Category Archives: Uncategorized

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


If you made a mistake you could cause a head-on collision

Posted by | May 26, 2016

Post News
Kingsport, TN
May 26, 1977

APPALACHIA, VA—Miss Georgia got aboard the Virginia and Southwestern train headed for Daniel Boone (then known as Albert Yard.) The year was 1907.

She showed her pass to the conductor, Captain Folmsbey. He snorted “Hmmmph. We’re going to have women operators on this line?”

“Yes,” she said and took a seat by the window of the passenger car.

Captain Folmsbey was later to become a great friend of the 17 year old wisp of a girl who boarded the train that day on her way to becoming the first woman employee of the Virginia and Southwestern Railroad.

Her name was Georgia Harrman but she married Dr. William B. Peters in October of 1911. Mrs. Georgia Peters is 87 years old and lives in Appalachia, VA, the last place she worked as a telegraph operator for the railroad.

first female telegraph operator on the Virginia & Southwestern RRMiss Georgia at her desk, Intermont Office of Virginia & Southwest Railroad, Appalachia, VA, 1911.

Miss Georgia had always wanted to study telegraphy. Her brother, Jr. R. Avent, was a dispatcher for the railroad.
“He helped me a lot when I took the telegraphy course,” she said.

When the train pulled into the Albert Yard that morning in 1907 the sun had not been up long. As a relief Telegraph Operator she was to work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., a shift that seemed a bit long for a 17 year old girl. She would spend all the daylight hours indoors on the second floor of the tower that served as an office.

“They had a semaphore that I had to pull down with a rope,” she said. “If the train saw a red light he stopped and picked up his orders. If there were no orders he didn’t stop.”

Railroad men drifted in and out of the office as the 17 year old girl they to learn to call “Miss Georgia” took her place at the telegraph key. There was skepticism of course. And there is little doubt that some of the men, when talking in private, predicted all sorts of doom and destruction due to befall the railroad now that the Virginia and Southwestern had hired a woman—no, a girl—to handle routing and sidetracking orders for the trains.

But the men quickly learned that Miss Georgia did not make mistakes.

“Some of the men wondered about it,” she said with a smile. “I think they wondered whether I would be a good operator, but all the railroad men were real nice and did anything they could to help me.”

It is not hard to understand why the men, particularly the engineers and conductors, were a bit wary. The operator took their routing orders.

“You really knew you had a particular job. If you made a mistake you could cause a head-on collision. You had to be careful,” she said.

It was an education for a young girl. An education in responsibility. The pay was not fantastic. Even though she made the same salary as the new male operators it still amounted to about $40 a month.

“I enjoyed the work. I learned a lot about people because I came in contact with so many different types,” she said.

In a year and a half Miss Georgia worked relief in the Bristol Yard office and the telegraph office at Benham. She was then transferred to the newly opened Glenita office (now known as Natural Tunnel.)

Intermont office of Virginia and Southwest Railroad, Appalachia, VA 1911View from window of Intermont Office of Virginia & Southwest Railroad, Appalachia, VA, 1911

If nothing else, if the hours were long and the pay short, Natural Tunnel was a beautiful place to work. The rock and laurel were stacked in front of the office window like a screen for nature’s own television program.

“When I was working at ‘the tunnel’ people from Bristol would come on a passenger train and have a picnic between the two tunnels. They would take another train back in the afternoon,” she said.

In 1910 Miss Georgia got her last transfer, to the Intermont office in Appalachia.

“I enjoyed my work at Appalachia best,” she said. “There was heavier traffic here. But I only had an 8 hour shift. Everywhere else the shifts were 12 hours.

“It was interesting work. I don’t see why more women didn’t go into it. It was a big responsibility then. At that time it was harder for a woman to get a job. It has to be easier for them to get a job now.

