner so often experienced in the coalfields the plateau suddenly found itself in a situation wholly different from that of a short time before. Whereas its hotels had stood nearly empty during the long Depression they now filled with an assortment of coal brokers and their agents, would-be operators in quest of mineral tracts and lumber buyers seeking stands of timber for conversion into barracks and gun stocks. A land long