‘A good company man’

November 15, 2017

From the November-December 2017 issue of News & Letters

Morgantown, W.Va.—His name was Jim McGraw. He was the boss of the main line in Pursglove 15 mine, owned in the 1940s by Consolidation Coal Co., the largest coal company in the U.S. at that time.

On the main line crew when I joined them following a foot injury were Steve, about 6’4” tall and a terrific human being, and John, a Black deaf-mute and likewise with a terrific physical build.

Their physical builds resulted from years of handling steel rails that weighed 60 pounds per each foot of 10-foot rail. They had to drag the rails and position them on wooden ties on which the rails were attached by steel spikes.

Watching Steve and John was a symphony of motion as they alternately swung their 14-pound hammers with unerring strokes to drive the spikes into the ties. Although John was a deaf-mute, he and Steve had developed a communication system with hand motions that worked well for them.

Machines as big as a house replaced workers laying track, throwing thousands out of work.


While I was working with them, Steve developed back pain, but he did not report the pain to Jim McGraw, the boss. He waited a few days until the pain worsened, then reported the pain to Jim. There wasn’t a man in the mine, including Jim, who didn’t know that years of wrestling with steel rails had caused the injury.

Yet Jim denied that the injury was caused by the work and rejected Steve’s claim because Steve did not report the injury when it occurred. Despite the fact that Steve was Jim’s son-in-law, Jim insisted on his denial, and Steve couldn’t do a thing about it.

Steve went for an operation to Pittsburgh where there were back specialists. Unfortunately the operation failed.
About a year later, I ran into Steve at a local beer garden. He was struggling along with the aid of metal crutches. As we talked, he said that Jim never changed his denial position.

Steve raised his pant leg. What had once been strong legs had shriveled to the size of broomsticks. All because Jim remained a “good company man.”

—Andy Phillips


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