Interview with Dave Zegeer,
Division Superintendent, Beth-Elkhorn, a subsidiary of Bethlehem Steel.
Where were you born?
Charleston, West Virginia, 1922. My parents were Mr. and Mrs. A. K. Zegeer. My dad died when I was four years old. I went to Charleston High School and West Virginia University at Morgantown, West Virginia. I came to Jenkins in 1946.
Has Jenkins changed any?
Let’s see, I’ve been here 27 years, and when Margaret and I first came, it was up the Big Sandy on the C & O. It took us all day to get here on the train. There have been quite a few changes and in some respects, not too many. Along the line of streets and recreational improvements, it hasn’t progressed as fast as it should and in other ways, there have been a lot of changes and a lot of improvements, especially in the mining equipment. There have been a lot of homes being built, but probably not as many as there should be. The new high school and grade school are quite a compliment to the town. The street itself has been widened and improved; that is, the main street. Yet there are a lot more improvements that need to be made to the streets and sidewalks. A new sewer plant has been built in the last few years and some improvement of recreational areas: the new high school football field, the new Elkhorn Country Club, and things like that have been in agreement with the town, but there is a lot more that needs to be done.
When you came in 1946, the first job you had — who did you work for?
Consolidation Coal Company. I became a surveyor in the Engineering Department.
Where did you work?
I started out setting spada at 206B Mine, which is not working now. It was up near Dunham. Then I was on the outside survey crew surveying on Rockhouse Creek, Brewer Creek, prior to Hendrix Mines being put in. Then I went down to Marshall’s Branch as an engineer at Mine 204 when it opened up in 1949.
When you first came, who was your immediate supervisor?
R. J. Howard was Chief Engineer, and Bob Craft was Chief Mining Engineer and I worked under Bob Craft.
Who was the General Manager?
Sam Cassidy was president and George Tarlton was vice president.
What about the shaft at Marshall’s Branch?
That was in the late ’40s. Along with the 207 haul road leading to Mine 204, there was a ventilation problem. A new idea to core drill an air shaft which would be quicker and cheaper, although it was relatively new in coal mining, was tried to provide intake air to the long haul way that had all the airways blocked off. We drilled a hole. It was •about 64 or 65 feet deep. We drilled it in a matter of a few weeks to provide another intake airway for the haul way that we needed very badly. It was a new method in this area for providing ventilation. Since that time there have been a lot more holes of the same type drilled to provide airways or bleeder shafts for coal mines.
Were you responsible for the opening of Marshall’s Branch Mine?
Well, there were a lot of people involved. Marshall Prunty at that time was superintendent of the mine that was called 204. Of course, the operating people and engineering department all had their hand in putting Marshall’s Branch portal in operation. I think George Keats was a construction engineer; Moe Green was one of the civil engineers, R. J. Howard was chief engineer, along with Sam Cassidy and George Tarlton, and many other people that were involved in it.
This evidently was a showplace.
Yes, it was the first mine portal that was built away from the town of Jenkins. This was due partly to part of the contract, where people would ride two or three hours a day which made production costs pretty expensive. So the reason for that was to shorten the time the man was to travel underground, and Marshall’s Branch was the logical place to do it in this situation. It also provided us with better toilet and shower facilities. It was done with a lot of modern ideas at that time; indoor plumbing and the road was G-54 built •2.2 miles up Marshall’s Branch — a blacktopped road to provide access for the men, a store building for their bread and butter needs, the bathhouse, etc.
When Hendrix first started in ’48 and ’49, there was a lot of surveying and planning done to put the mines in the best location. I don’t think you could say any one person or any two people did a job like putting in Hendrix because a project like that takes a lot of people, a lot of money and at that time the mine was well planned and had a lot of people involved the same as Marshall’s
Branch. We had the engineering and operating people, the preparation department, and a lot of contractors. I remember at one time over there in the early ’50s, we had four contractors that were working there putting in buildings, preparation plant, etc. A lot of construction work was going on. Some of the very first modern equipment used in the coal industry was put in at Hendrix Mine. One of the very first Lee-Norse Miners that was developed for modern-day mines was developed for Hendrix Mine. We had tractors and trailers which are very much in use today and pretty well designed to meet the needs at Hendrix.
When did you become Division Superintendent?
Consolidation sold the entire property in the four-county area to Bethlehem Steel on November 1, 1956. I was assistant to the president at that time and on November 1, 1956, stayed on as Division Superintendent.
When you came here, the company still owned the houses?
Yes, they were in the process of selling the houses at that time.
What are some of the things the Kiwanis Club has done?
Well, Kiwanis, like the Jr. Chamber of Commerce, Women’s Club, and many other organizations, are good for areas and towns like this. If we didn’t have them, the town would just do without some of the services and facilities that these organizations provide. The Kiwanis Club’s main way to raise money was the Minstrel and then we bought the field house which provided a
recreational area, especially for the high school to play basketball in, and a lot of that work was done by Kiwanians themselves. Also, a swimming pool was built. The Raven Rock Park was taken over by Kiwanis and this organization started the road that was built out to the park site on the cliffside and a lot of people that were born and raised in Jenkins had not been there. But
developing the road provided access to a lot of people to enjoy not only the picnic area but the scenery from Raven Rock. The main projects, which you hear very little about, are such as providing glasses and shoes for needy children in school and various other programs that take care of people that are in need. I’m glad the Jaycees are getting more involved because us
Kiwanians need a little competition and you fellows are really giving it to us.
Was the country club established when you came?
It was started in the late ’40s to provide, as they said at that time, “cow pasture pool.” It has been operated since that time on a very meager budget with very few members. It has existed for 25 years.
You said most of the coal was located in and around Jenkins, right?
