Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Life in a Kentucky Coal Camp

Upon interviewing Helen about her dolls I at some point realized that I didn't have any background or understanding as to what exactly a coal camp was.  I was curious to find out so I jotted down a few questions for her...

What is a coal camp?

Helen: A coal camp is a coal mining community that houses only mining families.  The camp I grew up in had families from all over the world as well as from here in KY.  Our houses were all owned by the coal company and were very similar in style and build.  We used coal for heat.  We didn't have running water we had a well.  There was no indoor bathrooms, we used an outhouse.
Our school was on the property as well as 3 churches.  We had what was called a commissary there which is basically a grocery store.  We ordered things from the commissary with scripts.

What is a script?

Helen:  A script was a token that was worth a certain amount of money.  We would pay with the scripts and the script office would draw out money from my dad's paycheck.  Whatever was left after we shopped was paid to my dad in cash.
We also had a doctor there in the community that was no charge to us as I recall.  I believe the coal company paid him a salary and we were given free medical.

What was life like there was it hard?

Helen: We didn't have a lot of money but my mom was very thrifty.  She made our clothes and the younger ones got hand me downs from the older children.  Every year before school started we would get a new pair of shoes.  My dad hunted ginseng and yellow root in order to pay for our shoes. 
   We had to have gardens.  At 6 or 7 us kids started to learn how to work in the garden.  We started off learning how to pull weeds and dropping potatoes.  As we grew older we got more responsibility.  We fished and hunted and ate animals like rabbit and squirrel.  We dried the garden foods and also canned them for the winter.
   We made our own fun.  We didn't have many toys.  We fished, swung on grapevines and used cardboard boxes to slide down sage fields.  That's all we knew so there was nothing wrong with it!

Did you ever leave the community to go places?

Helen:  No, my parents didn't even own a car and we had everything we needed right there in the community.  I had been outside of the community one time before high school.   I left home at 16 to get a job.  We were a close knit community.

What do you mean by close knit community?

Helen:   Everyone knew everybody and we all knew what was going on with each other.  Everybody tried to help each other out when we could.  The people who ran the camps were nice and they did a lot for us.

Thank You Helen
Be sure to check back with us later this week to view my video interview of Helen, Glenna and Peggy discussing the Coal camp Kids!

Here is a picture I found on another blog here on blog spot of an old mining camp in Kentucky.  I am including a link to this blog as well so you can see all of the great pictures and useful info he has to offer.