Moore Hollow boomed during 30’s and 40’s
By Lois Kleffman
Jackson County Sun [KY]
What was it like in Moore Hollow after the mines got started?
Luther Powell of Sand Gap says, “It was booming. New York didn’t have any more business than Moore Hollow. You could sell any piece of coal you could get out. There was plenty of coal, there was plenty of work.”
Luther started working in 1933 first for the Penningtons, then the Sand Gap Coal Company, then the Jackson County Coal Company whose owner M.K. Marlow bought out Scrivener and Moore. At the peak of production in Moore Hollow, Marlow ran three shifts averaging about 3,000 tons per day, and trucks would be lined up from the hollow clear to Sand Gap waiting to be loaded.
Powell walked every day from Kerry Knob to earn $1.50 per day as a weigh man. He says, “Everyone came to the Gap and Moore Hollow to loaf on weekends and evenings.”
Odis Isaacs of Sand Gap recollects, “You could get anything there from whiskey to a woman.”
The Little Brothers and “Boss” Marcum had licenses to sell alcohol in the Gap and there was a bootlegger in the hollow.
Odis remembers the pool hall and restaurant run by John Johnston. He remembers that little Johnny Johnston would “spit your eye full of tobacco juice and he smoked cigars when he was five or six years old.”
The larger mines paid their employees with scrip good for buying at their company store. Odis still has a copper scrip coin issued by the Jackson County Coal Company in 1939 that was “payable in merchandise only “ at the company commissary.
Odis started working for the mines when he was 12 and worked in Moore Hollow until Howard Smith got killed in Marlow’s mine in 1946. Smith ran a motor in the mine when the accident happened and Odis was coupling at the end of the cars that Smith was pulling.
This 1935 pie chart from ‘Geology of Kentucky’ indicates leading Kentucky coal producing counties. Harlan, Pike, and Letcher Counties lead the pack. At the other extreme counties Boyd, Breathitt and Magoffin each produced about 1/2% of the state total that year. Jackson County, for all the hustle bustle of this article, is not even on the chart!
It was the last trip of the day and Smith wanted to get out as much as he could so he was pulling 22 cars, which was way too many. Coming down a hill, apparently the hot sand that was used to slow down the motor couldn’t do the job and Smith hit a snag with so much speed that the motor and seven cars jumped the track.
Odis remembers Smith as a “fine man.” That day Smith had given Odis a ham sandwich for his lunch. After Smith’s death, Odis left Moore Hollow and went to Travis Creek.
Where did the miners live when they came to Jackson County from Manchester, Hazard, Beattyville and other places?
Outside of Moore Hollow toward the Gap, there was a group of two and three room, flat roofed plank houses called “Slack Town” because the slack coal, too fine to sell, was dumped there. In Sand Gap there was another shantytown near the sand bank.
And right in Moore Hollow, in 1934 Caroline Isaacs kept boarders in a big boarding house built by her brother Charley Pennington on his property, which was like a bunk house. Mostly Caroline cooked for the truck drivers and miners for two years there.
Then N.U. Bond built a modern motel in the hollow in 1939 and Caroline ran it for him. The motel had a lobby downstairs and a big long dining room and it had hot and cold running water. The motel averaged 11 boarders full time and kept five reserved bedrooms for truckers from out of town who would spend just one night there waiting to get their trucks loaded.
It is rumored that women visited the men in their trucks at night, but Caroline maintains that no women were allowed with the men in the motel.
“I never saw any fights,” she says. “The miners were very good people. There never was a truck driver that came here that was out of the way.” Sheriff Joe Pence searched the drivers to see if they were bringing whiskey in or out of the hollow.
And according to Caroline, “The men were just as clean as they could be, they never went to bed without taking a shower. One man tried to sleep with his clothes on and I had to get rid of him.”
Caroline remembers that “the roads were awful. We had to cover the plates to keep the coal dust off. We had the front and back porches screened but the dust still came in.”
The saddest remembrance of her experiences in the hollow was an accident on Big Hill in which Johnny Brockman, a truck driver, was killed. Earlier in the day, Johnny had ordered eggs, bacon and country biscuits from Caroline and told her “Lady, I haven’t got any money to pay for this.” Caroline said, “Well you eat this, you looked tired.” Caroline feels that his death taught her “to be good to people.”
‘Geology of Kentucky,’ by Arthur C. McFarlan, University of Ky, 1943