So it may have taken us longer than we thought, but ten days later, with two days rest and we are through the Appalachian Mountains! We slept in a barn last night, with Smokey the colt and George the calf to keep us company. Everyone has been sweet, we've been given places to stay, homemade spoonbread in jars, good hot meals, and about 200$ in donations, without ever asking for anything. The people of this countryside are sweeter than peaches. We seem to have made it out of coal country, out of the poorest county in the country- which happens to have the worst tasting water. Everyone buys water, why? The coal mines have made the wells really sulfuric- but the city water(highly chlorinated) doesn't taste any better. The streams are all running dry due to a drought, and there is an abundance of trash- both burning and not. We met nice man today who was pucking up trash from the side of the road.
Well who'd a thunk it. Last night we had our first run-in with a hoser- that's right, some drunk-up hill-billy riding back and forth in his car tryin to get us to pull over. Of course we payed him no mind and stopped a woman driver on the road and asked if she wouldn't mind driving behind us for a while till he left us alone. Sure enough, he took off with his tail between his legs. We ended up riding with this very nice lady and her son William all the way to the next town. We talked to her about it, she spoke with a sweet low drawl of a coutry singer, beautiful- reminded me of my mothers mother, she said, "That's my neighbor. He's got a wife and kid, it just makes sick." So we were safely delivered to the firehouse where we were told the city park'd be the best place for us to hull up. A night of false starts, waking every hours or so hoping it was daylight. When it finally came we were about to leave town and I just felt like I needed something hot in my belly. So we went over to the pharmacy where we'd had dinner the night before, and ordered two coffees and some toast. Got to talking with the lady's sittin there and they suggested we stop in at the Appalshop(appalshop.org), a non-profit recording studio/film studio/radio station. Shiela and Clea sent us off with a very nice and unexpected donation, and we stopped in 20 miles later to meet their cousin, Jim Webb. He introduced us to DJ Willard Hall who was hosting the Scuttlehole Gap Get-Together and would you believe it, he put us on the air! The radio show is a bluegrass show, and we sang the other night on top of Big A Mountain in VA at a bluegrass get together. So now when people ask us what kind of music do we make we say, Newgrass Artrock. Thank you to all who got us on the air. See you in hollywood! Kate
Cherokee Coal Mine just outside of Honaker, Virginia
After eating for a good two hours at a sweet country kitchen—the usual—breakfast on the road, break your belt eggs over-easy/medium, home fries, biscuits with gravy, sausage patties and an omelet and several cups of coffee, we made it up the first hill. We were just about to enter the Breaks Interstate Park between Virginia and Kentucky, when we found the Cherokee Coal Mine!
We met George, 60 yrs, who has worked at this mine for the last 10 years. Now he works above ground, but he worked underground for 27 years. He showed us around above grown operation facilities, machinery, maps…gave us some very refreshing cold water and tips on how to avoid copperheads and rattlesnakes.
The Cherokee coal mine is the lowest mine within the surrounding mountains. It is not a strip-mine, but higher-up the mountain is stripped. They produce enough coal a day to fill 90-100 coal trucks. Each truck carries 40 tons (which is a mixture of rock and coal). This mine produces a very pure coal which is then mixed with other coal (with higher sulfur content) from the surrounding mines. The coal is then loaded onto trucks and taken to shipyards. Most of the coal from this mine is shipped to JAPAN--amazing from the Appalachian mountains of eastern Virginia all the way across the sea. Basically the coal is sold to the highest bidder. Recently the coal has sold for 180 dollars a ton, which is the most it’s ever sold for.
The mine is in operation 24/7. There are 4 shuttle cars in each section of the mine. And 12 men plus the boss on each shuttle car. No women presently employed at Cherokee. The miners work 10 hour shifts at $19 an hour, and overtime. On the sixth day they get double time. The bosses make between 70-80 thousand dollars a year.
These days the miners are traveling about 4 miles into the ground on shuttle cars with ripper heads for removing the coal. The tunnel is 20 feet wide by 43 inches high. Miners are not required to wear a respirator, only some do. Fan ventilation is required in all areas of the mine that are open and accessible to miners. Areas of the mine that are no longer in use are sealed off. The mine is also equipped with carbon monoxide detectors.
The miners take their lunch break underground. Smoking is not allowed but chewing tobacco suffices. Most reuse containers for holding ripper heads and bits as lunchboxes. Gary, who has worked underground for the last 36 years, loves fresh fruit for lunch. “I carry a fruit basket in my bucket.” He loves working as a miner following in the footsteps of his father. George on the other hand, wishes he had stayed in school, and would love to be hunting and fishing instead of mining.
Both George and Gary are interested in the idea of alternative energy--wind, solar etc. as coal is not a sustainable form of energy. They also say that there is not a lot of information available about progressive energy in the area, and that, as of late, coal mining is a thriving industry.
The bikeshop boys in Damascus convinced us to stay and do a show at their laundromat so we stayed in the soggy mountains for another day. The show was interesting, mostly men and some teenagers. At first the youngers were really wierded out, and then later seemed interested and inspired. Ate dinner with the nicest guy in town, Larry, who made us two prokchops a piece! We gobbled 'em down and had extra for lunch the next day. We saw a fourteen-year-old country singer, Ashkin, singing about broken hearts and all at the Old Mill where they make some really great potato chips. Met a woman Lorrie who had a broken heart of her own and are hoping to see her up in Ithaca some time for a real nice reunion.
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This project has been made possible by generous contributions from, The Cornell Council for the Arts, Linda and Jeff Shearman, Mary Fessenden, Tara Cooper, BJ Ewing, Lucile Stark, Elaine from the Pharmacy/cafe, Terry Smith, the man at the Gas Station in New Albany, Dave and Jim, Bill and Beth, the girls at Huck's, Diana and Michael, Buzz Spector, Niel, Tim Hayes, Eric Kincade, Blake, Maggie Stark, Connie and Paul, Randy and David, Chris Mathias, Steve (the owner of) Escalante, Stacy Weber, and many others like you...
On September 11th, 2007 the Barn Stormin’ Brother’s began a journey on bicycles that would carry them from Roanoke, Virginia to San Francisco, California performing their work-in-progress, The Two-Headed Nightingale in Laundromats along the way. The Brothers will travel from east to west retracing the steps of the colonial conquest, in an attempt to understand the deep-rooted dream in which land is seized, secured, and exploited in the name of the free. The piece uses song, dance and theatrical vignettes to test the limits of the self. Where does one human being end and another begin? Why do we live in a country that values private property? The performance is constructed as a string of brotherhood equations that evaluate this country’s obsession with ownership and material wealth. We will perform in Laundromats because it is a unique type of public space. We will offer an alternative entertainment, an oasis, which fights prejudice and oppression with a slew of back-bending dance moves, saw-tooth rambling and dizzying percussion. De-robe and De-pants, as we build a wild west out of soap and socks at your local Laundromat.