“I miss riding the trains,” she said glancing out the window at the mountains. “I wish we had them like we used to have.”

source: Post News, Kingsport TN, May 26, 1977; This version edited; original at:


He is still laughing over that checkers game

Posted by | May 25, 2016

Fort Payne [AL] Journal
May 28, 1941

Mr. Driskill’s ancestors on his father’s side were three Irishmen who settled in Maryland. His mother’s ancestors were English. Charles Driskill was born March 15, 1866, a mile from Portersville, in Big Valley, on the George Place. His Grandfather, who came from Winchester, TN, settled there in 1830.

Charles was the 13th child in a family of 16 children, though one died in infancy. The living consisted of nine boys and six girls. He attended school at Lookout Chapel, three miles from Sulpher Springs. At the ripe old age of 18 he taught school at Lookout Chapel where he had learned his A B C’s.

On Christmas Day, 1889, he married Miss Laura Dean, of Valley Head, who was born on Puddin’ Ridge. They celebrated their golden wedding anniversary on Christmas, 1939.

couple at Noccalula Falls AL, late 1800sThis couple at Noccalula Falls, AL is not the Driskills! But the Driskills lived near here and were about the same age as this man and woman. Photo late 1800s.

After their wedding, the Driskill’s settled on a farm and lived there until 1912, when they came to Fort Payne and bought out the Jim Malone Restaurant. After a few month’s work in the restaurant, Mr. Driskill went to work in the J.O. Crow Store and worked there on and off for ten years. He also worked in G. L. Malone’s Store for three years and he worked in a store for J.W. Walker. He served in the Fort Payne City Council for 16 years and was City Clerk for two years. In 1930, he retired from active life, except for work in his vegetable garden and other work around the home.

Mr. and Mrs. Driskill are the parents of five children, three boys and two girls; and they have five grandchildren, three boys and two girls. The boys are all telegraph operators. Byron Driskill is a telegraph operator at Tuscaloosa now, but he was for twenty-five and one-half years, operator at Fort Payne Railroad Station. Bernard Driskill quit the telegrapher’s job to work in the bank. He is now Teller and Assistant Cashier of the First National Bank of Fort Payne. Bill lives in Daytona Beach, Florida. He is manager for the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, a position he has held for 25 years.

The girls are Mrs. W.S. Brown (Fanny Driskill) of Jackson, MS, (she worked in a bank in Birmingham for some years) and Mrs. Donald V. Marshall (Carrie Driskill) of Birmingham, AL. D.V. Marshall is widely known for his successful business dealings with Holiday Inn activities.

Fort Payne Fire Department and City Clerk's Office mid 1940sFort Payne Fire Department and City Clerk’s Office mid 1940s.

Mr. Driskill has held nearly all the offices in the Masonic Lodge and there are many men in Fort Payne that have learned Masonry from Mr. Driskill. He is a conscientious worker in the First Methodist Church and has been a steward for more than forty years.

Mr. Driskill does not look his age of 75. He has had no serious illness, except influenza. Until he was 49 years old, he never had a doctor call on him. His chief hobby is playing checkers. And he is still laughing over a game he played and won in Daytona Beach, FL, last year when he and Mrs. Driskill were visiting their son, Bill. The Driskills have lived in the home they live in now since 1915. The lawns and the flowers are wonderfully kept. Mrs. Driskill looks after the flowers which she loves. Mr. Driskill takes no interest in the flowers, except to enjoy their beauty. But he looks after the vegetable garden. He said that no plow has been in his garden for ten years. He digs the soil with a fork.


appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history Ft+Payne+AL


The workload was a killer, the heat intense

Posted by | May 24, 2016
George A. Meyers, former president of the Celanese textile plant union Local 1874, former president of the Maryland-DC CIO and former chairman of the Maryland Communist Party is shown in a July 1, 1963 photograph by  Frank Gardina.

George A. Meyers, former president of the Celanese textile plant union Local 1874, former president of the Maryland-DC CIO and former chairman of the Maryland Communist Party is shown in a July 1, 1963 photograph by Frank Gardina.

“I came from the Georges Creek coal-mining region of western Maryland. Every male member of my family began his working life as a miner. I remember my father being on a number of bitter strikes because the fight over wages and safe working conditions was an every-day struggle.

