AUGUST Bluefield Coal Show Issue
September 11, 12, 13, 2019
Brushfork Armory-Civic Center
Bluefield, West Virginia
619 Bland Street • Bluefield, WV 24701
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you can’t discourage ’em. Times are tough, but they’ll
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.”