Interview with Roy Fleming of McRoberts
The Consolidation Coal Company bought the coal rights. B. F. Johnson, a merchant, had a store in Long Fork in Pike County. The people of McRoberts went there to trade. He knew everyone in this section of the county. He was used as the contract man and Noel Gibson was the engineer who helped buy the mineral rights.
Madison Dunlap did the writing of deeds from the mineral rights that were bought up. Marrows from Boston bought the mineral rights. They formed the corporation into Consolidation Coal Company. The coal was bought up in 1909 and 1910. In 1910 and 1911, they started grading in McRoberts. George Fleming, my father, helped to grade the railroad and was grade foreman. Dow Branham was a water boy at that time at Band Mill Bottom. When they graded to build, the prospectors would come and dig about the coal. There were no dwellings at that time. They then built shanty shacks. They moved my father to a shanty so engineers could move into the big house.
In 1912, I moved to the company farm over on Beefhide in Letcher County. There were five houses. My dad was Forest Warden, he kept a lookout for fires for the company. The first store in McRoberts was near #14 tipple. My grandmother and stepfather lived near #14 tipple. They moved and went back to Pike County. McRoberts was called the Wright’s Fork of Boone Creek. The post office was in Neon and was called “Chip.” There probably was a lumber yard there. Neon was a storage place for yellow poplar.
Only about ten families lived between Neon, the Yonts, and the Halls. Yonts Fork is now Cheys Fork. Bad John Wright had a home near the Regular Baptist Church in McRoberts. Bad John had a home also in Cane Branch and near Goodwater Dam, and also one in Pound and one in Dunham. He had a whole lot to keep up. He was supposed to have had a home in Yont’s Fork too. Bad John was not as bad as people said.
People in McRoberts stuck together better than in any part of the corporation; such as in death when people helped to dig graves. There’s something about McRoberts that brings people back. I just can’t put my finger on it. Some people don’t care about the community, but most really do.
They ran the railroad up to in front of Burl Williams’ and the Holiness Church. That was where the first coal was dumped from #213 Mine up from the present Hollyfield house (Note: Across from the post office now). The mining cars were let down the hill by rope in 1912 to be dumped in coal cars. My father graded the road across from McRoberts to Jenkins. Horse-drawn hacks came across the hill from Jenkins to McRoberts. The passenger train from McRoberts to Whitesburg was the only way to travel. The L & N Depot was at the old McRoberts swimming pool.
In Chey’s Fork, there were three mines, No. 10, 11, and 12. A lot of coal came out of there. The number 13 mine was near 13 Row. My people came from Dickinson County; they left in the 1920s but came back to McRoberts after three years in Virginia.
This was the prosperous section of the county. People came here if they wanted to work in the mines. Life was much harder then, but people seemed to enjoy it more. People never got over 100 miles from home. For example, going from Jenkins to Pikeville we left at 4 in the morning and got to Pikeville at four that evening.
In Bandmill Bottom, there was a whiteboard fence. Boys and girls would sit on the fence and court. Boys and girls could stay out until 8:30 or 9 when courting outside.
Consolidation had some peculiar ways; some were good, some bad. Baseball was played at McRoberts. They would go to Harlan and Hazard to play. There was a team at Burdine, Jenkins, Dunham, and McRoberts. The company backed its baseball teams. The superintendent would support the team too. The mines would start at 3 or 4 in the morning. The shift was over at 11 a.m. then so they could have a baseball game. I was business manager at McRoberts in 1938-39. There was a baseball game once, the score was McRoberts, 24, and Jenkins, 25. There were 24 home runs that day. McRoberts got 13 or 14 home runs. Usually, these games were a low-scoring affair. When they played, there was a real tough rivalry. If one won the tournament, the other was mad. Big John Gregorvitch was the homerun hitter for McRoberts. Charlie McLemore and Lee Petterson were outstanding ballplayers.