“I graduated from high school in 1930 at the height of the Great Depression. After three years of looking I finally got hired as a spinner in the Celanese Corporation’s huge rayon plant near Cumberland, Maryland.

“Working conditions were brutal. A 56-hour week with even more forced overtime – all for a straight-time wage of twenty-two-and-a-half cents an hour. The workload was a killer, the heat intense and the air badly polluted.

“A substantial minority of Celanese workers came from union families, mainly coal miners and railroad workers. So it wasn’t very long before we began talking union. By 1936, after three year’s of intense struggle that included several plant-wide strikes and a number of sit-downs, we forced the company to grudgingly recognize the union and we became Local 1874 of the Textile Workers affiliated with the Committee of Industrial Organizations led by John L. Lewis.

“In our first contract, won after a lengthy strike, we got a raise in wages, a cut in the workload and a procedure for settling grievances.

“Most all of the 10,000 production workers were elated. “Hooray! Now with a union we are on an equal footing with the company.” Sure, we knew every contract would be a battle and there were endless grievances to settle.

“But soon I began to notice that while things were a lot better than before the union, what we won didn’t “stay won.” The company would find new ways of piling on the work and wage increases were quickly swallowed up by an endless rise in the cost of living.

Celanese Plant, Cumberland MD


“It was the same on the political front. Early in the New Deal we won some real victories: the Wagner Act, the forty- hour week, Social Security. But it wasn’t long before the politicians and judges friendly to the corporations began chipping away.”

George A. Meyers was a founding organizer of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). He worked closely with John L. Lewis, President of the United Mine Workers, Phillip Murray of the United Steelworkers and other CIO leaders during the organizing drives that brought millions of workers into the labor movement during the 1930s.



She had 9 husbands and 10,000 pieces of glassware

Posted by | May 23, 2016

This widow of the South accumulated 9 husbands & 10,000 pieces of glass! Anna Safley Houston (1876-1951) single-handedly amassed thousands of pitchers, creamers, lamps, flasks, jugs, china, tea sets, platters and frilly art-glass baskets. Her collection of pitchers alone is thought to be the largest in the world. “Antique Annie,” as the native Alabaman was called behind her back, opened a millinery store in Chattanooga, TN in 1904. She had a brief stint as an antique dealer in the 1920’s but ended up losing it in the Great Depression. Houston continued collecting glass throughout her retail career.

anna houston

So what makes Annie so fascinating, a town character to the locals? To start with, there are those 9 husbands. “She was something else…as nutty as a fruitcake,” says Tom Williams, a veteran Chattanooga advertising executive whose 1993 book, Always Paddle Your Own Canoe, remains the definitive work on Houston.

Anna attempted to settle down in Arkansas with Otto Ashbaugh on May 23, 1897, five years after leaving home to travel and perform with a group of entertainers who were paid to promote hair tonic. During her six-year marriage, Anna gave birth to two daughters who both died in infancy. She later claimed her first husband was a carouser who abandoned her—she tracked him down in Colorado and indeed found him in bed with another woman.

Only two months after her marriage in 1903 to E.R. Crisman, Anna reported Crisman was brutal and unbearable. She had a change of heart, however, when he persuaded her to move from Colorado to Chattanooga, promising the young businesswoman he would invest her money in high-interest loans to laborers. When after a few months in the city she found Crisman had instead used her money to invest in a furniture store, she recovered what was left and left Crisman, opening a ladies’ millinery store on 13th Street.

On Chattanooga’s Main and Market streets Anna built a dressmaking business, selling fine fabrics and fanciful hats. In 1909, she married her next husband, George Berry, who worked part time in Anna’s shop. The marriage ended in divorce two years later when Berry alleged he had discovered Anna had previously wed three times. He would not have married her had he known she was a chronic divorcee, he claimed.

Anna was clearly not averse to lying about her age when she married Oscar Moser in January, 1912. Moser was 27, a part time bookkeeper for Anna’s business and also a clerk at Chattanooga Bakery. Anna was likely between 36 and 38, rather than 30 as she claimed on their marriage certificate. The couple lived in a house on McCallie Avenue for six months before the marriage ended in divorce.

