© Jerry F. Couch
THE CLINCHFIELD HOSPITAL at Dante, Virginia was a busy place in the 1920’s. My research suggests at least one miner per day was treated there for injuries received on the job. Some miners never made it to the hospital – they were killed instantly. Others died years later of the long-term debilitating effects of physical injuries, or from “tuberculosis.” Today we refer to that particular job-related illness by its more accurate name – “black lung.”
In 1926, safety was important but there was still much to be learned about how to operate mines in a safer manner (no mine is ever safe). When the Occupational Safety and Health administration was established in 1971, it was a game changer. Since that time, there has been a marked decline in deaths and injuries on the job.
The overblown self-congratulatory and self-serving language contained in the article below is astonishing. It was in bad taste then and it would open the door to litigation now. Times have changed and attitudes have changed along with them. In 2020, there would be no banquet to applaud management for its role in reducing accidents. Credit would be given where it is really due – to the entire team.
NOTE: Photos in this article were shared by CVT readers over the years and were featured in “Remember the Good Old Days?”
Pictured above center: The sprawling Clinchfield Inn, designed by noted architect Donald R. Beeson, was the scene of the Safety Boosters’ Banquet described in the article below.
From the Johnson City Chronicle, Thursday April 1, 1926
SAFETY BOOSTERS HOLD BANQUET IN DANTE
Memorable Meeting Held in Coal Fields Metropolis, Officials and Workers Join in Valued Program
DANTE, VA. March 10 — The Seventh Annual Safety Boosters’ Banquet given at the Clinchfield Inn Saturday evening by the Clinchfield Coal Corporation was acclaimed one of the most successful and enjoyable events yet held by the company. A pretentious and well-balanced program, consisting of splendid papers and talks by men who were well qualified to discuss their assigned subjects, a sumptuous dinner faultlessly prepared and served, and the fine spirit of fellowship evident on every hand, were some of the things that contributed to the success of the occasion.
To the intense regret of everyone, Lee Long, vice-president and general manager of the Clinchfield Coal Corporation, who has always acted as toastmaster, was unable to fill this office as he is recovering from an operation in Johns Hopkins Hospital. However, C. E. Brockus, the genial president, was down from New York and he officiated in this capacity in a manner pleasing to all. Although Mr. Brockus’ visits to his mines are infrequent, he always makes a special effort to be at the annual banquet for it affords him an opportunity to meet his associates an tends to strengthen the cordial relations that have always existed between them. A telegram from Mr. Long, in which he expressed his regret at his inability to be present, and his hopes for a successful banquet, was read by Mr. Bockus, and the assemblage was unanimous in its desire to send messages of good will in return.
The spacious dining hall of the Inn was resplendent with the national colors and those of the National Safety Committee – green and white. The tables carried white and green carnations and the same color scheme was used to advantage in the ice cream and mints. A high school orchestra from Bristol rendered music during the meal and a colored quartet from the same place delighted the men with selections interspersed between the speeches.
After the delicious dinner had been disposed of, F. E. Harr, Industrial Claim Agent of the company who has charge of the safety work, spoke on “Accident Prevention Experience.” He pointed out that although the number of tons of coal mined for each fatality was not as great as that of the previous year, there had been no let-up in the work of accident prevention. Two million one hundred and eighty one thousand tons of coal were mined during the year 1925, an average of 364,000 tons for each fatality. Declaring that during the past year almost every personal injury case was the result of carelessness, ignorance, and a willful violation of the safety rules of the company, Mr. Harr, with the aid of charts, impressed upon the men the toll which accidents had exacted upon the employee and the employer. During 1925 there were 61 accidents in the plants of the Clinchfield Coal Corporation, six of them being fatal. These accidents resulted in a loss of $68,000 and 200,000 tons of coal; or represented a loss of 16,744 days – the equivalent of an average lifetime.
Following Mr. Harr’s talk the following papers were read: “The Mine Foreman’s Duty,” Frank R. Clark, superintendent Clinchco operation; “Prevention of Accidents by Fall of Slate and Coal,” prepared by D. L. Rumgay, Superintendent Wilder operation, but read by Mr. Harr; “Handling the Careless Worker,” R. S. Adams, superintendent Dante operation; and “Psychlogy of a Safety Committeeman,” W. R. Sparks, Safety Committeeman, Clinchco.
Lauding the splendid accident record of the company and expressing the fact that last year the soft coal industry was amazed at the Clinchfield Coal Corporation’s record of mining 2,000,000 tons of coal in 1924 with only two fatalities, T. H. Pope of the National Coal Association, delivered a splendid address. Mr. Pope remarked on the energetic operators’ association which the Virginia producers have and stated that the Virginia Coal Operators Association had done more in compiling safety statistics than any other association in the country.
Other talks were made by Bolling H. Handy, chairman of the Industrial Commission of Virginia, in which he gave some interesting data in connection with the operation of the commission; and by A. L. Hays, secretary of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, who spoke of the cooperation of President Bockus and himself in an attempt to secure a lower freight rate on coal consigned to tidewater and lake points.
Mr. Bockus presented the silver cup which given yearly to the superintendent with the best accident record to R. S. Adams, superintendent of Dante Mine No 2. This cup is awarded on the basis of compensation cost per ton of coal mined and it was a very difficult matter to determine which mine should get the trophy, as there was only the smallest fraction of a difference between Mine No. 8 and Mine No. 2. However, in view of the fact that mine No. 8 is a new mine and small, the cup was given to Mr. Adams.
A feature of the evening was the sleight-of-hand performance given by G. W. Hall of the Keystone Lubricating Company, who performed a number of tricks to the mystification of the gentlemen.
In all, about one hundred and forty men were in attendance at the banquet, most of them being superintendents, department heads, foremen, and safety committeemen. In addition to the big Clinchfield family, a number of other neighboring operations and several visitors were present including the following: W. H. Robertson, general counsel Clinchfield Coal Corporation, Charles Harkrader, Bristol Publishing Corporation; Bruce Crawford, editor Crawford’s Weekly; A. I. Hays, secretary Bristol Chamber of Commerce; W. H. Vickers, G. W. Hull, and H. D. Greene, of the Keystone Lubricating Company; Press Raven Coal Company; E. H. Robinson of the Virginia Coal Operators’ Association; A. G. Lucs, Chief mine Inspector; Bolling H. Handy, chairman Industrial Commission of Virginia; T. H. Pope of the National Coal Association.
2020 – If you visit Dante, stop by the Coal Miners’ Memorial and take a moment to remember the people who helped make America a great industrial nation.