Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Coal Tattoo

Travelin' down that coal town road. Listenin' to my rubber tires whine.
Goodbye to Buckeye and white Sycamore. I'm leavin' you behind.
I've been coal miner all of my life. Layin' down track in the hole.
Gotta back like an ironwood, bit by the wind. Blood veins blue as the coal. Blood veins blue as the coal.

Somebody said, "That's a strange tattoo you have on the side of your head."
I said, "That's the blueprint left by the coal. A little more and I'd been dead.
Well, I love the rumble and I love the dark. I love the cool of the slate,
And it's on down the new road, lookin' for a job. This travelin' nook in my head.

I stood for the union and walked in the line and fought against the company.
I stood for the U. M. W. of A. Now, who's gonna stand for me?
I've got no house and I got no job, just got a worried soul
And a blue tattoo on the side of my head left by the number nine coal. Left by the number nine coal.

Some day when I'm dead and gone to heaven, the land of my dreams.
I won't have to worry on losin' my job, on bad times and big machines.
I ain't gonna pay my money away on dues or hospital plans.
I'm gonna pick coal where the blue heavens roll and sing with the angel band.
~ Coal Tattoo by Billy Edd Wheeler

Ever since I first heard of the disaster at the Upper Big Branch coal mine,Bill Ed Wheeler's song, Coal Tattoo, has been going through my mind. As you can perceive from it;s lyrics, it isn't a happy song. I know, have played, and sung 4 or 5 songs about cola mining and miners. None, from 16 Tons to the Spring Hill Disaster, are happy songs.

Coal mining does seem to me to be a very "happy" line of work. It does seem, however, to be an addictive line of work, as the songs indicate. It seems that one can literally "get cola dust in my veins," as one miner said, to the point that one continues mining even knowing the odds that he/she may die in a mine. (See Miner was prepared to die, family says).

El Cabrero, who writes the blog Goat Walk, lives in West Virginia and knows more about coal mines than I shall ever know. In his today's blog post, Follow the Trail, El Cabrero writes that the Massey coal company that owns the Upper Big Branch coal mine  has "a long trail of fatalities and safety violations." I assume that the miners who worked in the Upper Big Branch coal mine were aware of that.

I learned quite a bit about coal mining from the songs and poetry I've heard, sung and read. But links that El Cabrero posted today has taught me more than songs and poetry have:

I urge you to expand your knowledge of this disaster by reading El Cabrero's blog Goat Walk, following his links, listening to the songs, and hearing the poetry.

I planned on ending this post with the video of me pickin' and singing Coal Tattoo. However, I am certain that most of the regular readers of Nick's Bytes have seen that amateur production more than once. If you haven't or if you really want to again, you can see and hear my guitar and me on YouTube by clicking HERE.

The song with which I have chosen to end this post was written by the grandson of a coal miner, Dwight Yoakam Miner's Prayer:


  1. This is very interesting information, PAStor Temple. Thank you. I hope you and your lovely car are doing well.

  2. Thanks so much for bringing this important issue to peoples' attention, Nick. I grew up near West Virginia, in the coal country of PA. In my elementary school, nearly every classmate's father worked for the mines, grandfather worked for the mines, great-grandfather had worked for the mines, great-great-grandfather had worked for the mines, ... and so on. It isn't just a job -- it is a lifestyle. But, as the tragedy exposes, it is often a very dangerous lifestyle.

  3. Great post oh saintly one...

  4. From what I have been reading, the coal company would have us believe that that mine was much safer than it really was.

  5. I'm reading a book by David Baldacci at the moment in which he describes very graphically the coal miners coming off their shift and the conditions in which they work...shudder. Horrible.

  6. Joshua: Thanks, my friend. Alex and I are OK. There is an update of our latest news at my newest post: New News from SSN's Cave

  7. Emerging From The Fire: You're welcome, my dear friend. Yes, I remember that you grew up in coal country. I wonder what it is about being a miner that it is passed from generation to generation, especially considering the dangers?

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