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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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The Carbon Kid: 1938

The Carbon Kid: 1938

September 1938. "Coal miner's child breaking up large pieces of coal to take home. Pursglove, Scott's Run, West Virginia." Photo by Marion Post Wolcott for the Resettlement Administration. View full size.

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They almost arrested him

then they found out he had squatter's rights.

Not just "roadkill"

It was (and probably still is in the dirt-poor parts of the world) common to glean traffic lanes for "roadkill", so to say. The even harder version is people going though mine tailings for tidbits of coal, ore, or whatever may be useful.

My dad recalls gleaning fields for wheat, rye, whatever ears the farmers' workers had lost or missed during harvest.

[edit: not my best day, spelling wise ;-)]

Marion Post Wolcott

Marion Post Wolcott never seems to disappoint. She really had a great eye and fabulous technique.

Not just yesteryear

Springfield, Missouri has a coal fired plant and it is illegal to pick up coal along the tracks. Seems they had a problem with people getting too close to the trains.

Thrown in jail

My father got thrown in jail for picking coal off the tracks, Easter Sunday 1928. He was 15 - Delano, Pennsylvania.

Coal cars rumblin past my door...

Both of my parents grew up poor in western PA "coal patch" towns.

Every time I hear the song "The L&N don't stop here any more" I think of the wonderful stories of the hard luck years they endured. How I would give anything to be standing along the "sulfur crick" with rusty old Pennsy H21 and GLa hopper cars of coal (like those in the W Va picture) rumbling by.

"I was born and raised in the mouth of the hazard holler...
Coal cars rumblin past my door..
Now they're standin in an empty row all rusty
And the L&N dont stop here anymore"


I had an outfit like that as a child. Get up, get in and that's it!

Fred Flintstone

The early years.

He's going to look sharp in dress blues

We grew up hearing the family was so poor that Grandfather would pick up coal off of the train tracks. Fast-forward 85 years, through the wonders of newspaper archives digitization: a 15-year-old Grandfather is arrested for picking up coal in the rail yard after he pushed it off of a rail car. The following month, Grandfather's name appears on a U.S.Marine Corps muster sheet at Marine Barracks Port Royal, South Carolina (now Parris Island). The beginning of the Sergeant Major's 40-year adventure.

Coal miners' kids

This was apparently very common in coal country in the early 20th century and before. My mom was a coal miner's daughter born in 1910 in Bradenville, Pa. where her father worked the mines and she and her three brothers were often told to take burlap bags to the railroad tracks and pick up as much coal as possible that had fallen off the train cars as they rattled along. They used it to heat their homes in the frigid Pa. winters and her mom would cook with it. When I was very young and went there to my grandma's funeral, I well remember the miles and miles of the most train tracks I've ever seen and coal scattered everywhere. We who are living today have no real idea of how very hard life was in earlier times.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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