Back when Arthur M. "Smiley" Ratliff Jr. was a poorer man--before the five Rolls-Royces, the 20,000-acre ranch, the colonial mansion with twin gun towers and before the negotiations to establish his own nation in the South Pacific--he coached high school football. Drawing strategic inspiration from Napoleon, Genghis Khan and Robert E. Lee, Smiley and his boys won nearly every game. Smiley, as everybody calls him, was once asked to describe the best pass defense in football. He said: "A quarterback lying in a pool of blood, dyin'."
When Smiley mined coal, which he did for 20 years, turning a $1,500 bank loan into a fortune that business associates estimate at $100 million, he used "Smiley's winning principles." These are best summed up in Smiley's creed: "It doesn't matter whether you win or lose, just so long as you win."
Smiley, like a tomcat grooming his fur, meticulously curries his image as an unregenerate hillbilly. He likes to to call himself a "damn uneducated mountain fella." In the mid-1970s, two New York City coal financiers flew down to southwest Virginia coal country to do business with him. A millionaire at the time, Smiley told them that if he ever made any money he was going to buy himself some socks and underwear.
"I was born in the last of the old days, the good old hard days, before socialism and horse---- took over the government. I was born when men had to be men. I've worked practically around the clock. I've done the work of 10 men. It's like the poet said: The horror of the damn shade. I'm a general on the battlefield of life. Why, hell, God created me to win."
Smiley Ratliff has a natural- born genius for making money and a natural-born hatred for anything that gets in his way. Had he grown up in Texas or the Pacific Northwest, he might have made millions in oil or timber. But Smiley grew up in Appalachia, and how he made his fortune explains much about life and work and death in the coal fields there. In what he brags about and what he won't say, in how he ran a million-ton-a-year coal operation and in why he doesn't do it anymore, Smiley is a one-man primer on how coal in the past decade turned 508 square miles of Virginia mountains into a boom county, the third leading coal-producing county in the United States.
A half-century ago, Smiley's home town of Grundy, the county seat of Buchanan County, Va., was so poor that passing crows were said to pack a lunch. People of the county--located in the southwest finger of Virginia, west of West Virginia and south of Kentucky--had chopped down most of the oak and hickory trees that were the only industry. Many were scratching out malnourished lives farming mountains too steep for a mule.
In 1930, they started digging out the coal. Buchanan (pronounced Buck-annan) County has 14 seams of high-grade, horizontally stratified bituminous coal that run through the county from 100 feet above the water line to 1,300 feet below. There is plenty of coal for at least 50 more years of the kind of production that in 1980 sent 17.7 million tons of coal-- worth nearly $629 million-- rumbling on railroad cars out of the county northwest to the Ohio River and east to the piers of Norfolk.
In return for jobs and food and a roof over their heads, coal miners for more than 50 years chopped up the mountains, fouled the rivers and risked their health. An estimated 800 of them have been killed in mining accidents. Much the same thing has happened in Appalachian counties across West Virginia and Kentucky.
Coal, however, brought prosperity only in fits and starts, mostly fits. After the boom years of World War II, there were 20 years of misery. Harry Caudill, author and prophet for Appalachia, described the wretchedness, as uncovered by reporters in the mid-1960s: "When it came to poverty, no others photographed so heartrendingly, or shuffled so aimlessly, or slumped so pathetically as the ragged scarecrows diligent journalists found in the collapsed mining towns."
Those same hollows, now, are dotted with swimming pools and Pontiac Trans-Ams and satellite dish antennas that pick up scores of television stations. Fancy new homes--brick split-levels, columned colonials, Astor ranches--have been grafted on hillsides beside old "B.M." (Before Money) tin- roof shacks.
Since the Arabs got together in 1974 and raised the price of oil, a coal boom has created a virtual full-employment economy in Buchanan County. More than ever before, the people of the county, along with their schools and government, are dependent on coal.
Working underground in Buchanan, there's a new generation of miners who are strangers to unemployment and welfare, who can't remember a time before mechanization when coal was dug with a pick and shovel. They've led the county in the past decade in a rapid and unprecedented rush into blue-collar prosperity. In that time, median family income has more than tripled, to an estimated $19,965, about $700 above the rest of Virginia.
William VanDyke, 28, a maintenance foreman who works 1,300-feet underground in a 66-inch-high coal seam, is one of the most prosperous members of that generation. He makes $36,000 a year, working the graveyard shift for Island Creek Coal Company. His wife, Nancy, 27, salutatorian of her senior class at Grundy High, also works for Island Creek as a payroll clerk. Together they earn about $53,000 a year.
They own a bigger, fancier house than anyone in either of their families has ever owned. Their $80,000 three-bedroom ranch-style home sits on 78 acres that run up the side of a hollow beside the Dismal River. VanDyke has allowed his mother, two brothers and two sisters to build a house on his land and park three house trailers. The VanDykes have recently purchased a 25-inch color television, wall-to-wall deep-pile carpet, a pool table, a microwave oven and an Intellevision video game. They say they are sorely tempted to buy a $5,000 satellite dish antenna and a Corvette sports car. They own four cars now, including a black Pontiac Trans-Am that Nancy bought "after she fell in love with that (Smokey and the) Bandit movie" in which Burt Reynolds drove a Trans- Am.
"To tell you the truth, we don't save a great deal of money. I generally spend it as fast as I get it. We've made so many improvements around this house," says VanDyke.
Since he quit college eight years ago to work in the mines, VanDyke has taken night courses in mining almost every year, earning certification that has moved him from miner to mine electrician to foreman. A former member of the United Mine Workers, VanDyke says he had no qualms about leaving the union.
