They made their money on the big chunks of coal

Posted by | May 27, 2016

“Coal is like layers in a layer cake. And where you’ve got it cut by erosion by the valleys, why, it’s just in fingers, and these fingers went miles and miles back in there. Six or seven miles to the back side of the property. And then they retreated the mine back almost to the drift mouth, to the entrance of the mine, so [the Blue Diamond Mine, near Hazard, KY] was quite a successful. We left it hand-loaded, because you know the old say saying, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’

Miners at Blue Diamond Mines, Hazard, KY. 1922. Courtesy

Miners at Blue Diamond Mines, Hazard, KY. 1922. Courtesy

“So this was probably as efficient a hand-loaded mine as you could have. Looking back, it probably wasn’t terribly efficient, but still … for its time it was highly efficient. The secret to hand-loading was to have good haulage. If you could deliver the cars to the hand-loader, and he was reasonably productive. Now, there were certain areas where the people just didn’t like to work particularly, but up around Hazard, they were very motivated people, and they would do very well….

“At that time, most of the people were on piecework. The haulage people weren’t, but the preparation of the coal—what they’d do is they would send the preparation crew in and they would cut, drill, and shoot the coal, … and they would start on the—they would use black powder in that mine and it brought out tremendous lumps of coal, the size of these chairs. And that was where the market was. People wanted lump coal, and … they gave them nothing like the stuff that they burn in power plants today, which is where most of the market is.

“Some of it was given away. It was just sold for nothing. So they made their money on the big chunks of coal. But anyway, what they would do is they would start on the ventilation system at the exhaust end and they’d move on up the current of fresh air so that the black powder smoke would always be blowing away from them. So they would cut, drill, and shoot the thing, and the cutting crews would go in about two o’clock in the afternoon, and they’d be through work by six o’clock that night…. Instead of working an eight hour shift, they would get it done in about four hours. That was the advantage of piecework. You know, they got paid so much for each place they cut, and so … they cut a lot of coal that way. The hand-loaders got paid based on the amount that they loaded, and they were very productive that way.”

G. Gordon Bonnyman
(1919- 2004)
born Knoxville, TN

interviewed for the Veteran’s Oral History Project

Center for the Study of War & Society

Department of History

University of Tennessee at Knoxville

online at

G.+Gordon+Bonnyman Blue+Diamond+Mine Harlan+KY appalachia appalachian+culture appalachian+history history+of+appalachia

One Response

  • Rick Allen says:

    On the left is my grandfather Arthur Allen (1899-1981) and on the right was Clyde Atkins. Blue Diamond Mines Perry county 1922. Our family was from Breathitt county.

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