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AUGUST Bluefield Coal Show Issue

September 11, 12, 13, 2019

Brushfork Armory-Civic Center

Bluefield, West Virginia

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you can’t discourage ’em. Times are tough, but they’ll

keep scrapping.”

That like-minded, challenge-busting attitude is part

of what forms such a tight-knit community within the

industry. That, he said, and the welcoming nature of

people who are open to letting others join their tribe.

Al recalled the very first time he visited an eastern

Kentucky coal mine; he showed up in a suit and tie,

which he promptly ruined the moment he stepped out

of his vehicle into 6 inches of coal-black mud.

“I could see these guys holding back laughs,” he said. “Well,

that was the only time I ever went down there dressed up.”

“But,” he continued. They’ll go along with you. They’ll giggle

inside and will laugh inside at some of the outsiders coming in,

but it won’t take you long to be one of them because you kind

of like being like them, you know? Those are just that kind of


Many times, I’ve experienced the same openness. When

someone takes you underground into one of their mines, and

they recognize you have a genuine interest in what they do,

they’re tickled to share their story.

There’s a unique character about places that have been dug

out of the ground – and the people who’ve made them.

The coal dust, they say, gets into your blood – and then

you can’t leave the mines; it feels too much like home.

“I’ve interviewed many, many company presidents who

started out as hand-loaders. And one of them rose from

– well, we call them honey-dippers, where they clean

the portable toilets,” Al told me. “He said, ‘If I’m going

to be a honey dipper, I’m going to be the best honey-

dipper ever.’ He went all the way to president of a coal


It’s that spirit that’s celebrated and on display at the Bluefield

Coal Show. These guys aren’t celebrities. With the exception of

sometimes a breakfast speaker, they aren’t big names. They’re

the owners of companies and people who work for them –

people who’ve built things or developed new technologies.

They’re folks coming to see – and possibly buy – the latest and


And, just like Al Skinner, they’re folks who’ve come to see one

another and catch up – as much to find out what’s going on in

the lives of their friends as to see what’s new in the industry.

It’s an event that never really caught up to the rushed nature of

today’s world – and, to him, that’s a good thing.

“Appalachia’s always going to be Appalachia,” he said. “You

aren’t going to change people.”