Eastern Kentucky Divison of L&N Opened Up The Coalfields

The L & N Magazine - 1929

The chief industry of the Eastern Kentucky mountains today is coal mining, an industry that modern methods and equipment have assisted in attaining the same efficient and economical operation that is boasted by those located in the midst of our great manufacturing centers.

Coal mining, in that part of Eastern Kentucky served by the Eastern Kentucky Division of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, is a comparatively young business. Its birth dates back to the year 1895, but its actual growth commenced with the advent of the L. & N. into the territory.

Back in 1895 Dr. Dave L. Webb began operations of the now-famous Dave L. Webb Coal Mine. His idea was to furnish coal for "home use only." He opened a vein in a ravine, near the headwaters of the Kentucky River, within a few miles of Pound Gap, through which Daniel Boone first entered Kentucky from Virginia. Dr. Webb built a track of wood rails from the mine opening to a storage bin constructed nearby, fashioned a sled with wooden runners to slide along the track, and used an ox for motive power. He and a couple of helpers armed with picks then attacked the vast supply of coal hidden in the hills. Buried deep in the wilds they labored with only the owl and the tree frog to furnish accompaniment to the regular thud, thud of their picks.

Dr. Webb operated his mine for 15 years before turning it over to George Webb, who continued the operation for ten years longer. Later the opening was mined into by the Elkhorn Junior Coal Company, which is using it at present as a drain way.

After the L. & N. took over the Lexington and Eastern road in 1910 and extended its line on up to McRoberts, providing an outlet to the markets, coal mining started with a vengeance along that line. Hand-wielded picks could not supply the demand, and electrically-operated mining machinery was imported. Now, a modern mine produces more coal in five minutes than was dug out of the E. K.'s first mine in a whole week of hard labor.

Practically on the site of the old Webb mine are the headquarters of the Southeast Coal Company at Seco, Kentucky. This is a modern mining operation that provides an excellent picture of the great strides made by the coal industry in this territory within a few years. Stretching out over a distance of about five miles, along Boone Fork of the Kentucky River, this company has more than 3,000 acres of Elkhorn No. 3 Seam coal, varying in height, generally, from 48 to 84 inches, but reaching a height of 102 inches in places, enough to assure 40 years or more of operation.

Where once Dr. Webb and his assistants labored alone in the wilderness, now stands the busy and thriving mining camps. Replacing the once obscure song of the picks is the steady hum of many thousands of dollars worth of mining machinery; and where, formerly, the solitary ox plodded along between the wooden rails, dragging his little sled load of coal for "home use only," huge, steel, steam-belching monsters glide smoothly over gleaming steel ribbons, proudly pulling hundreds and thousands of tons of coal destined for world-wide markets.

The Southeast Coal Company works its seam at two points: Seco, at the upper or eastern end of the property, and Millstone, at the lower end. Complete operating plants and towns are located at both mines, but Seco, being the older of the two operations, is the site of the general headquarters of the company, together with such facilities as do not require duplication at the newer plant.

The houses in the towns of Seco and Millstone are well-built and neatly-kept, with fenced lots and concrete sidewalks. None but dependable labor is employed, and orderly conduct is a requisite of continued residence. Neither town has a police officer, yet neither has presented a case for the circuit court within the past five years. There has never been any labor trouble.

A gradually-increasing scale of group insurance, life, and disability, is provided free by the company to all employees.
A well-equipped hospital is maintained, with ten rooms and 20 beds, serving the entire neighborhood. Equipment includes X-ray and violet-ray apparatus. A resident physician and three nurses are in constant attendance. At Seco there is a fully-accredited high school, at which pupils from both towns are prepared for entrance to the state university.

The mines are equipped, operated, and managed on a definite plan of utmost safety. Preventative measures are considered of utmost importance and are highly effective. All working places are inspected twice daily. At each mine is a Mine Safety Committee, consisting of the mine foreman, a coal loader, a day man, and one company official. This committee makes monthly inspections and reports its findings and recommendations in writing to the Mine Safety Organization.

Each machine runner and motorman going off shift each day makes a written report of the work done and the condition of his equipment, which provides for such continuous maintenance that there is seldom a bad breakdown.
First aid equipment, teams, and underground stations are complete and available for instant use, in cases where preventative measures fail.

Each mine has its own steam plant with engine generators. In the Seco powerhouse, there are four 150 hp boilers, driving two generator units of 200 and 250 kW capacity, respectively. At Millstone, there are two 150 hp boilers and one 250 kW generator set.

Both mines are equipped to prepare all commercial sizes of coal through plants of 2,000 tons daily capacity.