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“Worth Their Weight in Gold”

Recalling Red Jacket Safety Day

By Joe Plasky

coal mine rescue team
The winning coal mine rescue team at Red Jacket Safety Day in 1951 and 1952 was from Junior Mine. From the left, members are Lewis Simpkins (captain), Ed Simpkins, Nakomis Sloan, George Williamson, Jr., John Halley, and Benny Chafin.

In 1946, my father, Joseph J. Plasky, was hired as Safety and Training Director for the Red Jacket Coal Company in Red Jacket, Mingo County. My family lived there for the next 10 years, and Red Jacket was the site of many memorable experiences for me as a child. Among the most enjoyable of these were the annual Family Picnic and Safety Day gatherings held in our coal camp each summer.

The Red Jacket Coal Company was a subsidiary of the W.M. Ritter Lumber Company, which had mines in several places throughout southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia. The Ritter Lumber Company had its main offices in Columbus, Ohio, where the founder, W.M. Ritter, made his home. Mr. Ritter was very involved in the day-to-day operations of the mines and was deeply concerned about treating each employee fairly and about creating a “family” atmosphere within his company.

Following World War II, many changes took place in the mining industry in our area. Local coal mines faced new challenges from abundant and cheap oil and gas, as well as the prospect of low-cost nuclear energy. Mines were still mostly of the manual method of production, which resulted in low productivity. The United Mine Workers of America had recently made major gains, and the union was growing in momentum. John L. Lewis and President Harry S. Truman were in constant battles, with neither side giving much quarter.

When my father was hired, it was hoped that he would improve safety for the miners at a lower cost to the company. His other duties included improving labor relations and training the miners in mechanization. The objectives of fostering a “family” organization and the encouragement and recognition of an improved mine safety program came together in the creation of the Red Jacket Coal Company Family Picnic and Safety Day. This idea was largely my father’s, and he was the driving force behind its implementation.

You can read the rest of this article in this issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.