Black Thursday

Black Thursday

My father, James Brooks, hired in at AMAX Delta Mine in the early 80′s as a mechanic and eventually an electrician.  During my dad’s initial orientation at Delta, cocky company guys brashly proclaimed that he and his co-workers had just accepted their last job.  You could hardly blame them for being so optimistic, if not downright arrogant.  The mine, originally opened in 1934, had been acquired by AMAX Coal from Ayrshire Collieries in 1969 and included an expansive 13.5 mile long by 3 mile wide stretch of earth between Harrisburg and Marion.  The vastness of the coal reserves under foot was enough to keep Delta in operation for at least the next 50 years.

However, such was not to be.

It might as well be called Black Thursday, because November 15th, 1990 marks the date of what would become the pending death sentence to the fragile southern Illinois coal economy.  The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, mandated strict emissions standards to help quell growing fears of coal’s impact on acid rain, ozone depletion, and toxic air pollution.  While such goals certainly seemed reasonable and sounded noble, the mechanisms through which the legislation would be enacted quite literally imploded the market for high sulfur coal overnight.  Within a matter of months, local mines began shuttering their doors.  Southern Illinois would never be the same.

So what, you might ask, does a set of amendments signed into law in 1990 have to do with an obscure baseball team from the 1940′s?  It was just one more body blow to a town that had enjoyed coal’s promises of prosperity and endured coal’s heartbreaking reality time and time again.  Despite the crippling blow to the high-sulfur coal market, West Frankfort has remained. Determined…resilient…at times even downright stubborn.   She has and will continue to endure.

That roller-coaster way of life in a coal town is many things, but predictable it is not.   Who knows…with new technology and a little luck, things might eventually be even better than they were before.  Such is the promise and hope for the future.

My dad ultimately lost his job at Delta.  He’s gone on to do other things, but undoubtedly he would have gladly exchanged it for the unfulfilled promise he’d been given some 10 years earlier that he had accepted his last job.

But what about you?  What impact did the southern Illinois coal industry collapse in the 90′s have on you?

2 Comments

  1. Just a few years later the mine where I had been employeed for 17 years (Old Ben #25) closed and my life as a coal miner ended.

  2. It is remarkable to me to look back and see how things used to look and what used to be available compared to today. While some things have improved, nothing has even come close to replacing the lost income from the once-booming coal industry. In some ways it has probably been better for you Richard (safety and health come to mind!), but if you were like my dad, you hated to see that job go away.

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