Kentucky Coal Heritage
Interview with George W. Fugate










Interview with George W. Fugate

David A. Zegeer: When you came back from World War I George, you came back to Letcher County?

George W. Fugate: Yeah, I've been working for L & N Railroad in August of 1920 and I was supposed to get my job back. But a fella got drunk and turned the fire extinguisher on the records and they didn't have any record of me. I came back for my job and the personnel office said they had never heard of me, "we don't know if you ever had a job here". So I went to work in a coal mine, loading coal on Thornton Creek.

David A. Zegeer: What company did you go to work for?

George W. Fugate: At that time it was the Winters Mine it was owned by the Slemp people over in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, and then Consol bought it out and it became the Winters Mine. You probably remember the ...

David A. Zegeer: Yes, Winters Mine on Thornton Creek. And what did you do in the mine George?

George W. Fugate: Well I was hand loading coal, shooting from solid. First you drill a hole, after you finally get through the sulfur balls. And then you carded your powder and you had a long spindle that you tamped home and then you put a little squib and that would go in and blast. Then after that, you would go across and put in about two more shots and shoot down a good deal of coal, load that up then repeat the same thing.

David A. Zegeer: You say load it George, you mean using a shovel, loading it into a small car?

George W. Fugate: Right. There was two of us working the entry and one day a big rock fell right between us. It could have killed either one or both of us. I guess the Lord took care of us.

David A. Zegeer: What did this mechanization do to the area in which you lived as far as the way of life? How did you see the old days as compared to today's mining towns?

George W. Fugate: It completely changed the lives of people up there... because that great migration to Detroit and Cincinnati. Of course the trouble in Europe was coming up and they needed work to make tanks, planes and different war materials. That really revolutionized the economy in that region.

David A. Zegeer: Did you see that mechanization hurt or helped your situation, the situation of many other people?

George W. Fugate: Well I don't know that mechanization affected me much except it gave me more home life. More time at home to do the gardening. The big depression came on and I lived on High Street. People were trying to get to the first... people from Virginia were coming to Kentucky to get with their kin folks and take care of them. People from Big Sandy trying to get to Virginia or down Kentucky River to get with their people. People from Kentucky River were trying to get to Virginia to get with their people who could take care of them.

David A. Zegeer: Here you were, Letcher County born native, served in World War I in France, back in Letcher County. Started out hand loading, and worked yourself up through the steps of mining. Retired at age 68 and here you are, 103 and still going strong.

George W. Fugate: Right. That coal mining in east Kentucky had a great impact on Lexington, Kentucky. That's an interesting study. The people that was involved with coal mining in east Kentucky are here in Lexington doing different things.

David A. Zegeer: How did you find the medical facilities, doctors, and hospitals, the medical care for the people who worked in and around the mines back then?

George W. Fugate: Those doctors were great and I mean we depended on them. But, Doc. Perry was great, I mean...

David A. Zegeer: Dr. T.M. Perry.

George W. Fugate: Yeah. There will never be another doctor that had the interest of the people. I know... my wife went over to her home and I had a half a gallon of good moonshine I sat in the kitchen cabinet. She was terribly opposed to my drinking a drop. So I thought well I'll be brave, I just sat that down on the kitchen cabinet and I'll come take a drink any time I please. So on that I went back to take a drink... she had that filled with sarsaparilla roots, ginseng.. I mean every kind of herb and bark she could think of piled down in that. All I could do was take about a tablespoon full... all I could stand of that. The time I used that my health had completely changed.

David A. Zegeer: For better, for worse?

George W. Fugate: For better.

David A. Zegeer: George, you have seen a lot of things happen in the coal industry in Appalachia. You're a very interesting person. I think you set an example for a lot of us. With 103 years of age you are still in very good health, very alert. You're inspiring for a lot of people. Your experiences in mining, underground and shipping coal, and in the area itself for many years has been a very interesting story. I want to thank you for sitting with me and reminiscing about the good old days in Appalachia, both the good times and bad times.






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