Yes, 207 mines, 204, 214 at McRoberts, 206B mine up at Dunham, 105, Chill Bump, an upper seam of coal up near Dunham.
Of course, through the years the coal has been worked out and you sort of moved out of the town, haven’t you? Isn’t most of your production down in Pike County?
Well, I can’t say you move a coal mine. Once you start, a coal mine is depleting itself every day; you just start exhausting the reserves and when the reserves are gone, then the mines are finished. Just like eating a piece of cake — once you finish eating your last crumb, the cake is gone, that’s all. When they’re not economical to mine anymore, you’re out of business. The coal in Jenkins has a couple of good attributes — one is that it is low sulfur coal. One thing that a lot of people around Jenkins don’t know is that when Consol sold out here about 17 years ago, that the business Consol was in, the commercial coal business, was dropping very fast as it’s done through the years, and Consol was faced with either shutting down or selling the property to a market that they were not involved in. At that time, Bethlehem didn’t need the product, but looking ahead, needed the reserves. Bethlehem bought the property which at that time, was a good move for them and a good move for Consol. Bethlehem needed the reserves, Consol didn’t have the market. That was a sale that was good for both companies. I think that was one of the turning points of the future of Jenkins because if Consol had not sold the property, they would have problems of sale of coal, work situations, and spending money to put in new property. Since Bethlehem has bought this property from Consol, Bethlehem alone has spent over 40 million dollars in capital money building new property such as mine 26 and now mine 29. There have been various improvements throughout the area along with updating the mining equipment that we have at all our mines because just about every piece of machinery we’re using today in most cases is equipment that had to be bought with fresh dollars. As you know, a lot of the equipment is pretty darn expensive. So Bethlehem had the resources, the need for the coal up and down, but right now the need is greater than it was, say 15 years ago, so it’s just all having its effect maintaining a healthy employment level in Jenkins and maintaining a good business climate. G-56So far we have not had a lot of ups and downs in employment.
What are your main mines today?
The oldest mine we have is Hendrix which was started in 1949, and the plant started in 1950. The superintendent there now is Jim Whited. Mine 26 on Pigeon Creek was started about 7 years ago and it’s again one of the more modern mines in the industry. Even as nice as we think it is, a lot of the ideas there have been tailored after what has been proven at Hendrix Mines. The Superintendent at 26 is Doug Damron. Now near 26, but what they call Flat Woods, is an experimental mine, No. 25, that’s in a thick seam of coal with rock binders. We’re not getting too big there because of a lot of problems of mining thick coal with thick rock parting, but it’s strictly an experiment to see what we can do, and Warnie Flint is superintendent of that mine. We’re putting in a newer mine than that down Pike County — what they call Damron Fork — and the preparation plant should start construction within a month. The deep mining has already started out. It is one continuous miner section and one conventional section. The superintendent of 28 is Ed Harris, who also looks after the Jenkins preparation plant, processing mainly coal from surface mining.
Since Mine 26 is such a modern mine, can you tell us some of the things you have there?
Well, one thing about a month and a half ago, we started longwall mining. That is like taking a large block of coal and like taking a carpenter’s plane and shaving off the coal on about a 600-foot face and shaving it back and forth with a shearing machine; and then to support the roof and personnel as you keep shaving off this block of coal. This mining practice is pretty common in Europe, becoming more and more in use in this country. Mine 26 was the first installation in Kentucky of this type and it started out about a month and a half ago. It’s another step or measure toward a safer means of mining coal and hopefully, a more efficient way of mining coal. To keep competition, not only coal versus other kinds of material but also for our coal to be competitive with other coals, we must find new and better ways of doing the job. This is one of the ways of doing it. Also at 26 we have continuous miners. We have the largest cars to carry coal underground in use in this country. They will haul about 28 tons of coal; we have a 62-ton locomotive, the largest locomotive used in the coal industry. We have modern bathing facilities for the men, supply house and shop preparation plant. We have a lot of features in it that are new in this country — a few ideas that were brought over from Europe. The loading of the coal itself when it comes out of the preparation plant has a novel idea — a traveling loading belt — which means we don’t have to handle the railroad cars, we just place up with the car and the railroad men do the placing up of the cars and then this belt travels back and forth and loads cars which gives us uniformity in the mixture of the coal in the cars.
This is a question I asked most of the people I have interviewed — what do you see for the future of Jenkins
Just what the people in Jenkins want it to be. It can be a clean, healthy city with a continued spirit that the people have, that we all, I hope, have a spirit of friendliness and compassion; or we can let the town deteriorate and become something that we all will be ashamed of if we don’t work together to keep it clean and neat and keep it in good repair. It’s just up to all of us as people to decide what we want for ourselves. If we don’t do it for ourselves, nobody is going to do it for us.
I think the town has a need for more educational institutions, the need for more housing, more businesses, improved roads, sidewalks, sanitation facilities, cleaning up of the streets, gutters, garbage, and trash. So far as the city itself and the people, we can’t beat it! We realize it more and more as you leave Jenkins to go in any direction. When you return, it’s always nice to get back.
This article first appeared in “History of Jenkins Kentucky” Compiled In Honor Of The Sixtieth Anniversary Homecoming Celebration 1912‑1973 by the Jenkins Area Jaycees.
The authors and publishers of the 1973 printing failed to include a copyright notice and according to our understanding of copyright law, it is now in the public domain.
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I have attended the University of Kentucky. I have an Associates Degree from Hazard Community College and Technical School. I have also attended the University of Pikeville. I have taken several classes in Journalism as well as in the Appalachian History, Literature, and Sociology during my time at those schools.
I was born in Florida and grew up in Burdine, Kentucky. I have been married to David W. Sergent since May 4, 2013. I have two children and four grandchildren from a previous marriage. I currently live in Tennessee but my hope is to one day come back home to live in the beautiful mountains once more.