Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

October 26, 2013

A grand old miner is honored while the sports seasons blend together

— — Few occupations demand more than coal mining. One of my old high school buddies, Dave Farley, sends along word that one of the area’s best is approaching his 90th birthday and has been recognized for some of his industry achievements. Mr. Robert C. Farley, Sr., a career miner who raised his family in the old coalfield capitol of Pocahontas, was saluted in the United Mine Workers of America Journal with a 70-year membership pin.

While I am sure that Dave is telling the truth one could never tell by looking at Mr. Farley. He and I were talking down at the Labor Day celebration in Pocahontas and I could not believe this “almost 90” business. If working in the coal mines can keep a fellow looking that young, then maybe I should change careers. Mr. Farley looks younger than you-know-who already.

He worked in the mines at Boissevain, Itmann, and Jenkinjones. All of those were significant places in coalfield history. Boissevain was a 189-foot deep shaft mine just four miles up Route 644 from Pocahontas. It was often best known for the dramatic Feb. 28, 1932 explosion that killed 38 miners. That event is commemorated by a giant granite monument at the local park. Boissevain “officially” closed in 1960 — five years after Pocahontas shut down — but actually stopped most activities by late 1957.

Jenkinjones, named for coal baron Jenkin Jones (whose son, James Elwood Jones, was also an innovative owner and made several improvements to mining technology) was literally right across the hill above Laurel Creek from Boissevain. When the Boissevain mine closed, there was an operation which bored through the mountain from the Jenkinjones tunnels and made some final changes underground.

Itmann, over on the West Virginia side, was named for pioneer coal operator Isaac T. Mann, one of the key figures in opening up the great coalfields during the heyday of hand loading more than three-quarters of a century ago.

So, Mr. Farley has lived through some interesting times and has been part of mining legend here in Four Seasons Country. In addition to Dave, the Farley children included Delores, Janet, Robert, Jr., John, and Pam. Delores and Janet were both career women who did a great job. Robert is well known as a teacher, and so is Pam, who currently teaches at highly-rated Abbs Valley-Boissevain Elementary which has won a score of awards from the state in recent years. John and Dave work together in a local campground business. John and I have talked baseball for nearly half a century, as well, and although he is a lifelong Braves fan like Dave, we all can now just relax and laugh about the many battles between Milwaukee, Atlanta and the Cardinals.

After all, Mr. Farley, Sr., is the one guy who has really worked the hardest among all of us.

lll

Although it is supposed to be World Series weather, with the newest round of playoffs extending the games into Halloween week, it seems more like Ichabod Crane should be throwing out the first pitch. Money from television and other sources has created a sports season that never ends in this country. Today and tonight, for instance, there will be college basketball, NBA basketball, professional baseball, college football, stock car racing, and who knows what else. As a life long sports fan, I am almost burned out with the stuff.

 There are those who will say, if you don’t like it, just don’t watch. Fair enough. It just seems as if baseball should be over by the end of September. Football then ends in December at the time that basketball is beginning. That has always worked.

Sporting events simply blur into each other. Professional basketball now extends into June, for goodness sakes. The Super Bowl has been played in February and there is talk of actually adding more NFL games. When will enough ever be too much?

College football games are now being played on Friday nights sometimes. That has long belonged to local high schools where our boys and girls including the band, cheerleaders, and teams are showcased. It is the "TV" tradition that should be broken. Perhaps the big networks, particularly ESPN, are controlling the games now. Our traditions are being shoved aside with the blip of a satellite dish. Oh, well, I went to a high school game last night and I will watch the World Series tonight.

Hopefully, the Cowboys are still on for Thanksgiving.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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