A West Virginia Coal Miner’s Poetic Memories

My great-grandfather Walter Farmer ROOP (1883-1971) was a blacksmith, coal miner, artist, poet, photographer, and cartoonist. He was 17 years old when the 1900 census was taken and worked as a day laborer for six months during the previous year. He was living in the Cabin Creek District of Kanawha County in West Virginia in his father Gordon‘s household. When he married Rebecca Jane CLONCH on 12 July 1903 his occupation was listed as a miner. This is the profession he would engage in until his retirement.

Walter and Rebecca’s family was missed by the enumerator in 1910. On 12 September 1918 Walter was a mine blacksmith with the Gauley Mountain Coal Company of Ansted per his Draft Card. His place of employment was Jodie, Fayette County.

walter-farmer-roop-wwi-draft-card
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918

Per the census, in 1920 and 1930 he was a miner in a coal mine and in 1940 a utility man in a coal mine. In 1939 he worked 44 weeks and received a private wage. The number of weeks he worked in 1939 appears to be the average for the miners in the community.

walter-f-roop-family-with-his-father-gordon-ca-1920-1921In 1942 the Registration Card (for men born on or after April 28, 1877, and on or before February 16, 1897), also known as the “old man’s registration,” has the Gauley Mountain Coal Company of Ansted as my great-grandfather’s employer.

walter-farmer-roop-wwii-card-front
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942
walter-farmer-roop-wwii-card-back
Ancestry.com. U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942

The place of residence on the 1920, 1930, and 1940 census for the ROOP family was Jodie in Fayette County.

The community which would become Jodie was started up when the first houses were built by local logging companies in the late 1800s. The first post office was established in 1894 or 1896 (conflicting sources) when the town was named Imboden. The name of the town was changed to Jodie in 1910. In 1915, the Gauley Mountain Coal Company established Jodie as a coal town. The company utilized the existing lumber company houses and built additional ones. A company store, movie theater, and boarding house were also built but they are now long gone. The houses were sold off to residents in the mid-1940s, and the local mines closed less than ten years later. My great-grandfather very likely worked for the Gauley Mountain Coal Company from the time they established in Jodie until his retirement.

Christopher Taylor, a Shepherd University (Shepherdstown, WV) history major, kindly shared maps, photographs, and explanations to give me an idea of the geographical location of the mine Walter worked in.

1928-jodie-wv-usgs-map-fayetteville-quadrangle
Image and text courtesy of Christopher Taylor.

Here is Jodie as it appeared in a USGS topographical map from 1928. I added labels showing various locations and parts of town. The Buck Run Mine loaded coal into a tipple along the river. In later years as operations expanded southeasterly across the mountain, they discontinued the tipple on the river and sent the coal down to Rich Creek.

tipple
Photo and text courtesy of Christopher Taylor.

The Jodie Tipple on Rich Creek, c. 1940s. Coal from the left hillside came from the No. 1 (Buck Run) Mine, and across a conveyor into the tipple. Coal from the right side came from the No. 2 (Rich Creek) Mine.

My Great-grandfather’s Poetry

Walter’s poetry, written after the 1950 death of his wife Rebecca Jane CLONCH, has been passed down in the family. I have no idea if he wrote poems before my great-grandmother’s death. I think he may have discovered his love for expressing his feeling in poetry following his beloved’s death.

Although most were written for his darling wife, he also wrote two poems reflecting his love of mining. He wrote Buck Run after re-visiting the site of the old mine he spent so many years of toil and happy times.

buckrunbywalterfroop

Buck Run

Old Buck Run Mine has played its part
With vigor, zeal and zest;
Through two great wars that we have fought
She gave her very best.

We miss the rhythmic tramp of feet
Of those we used to know,
Who worked with us at Buck Run Mine
Some forty years ago.

I strolled alone the other day
To visit Buck Run Mine,
The scene of many years of toil
And many happy times.

The old landmarks had disappeared
And all was calm and still.
The only things familiar now
Are Buck Run’s brushy hills.

Old memories gathered thick and fast
Of pals who used to be;
Some rest perhaps on native hills
And some across the sea.

There crept upon my aged form
A feeling strange and cold;
I bowed my head and walked away;
I, too, am growing old.

— W. F. Roop, Jodie, W. Va.

What Remains of Rich Creek Mine No. 2

Similar to the stroll Walter took to visit Buck Run Mine, Christopher hiked up to the remains of Rich Creek Mine No. 2 in 2013. He took photos which he has kindly allowed me to use.

richcreekno2mine1richcreekno2mine2richcreekno2mine3

A Coal Miner Remembers

The second poem, When We Retire, describes what it was like to work in a mine. Clipped and dated January 1952, it was published in the United Mine Workers Journal.

mrin00030-1952-01-19-when-we-retire-by-walter-farmer-roop
“When We Retire,” a poem published in the United Mine Workers Journal, January 15, 1952, pg. 15

When We Retire

I’m just an Old Miner, retired from the mines,
Still I yearn for the days that are dead,
When we labored and toiled, in the dust and the grime,
While dangers lurked over our heads.

Though we pray and we pine till we’re weary and sick,
Fate never will answer our prayer;
To feel the old thrill, of the shovel and pick,
And to be with the gang that was there.

Where we labored and toiled in a world of our own,
By the gleam of a flickering light;
Where the change of the seasons is ever unknown,
And the day is eternally night.

Why we yearn to go back, I cannot understand,
For the dangers and hardships were great,
And many a miner who played a good hand
Has lost in the gamble with Fate.

— By Walter Farmer Roop, Belva W. Va.

Walter Farmer ROOP was an all around artistic talent. He left wonderful gifts for his children, grandchildren, and all later descendants. While re-reading his poems and reviewing his art I realized he left much more than photos, drawings, and words – he actually bequeathed us with parts of his own autobiography.

bestwishescathy1

© 2016, copyright Cathy Meder-Dempsey. All rights reserved.

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Author: Cathy Meder-Dempsey

As a military brat I've lived in Georgia, France, Idaho, West Virginia, Spain, South Carolina, Texas, and Luxembourg. Married 39 years with two grown children. When I’m not doing genealogy, I spend time riding my racing bike with my husband through the wonderful countryside in Luxembourg and surrounding countries.

20 thoughts on “A West Virginia Coal Miner’s Poetic Memories”

  1. His poetry is wonderful. It’s hard to imagine someone missing the dangers of mining, but like soldiers miss the comradery of the military and the excitement of war, I suppose it’s the same with all those engaged in dangerous occupations.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cathy, your great grandmother Becky made the best lemon-aid I’ve ever tasted! I was very young, possibly 3 to 5 years old when my mom and I went to visit Uncle Walter and Aunt Becky. Haven’t had lemon-aid like that since! She rolled fresh lemons and pounded them for what seemed like forever before doing her magic with them! I loved it so much I probably had at least three glasses before my mom said that’s enough!! I always enjoyed our visits with them!!

    Gene Hapney, Gordon was my grandfather!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Cathy, I am a niece of Walter. Visited them many times.was a highlight of my childhood. Loved my Aunt Becky. She was the kindest, most loving person you could ever meet. Which of the children are you from. My mother was Hazel, Walters half sister. My name is Charlotte Balser Boggess. I live in N.C.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hello Charlotte. It’s so nice to meet you. My grandparents were Myrtle Hazel Roop and Fred Rothwell Dempsey. My father was Fred Roosevelt Dempsey. Thank you so much for taking the time to write a comment. I wish I had known my great-grandmother Becky. You are not the only one who has told me she was the kindest, most loving person.

        Like

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