One of Anna Houston's many marriage certificates, currently on display at the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.

One of Anna Houston’s many marriage certificates, currently on display at the Houston Museum of Decorative Arts.

Anna married railroad brakeman Harold Creekmore in April, 1913. Thanks to this union, Anna enjoyed vouchers to travel in all 48 states as well as Canada, Cuba and Mexico. She claimed to have been alone in Juarez when gunfire from Pancho Villa and his gang terrorized the town. Still she traveled, presumably building her glassware collection. But after four years of riding the rails, Anna filed for divorce, claiming Creekmore had assaulted her.

Four days after her divorce from Creekmore in 1917, Anna married Richard Vallmore of Chattanooga. Vallmore promptly moved into Anna’s home on McCallie Avenue, but announced five months later he did not intend to live with Anna anymore. That was fine with Anna, who charged him with cruel and inhuman treatment, adding that Vallmore scratched her face and took her money.

The next year, Anna left the country for another one of her buying trips and wound up marrying Ernest Forfar during November in Winnipeg, Canada. Nothing is known of Forfar except that he failed to appear at his divorce proceeding only a year later, when a decree was granted on the grounds of abandonment.

Within a few months, Anna wed war veteran, James Houston, who at 26 years old was 18 to 20 years her junior. Having acquired several business interests, including houses rented to Chattanooga college students, Anna found the young plumber and handyman—who owned a truck capable of transporting antiques—especially attractive. This marriage endured for 16 years; at the end, Houston said he left Anna simply because he could never find a place to sleep at night—there was always a piece of antique furniture or some other collectible in his way.

In 1937 George Brown, 15 years her junior, became her ninth and last partner in marriage. Brown, who had lived in a veterans’ facility in Mountain Home and who suffered extreme shell shock, also had a severe drinking problem. When Anna divorced Brown four years later, she inexplicably took one of several former last names: Houston.

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts features a room where the glassware hangs from the ceiling, much like it did in Annie's barn. Courtesy WUTC/NPR

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts features a room where the glassware hangs from the ceiling, much like it did in Annie’s barn. Courtesy WUTC/NPR


After the Depression, the bank foreclosed on Anna’s home. Instead of selling her precious glassware, she let the house go and built a ramshackle barn in which to live and store her glassware. When there was a fire in the barn in the late 1940s, those valuable pitchers were used – bucket brigade-fashion – to pour water on the flames, and most of her possessions were saved.

During the last 15 years of her life Anna lived in virtual poverty, sleeping on a cot with only her dog for a companion. Annie Houston died of malnutrition — her death certificate says obstructive jaundice— rather than sell a single piece out of her collection to pay for treatment. Ironic that the glassware was worth a mint, yet its owner died a pauper rather than subject herself to letting go of the only company she kept. It is an art collection that she literally gave her life to preserve.

When, shortly before her death, she went before the city commission to try to give her collections to the city, she was laughed out of the room by commissioners, who thought she was trying to give them a lot of junk. Ultimately, the childless collector did make legal arrangements to leave her 50+ collections in trust to the people of Chattanooga. Today, a century-old Victorian home perched high above the Tennessee River in Chattanooga’s vibrant Bluff View Art District houses Annie Houston’s world.

The Houston Museum of Decorative Arts collection is indeed so impressive that only 10% of the entire collection is shown at the museum, the rest being in the basement. There are literally millions of dollars of glass inside the walls of the museum. The rare glass collections include amberina, plated amberina, Pomona, peachblow, Burmese, cameo, Steuben, Tiffany, cranberry, satin, Quezal, Durand, sandwich and cut glass as well as more than 600 patterns of Early American pressed glass.

There is also a variety of lustre and a large collection of the rarest examples of Staffordshire, Mettlach steins, Rockingham-Bennington pottery, bottles and flasks, original Toby jugs, Meissen, and Rose Canton pieces, mostly in the Rose Medallion and Rose Mandarin patterns. The Houston museum features a room where the glassware hangs from the ceiling, much like it did in that barn.



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