McRoberts had a high school until the 1930s. It was cut down to two years, then one, then none. McRoberts had its own football team. Bennie Wright and Ross Whitaker played on the team. Artie Wilfong played on the basketball team. The high school building was built in 1921. Henry Hacker was the football and basketball coach. The football team played on the baseball field in McRoberts.
When the mining camp started, it was rough — fighting, shooting, etc. Between 1912-1923
I didn’t live in McRoberts. I have been married for 39 years. I lived in Lexington for eleven years.
The last coal came out of McRoberts in 1946. They started taking coal through the mountain to the Jenkins tipple. They started tearing the old tipple down in McRoberts in 1947. They took the track out to Fleming around 1947-48. It was a sad day when they started taking the tracks out.
The passenger train would be full when it left McRoberts. The train would back from Neon to McRoberts. About 4:30 in the evening the train would leave. We would ride horses to the train depot. If we went to Whitesburg, it would take two days if we had any business on the second day.
During World War II, the train was used because of a ration of gasoline. I made several runs from Winchester to Neon. At one time, there were 87 stops. It took about 9 hours to come from Winchester to Neon. The train would stop to let off mail. In 1942, Jenkins had two coaches and a baggage car. Mr. Hopkins of Pound was the conductor. The brakeman was Mr. Roberts. The G-35 train stopped below Virgie. They had butchered a hog. They picked the hog up and laid it on the end of the coach. They came up three or four miles and let the hog off at a house. Everyone helped to lift the hog on and off. During the depression, the passenger train quit coming to McRoberts, people loaded at Fleming during the depression years.
I was on the police force for two years in 1938 and 1939. I arrested about 4 people for murder charges.
I worked for E. P. Wolfe, C. B.’s father. His father was superintendent for 7 or 8 years. He was a good superintendent. Next, I worked for Mr. Snyder. He later became manager of the company. I next worked for Marshal Prunty, who was superintendent. Next was Doug Snyder, Jr. The next one was Jimmy Watson who was superintendent. The next one was Seth Kegan, Sr. at McRoberts. Carl Dann was also super at McRoberts. Bentley was probably the last superintendent at McRoberts.
When the portal changed to Dunham, Hack Davis was the superintendent. Buster Brown was head of the portal at Dunham.
The only work I did for Beth-Elkhorn was putting in timber for them. I wasn’t directly on their payroll. I put in mine timber for 6 years. I feel that Beth-Elkhorn and Consol are different because Beth-Elkhorn uses their own coal.
When Consol owned the coal, there was not much work, especially in winter, because there was a lack of a market. I went one month and worked only three days. Consol would let people go into debt who rented their houses. It would be July before they got out of debt.
There were not many Christmases which was not hard; there was no money. BethElkhorn seems better for the people. I came out of the mines in 1942 because of my lungs. I was a foreman with Consol. They would fire people on the spot; Consol would fire at the drop of a hat.
I had a store in 15 Hollow near Lee Petterson’s house. I built the house that Lee lived in. Thirty-five or forty dollars every two weeks was a big payday then. Many people were so used to scrip that they could not manage their money and charged too much at the store.
There were good health nurses to help with the cleanliness of the community. The company had a community nurse. She knew the ones who were filthy and made them clean up their children. The police would back her up and also the company, and make them clean up what was wrong. If they didn’t clean up, they would be moved from the house within thirty days. There was force behind this.
McRoberts hopes to incorporate, so they can have policemen as they once had. We need this incorporation. People are not training their children to respect the law.
I feel the mountains are the best place to raise children. It’s a good place to live; it’s healthy. If people would cooperate and bring in tourists, they would make this a rich section of the country. An example is the Smokies — they were like Eastern Kentucky. They cleaned it up and now they are making themselves rich. Clean-up is really necessary. The Mountain Comprehensive Health Program is a start. I am chairman of the Community Action Council to help the community with grants from the government.
McRoberts needs to get in on the revenue sharing. We need new water and sewer works.
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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