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War, West Virginia that is.  As spring broke and Jim brought out his motorcycle, he set off one day to follow a route that had been given him at one of the dealerships while looking for a bigger bike.  Somehow, he zigged when he should have zagged and missed the correct turn to do the ride and after thinking he had somehow gotten a bit out of his way, he found himself in War, West Virginia.  After many hours, he finally returned home and we Goggled it to find out more about it and in doing so, I discovered a new to me, local author.  Michael Abraham has written a number of fiction and non fiction books all set in the Appalachian region in which we live.  His topics covering the heritage of this region.

The Appalachian region is rich in music culture and includes the Crooked Road, a music trail of venues that feature the local bluegrass and folk music of the area.  This part of Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia are also areas from which a glut of coal is extracted.  The industrial rise and increased use of electric power in homes caused an influx of population as miners worked in factory towns to extract the mineral at the expense of their health and often their lives.  As mechanization was improved and fewer miners were needed, most of these towns began to fail.  As you drive through the regions, abject poverty is evident.  Homes that were built by the mine owners and rented to the miners are run down, many abandoned, stores boarded up and Main Streets vacant.

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Each of these coal towns has a still functioning or abandoned tipple, the structure is used to clean the coal then load it into rail cars by the hundreds that rumble across Virginia to the coast to be loaded into ships and exported overseas, much of it to China.

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This is the tipple at a deep mine, though mechanized, the mining crew still works underground.  Coal developed in seams of varying thickness thousands of years ago.  The seams are like icing in a layer cake and in deep mines, the miners dig down into a seam, reinforcing the tunnel as they go, extracting the coal and sending it to the surface.  When the mine is spent and they are worked back out, the layers were often collapsed to prevent accidental cave ins.  This is dangerous work, but causes less impact on the ground level environment.

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Mountain top removal or strip mining is also prevalent in this region.  It came about as a means to use fewer miners, more mechanization and caused a devastation to the area’s environment.  The trees are stripped off the top of a mountain and the soil and rock are blasted out and dumped into the valleys to reach the coal which is then trucked in dumpers too large for traditional roads to the tipples.  These mountain top removal mines have dams that hold huge ponds to clean the coal and there have been many accidents where the retaining dam has failed and in a few cases wiped out a town downstream (http://www.usmra.com/buffalo_creek.htm).  The impact of this type of mining is the eradication of streams, deforestation, devastation of wildlife habitats.

Few of the young people in these towns stay.  Those that do are in one of the most impoverished areas of the United States.  After reading the novel War, WV by Abraham and doing more research about mining, I wanted to see the results.  Today we took a road trip after our brunch and drove the loop that my husband rode so that I could see it for myself.  There are many more pictures taken today, the mountain top removal photo used is from the internet as the only one of those mines we could see from the road was from a steep mountain road with a series of hairpin turns and no place to stop and take a picture.  Today was quite a learning experience and makes me thankful all the good that I have been given.

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