Beckley, WV - Day 1 - 10/03/2011

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Working on math with Chrissy

Today was a very productive day.  We drove down from Charleston to Beckley.  While in route, the kids worked on schoolwork.  They are really doing well in keeping up with it.  When it's time to work, it's time to work, and they get that.

At the New River Gorge Bridge

 Once we got close to Beckley, we drove over towards the New River.  The New River Gorge is a National River and part of the National Park system.  The New River Gorge Bridge is the second tallest bridge (in terms of from the ground to the bridge) in the United States, and fifth in the world.  It was quite an engineering marvel when its construction was complete in 1977.

There is a viewing platform that is easily accessible.  The view there is okay, but they make you really work for the best view.  Located 200 feet below, you can see a spectacular view of the bridge and of the gorge below.  The park states upfront that the climb down is easy, but the climb back up is strenuous. The kids were up for it, and we really wanted a better view, so down we went.  It was well worth it!

This bottom viewing area offered an unobstructed view.  A man who was passing through graciously took our pictures.  Then we began the climb back.  I must say that we all thought it was pretty easy.  The steps weren't very steep, and there were benches to rest if you needed to.  But since we climbed to the top of the lighthouse in St. Augustine, Florida, last year, nothing has topped that difficulty!

You can read more about the New River Gorge area Here.

Near the entrance to the mine

From there, we headed to Beckley to the Exposition Coal Mine and Museum.  This is an actual coal mine that is no longer actively mined.  You go on an inside tour of the mine, which is at a constant 58 degrees.  A little chilly, so bring a jacket!  The tour is lead by a former miner, who gives you a first-hand account of what it is like to work in a mine, what the equipment is used for, and how mining has changed through the years.  The typical tour lasts about thirty minutes.  Ours lasted over an hour.  And that isn't a complaint.  Everyone on the tour asked great questions, and the tour guide, Sonny, was more than happy to explain everything.  He allowed us to get out of the cars and take pictures with the equipment at several spots in the mine.

Sonny our tour guide

Sonny taught us about the different kinds of lighting that miners used.  In later mining years, but before battery operated lights, miners used calcium carbide.  They would wet the calcium carbide with water and put it in a little pot.  The pot had a little valve that would let the acetylene gas out.  You cup your hand against the valve, causing the gas to build up.  Then you run your hand down against the flint mounted on the outside of the lamp.  This flint is just like those on a cigarette lighter. Running your hand against the flint causes the gas to ignite.  The flame is pretty big, and with the right kind of reflection on the lamp, it would provide a lot of light for the miner.  The neatest part of lighting that lamp is the big whooshing sound it makes.  I wish I could describe it better, but it is kind of like the sound natural gas makes when you turn on a gas stove, just bigger.  Very cool! Jim and I both tried it.  He got it on the first try, but it took me a few times, I think just because my hands are smaller.

He lit the trip torch

It was a really neat tour.  When you think of West Virginia, you think of coal mines, so this was an awesome lesson for the kids.

Running towards the superintendent's house

After the underground tour, we had just enough time to view a few of the houses in the replicated coal camp.  Coal camps were built by the coal companies for the workers to rent.  The workers had to pay for everything they needed, and usually bought everything from the coal camp's general store, also owned by the coal company.  This included the coal to heat their houses, food, and tools to mine with.  The only thing the coal company provided was a place to work.

This replicated coal camp included a church, a typical miner's house, a bachelor's shanty, a school, and the superintendent's house.  The miner's house was a modest, three room home.  It is much like what you would find in a 'mill-village' home.  The bachelor's shanty was a one room shack barely big enough for one.  The bachelor that lived here was either not married at all, or lived away from his family during the work week.  The superintendent's home was nothing like these homes.  It was a two story, luxurious home.  The superintendent didn't have to pay rent for his home, as it was included in his salary.

We ran out of time to see the rest of the exhibits and the children's museum that was part of the whole museum.  We plan to come back tomorrow to see that.

You can read more about the Exhibition Coal Mine Here.

We finished out the day with dinner with my aunt.  The kids love Aunt Phyllis, she makes a good grandma substitute!

More photos in the Photo Gallery.

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