“Boots” was anything but a normal coal miner


Dwight Williamson - Guest Columnist



Thousands of men have since about 1900 risked their lives bringing coal from the mountainous hollows of Logan County. There have been hundreds of coal mine related deaths and thousands of injuries, including broken backs and lost limbs — all for the sake of producing coal. Now, with coal mining much safer, and with better laws designed to help protect the coal miners, there appears to be little need for men who desire to continue a local time honored tradition. However, there certainly was a time when coal miners were wanted, and it led to the makeup of what we now know as our beloved Logan County. Italians, Hungarians, Russians, Polish and Negros, mixed in with many other nationalities, have over the years blended together to create our potpourri of a county. Nearly all of our families came to the area many years ago seeking employment in or around the coal mines. The following account is just one of numerous true stories that relate to local times of the past.

William Grimmett, described in a 1939 Logan Banner story as a Negro, was a coal miner who lived at Omar and worked at the No. 4 mine of West Virginia Coal and Coke Corporation. Grimmett, known as “Boots” by his Island Creek friends, was 48 years old and had been working in the mines since 1923, according to the Banner report. While this information would seem about normal for a coal miner in 1939, “Boots” was anything but a normal coal miner. You see, “Boots” Grimmett had no legs and got around by means of two 36-inch crutches. Still, he had made his living through physical labor since he was a young man. In the mines, he loaded coal, run a motor, cleaned track and done other jobs required at the time. Employees at the No. 4 mine marveled at how he could get in and out of the large mine cars at the mine.

“Boots” hailed from Warrior, Alabama, where when he was four years old he lost his legs when a train struck him. “When we got into war in 1917, I was the first man to be examined for service in Warrior and the doctors pronounced me perfect physically, except for the fact that I had my legs off,” he explained. Standing at four feet and four inches tall, Boots said, “I would have been a big man if I hadn’t lost my legs.” His right leg was off above the knee, and his left was off half-way between the foot and the knee. Scoffing at those who would pity him because of his handicap, he said, “People just don’t know how little they use their legs. Just think it over and you will find the only persons who make their living with theirs are dancers.”

In the mines he placed what was left of his left foot on the rail, and with the crutches, he reportedly could walk as fast as any man. When he wanted to get into a mine car, he swung his body in the air by means of his powerful arms, and pulled himself over the edge. He always enjoyed steady work and was considered a good, reliable worker by employers. His favorite hobby was boxing and the great Joe Louis was his favorite. “Boots” said that when the “Brown Bomber” boxed, he would get a ride to Logan and place his money on Louis. “Every time he fights, he has some of my money on him,” he proudly said.

Perhaps a good example of “Boots” Grimmett’s outlook on life can be explained in a favorite story in which “Boots’ passed a one-armed beggar, tin cup in hand, who was standing on the company store porch at Omar. “Boots” dropped a half dollar in the cup and then remarked: “Poor man, it sure must be tough to be crippled.”

Feel free to make up your own moral for the William “Boots” Grimmett story. As for myself, I don’t believe I’ll be complaining about my arthritic knee anymore — thanks to a long gone coal miner named “Boots.”

ANOTHER PIECE OF COAL HISTORY

It has long been thought and even written that the first train load of coal was shipped from Logan County in 1904. The fact is, in the summer of 1903 when the railroad was still in the process of being constructed to the town of Logan, a Stone Branch mine just above Big Creek produced the first coal that was hauled on a work train to the Ohio River. The train was returning from having hauled supplies for workers who were completing the railroad track to Logan. The coal fired train always stopped on its return trip at Big Creek to take on water. According to George E. Chapman, who was a janitor at the Logan courthouse in the late 1930’s, he drove the span of mules which hauled the coal to the railroad cars.

Chapman said that he didn’t believe that Stone Branch Mine was the first to mine commercial coal in the county. He said that mines at both Holden and Mt. Gay had been mining coal and stockpiling it until the railroad reached them, which occurred in 1904. The equipment for the mine at Holden came in over the mountain from Dingess, which had become a busy and significant place because the railroad had already reached there. In fact, before the railroad reached Logan, local merchants ordered goods for their stores and brought them by horse or mules from Dingess to Logan.

“In those days,” said Chapman, “mules were used exclusively for haulage, and oil lamps, burning lard oil, furnished illumination. Day wages at the time was $1.50 and miners were paid $1 per foot but the mine openings had to be driven nine feet wide with a pick, and black powder was for blasting. A wooden track was used instead of iron, according to Chapman’s account.

Jeff Workman, a janitor at the local high school back then, was quoted as saying: “Our tipple wasn’t more than a chute to transfer the coal to the bottom of the hill and a bin that held a small amount of coal. We didn’t have any screens or crushers. We only produced run-of-the mine coal.”

BITS and PIECES

It is with a great deal of sadness that a longtime fixture in Logan County is leaving us…..WVOW’s station manager Larry “Speedy” Bevins is leaving behind a long and storied career of service to not just Logan County, but much of southern West Virginia…..he is the final local connection to the late and great Bill and Martha Jane Becker, who almost single handedly made the popular station what it is today…..it is my understanding Speedy will start a new career in the Hurricane area…..I hope to have much more on this in the near future, for it is a tremendous loss to our community…..speaking of community leaders, I recently received a nice card from Don Elkins in regard to a story I did about the Logan High School boiler room explosion of the late 1960’s…..Don, of course, was the band director there at the time, and remembers well the fateful day…..Don said, “The Lord was looking out for us that day.”…..another local reader, Arthur Maynard, gave me a phone call in regard to West Virginia allowing Syrian immigrants into the our state…..Maynard said he had called several state representatives and left messages in regard to his concerns…..”I just don’t think we should take the chance of letting people get to our chemical facilities in the Kanawha Valley area,” Maynard explained. “That would be disastrous.”…..it is always good to hear from readers like Art because it’s about the only way I know that anyone is reading some of the stuff that I try to pour out at least weekly …..the addiction and recovery efforts that are the result of Pete Browning and others, who started the New Beginnings for men’s recovery house at Cherry Tree and the Marjorie Oakley Recovery Home in Logan for women, have been very beneficial in helping many persons who had major drug problems…..the results are starting to really be amazing…..currently, there are 14 at the men’s facility and 13 ladies at the women’s home…..the results of these places proves to me that recovery, instead of jail, is the answer in many criminal matters…..DID YOU KNOW that funding for the restoration of the Don Chafin House on Main Street in Logan could be available as an endangered properties list…..for those who care, simply go to www.pawv.org and you will see that to be eligible for funding about the only requirement is for the project to be on the National Register of Historic Places, have a preservation emergency, and local support for a reuse project—and we have all of that…..Rumor has it that Morrison’s Drive-In just might be for sale…..the new road from Man to Logan has several business people in the Stollings area concerned, including Advanced Auto and Pizza Hut…..I remember when Corridor G was about to be finished and many people said that would be the doom of Parkway Drive-In at Justice Addition; well, obviously that didn’t happen, and I predict it does not happen at Stollings either…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”—as inscribed on the Statue of Liberty in New York…..FINAL NOTE: It’s hard to believe Christmas is just around the corner and then a new season begins in January with political office filings, as just about every political office in the county, state and nation becomes open. So far, the only current office holder in Logan County who is not going to seek re-election is Circuit Clerk Vickie Kolota. My understanding, without speaking with my neighbor about the situation, is that her retirement plan and a special grandchild have made Vickie’s decision a little easier. She will be very difficult to adequately replace. A few possible candidates I have heard include Mark McGrew, Ralph Rodigherio and Glen Adkins. Ring in the season…………

Dwight Williamson

Guest Columnist

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

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