Loyalty to the UMW in the county is tepid. During last year's three-month UMW strike, the union could not muster enough members to close down one nonunion mine. Nonunion mines employ about 60 percent of the county's miners and pay salaries 10 to 20 percent higher than those paid in union mines, miners say.
Leaving the union to join management, VanDyke says, was simply part of "bettering yourself." For the VanDykes, who have a 5-month-old baby girl, the only catch to bettering themselves is the tightness VanDyke feels in his lungs.
After eight years underground, VanDyke says he has trouble catching his breath while swimming or playing basketball. A lung X-ray three years ago caught traces of black lung. "I can definitely tell the difference in my breathing," says VanDyke, the youngest of 14 children.
VanDyke can hardly avoid thinking about black lung. The disease apparently killed his father two years ago. His brother-in-law, Cecil Keen, and his oldest brother, Virgil, who both live on his land, are disabled with it.
Virgil, 56, who cannot read or write, receives $293 a month in black-lung benefits, as well as $436 a month in Social Security. But since Virgil's right lung collapsed eight years ago, forcing him to quit the mines, he has been too sick to spend much of that money.
He has dwindled from 165 to 97 pounds. His face, behind a small hook nose, is hollow- eyed, pale skin pulled tight over sharp cheek bones. Walking to the kitchen in his trailer for a drink of water leaves him winded. He says most of his teen-age friends who went with him into the mines during World War II are crippled or dead.
"When we went in the mines," Virgil says, "I never dreamed about getting hurt bad like's been done. You can get all the money in the world, but it don't cure your lungs. I can't enjoy what I do draw. I can't go fishin'. The walking hurts me sorely.
"A man never knows what kind of shape he's goin' to get in in this world. I ain't angry. It is just somethin' that came. If I had it to do over again, I'd do it. A man's got to make a living."
William VanDyke, the youngest brother, the one with four cars, the one the family is most proud of, says he would be a fool to think he will escape black lung.
"I know what it is doing to me. When you come right down to it, I'm willing to make that sacrifice for the money. Death is something you don't think about. I suppose what you think about every day is the money, isn't it?"
Among the 37,989 people of Buchanan County, coal made millionaires of about 200 people in the last 12 years. Mountain people are proud of their millionaires, and the millionaires are proud of themselves. No one is prouder than 56-year-old Smiley Ratliff. According to one of the county's most successful coal businessmen, Smiley has "canned more pure green cash of the folding kind than anybody around here."
"Every little town has it's hero," Smiley says. "All my life, since I was 15 years old, I've been Grundy's hero."
Ratliff is a common name in Buchanan, a county of large clans descending from English and Scottish settlers. The first Ratliff, a blacksmith, wandered into the hills near Grundy in the 1790s. The local phone book now lists 220 Ratliffs. There's Bittle in Royal City, Cretty in Looney's Creek, Edd in Tookland, Ercel in Maxie, Fern in Big Rock, Ishmael in Ratliff Branch, Nell in Poplar Creek, Shade in Deel, Slimp in Short Gap and Zed in Little Prater. Smiley, however, isn't in the book. Being an unlisted millionaire workaholic, Smiley is a hard man to find.
When he's reachable, Smiley's at his motel, the Anchor Inn, in Grundy. Once cornered, he doesn't mind talking. But the millionaire and his talk mean little without a context, and Smiley's context is Grundy.
Grundy (pop. 1,699) is a snake of a town, about 200 yards wide and nearly four miles long. It slithers through a ravine alongside the Levisa Fork River. Sunlight comes late to Grundy in the morning, having to fight its way up and over the 1,000-foot hills. Coal cars from the Norfolk & Western Railroad roll through day and night, groaning on their shiny tracks and quaking the hollow. Coal trucks with hand- painted names like "Livin' in a Fantasy" and "Give It All To Jesus" congest Main Street, intimidating pedestrians, leaking coal dust into the wind. The dust, fine as talcum, coats windows, walls and skin. Bunping into one of the cinder block buildings on Main Street will stain a shirt black
Grundy and Buchanan County, despite new-found prosperity, are blighted by growth. A recent report by the Cumberland Plateau Planning District says the area is "faced with severely inadequate water and sewage systems, a low level of most public service, an almost complete absence of public transportation, undercapitalized financial institutions, limited educational facilities and a general feeling that the quality of life is not what it should be."
In the lean years, before the coal boom, people in Grundy used to say the only road to success was Route 23 north to Detroit and the industrial Northeast. Some 20,974 residents, most of them young, took to the road between 1950 and 1970. But since then many have returned.
The returnees have found virtually no room to build a house. Island Creek Coal Co. is so desperate to create housing for its 2,500 employes that it has put up $25 million for a housing development on top of Keen Mountain, a strip-mined area about 20 miles from Grundy. The 1,500-family development, on which Island Creek, a division of Occidental Petroleum, expects to lose $12.5 million, will eclipse Grundy as the county's largest town. It will also be the only town not scrunched in the bottom of a hollow.
There's an otherworldly isolation to Grundy, enforced by the tortuous Appalachian terrain. Working in the mines or raising children at home, many local people rarely, if ever, leave the county. Because of a limited gene pool over the past century, several hereditary diseases have cropped up, some as the result of inbreeding. They include Down's syndrome, brittle-bone disease, colon deformities and the world's largest pocket of an incurable eye disease called autosomal-dominant retinitis pigmentosa, which causes blindness.
Racial attitudes also seem out of synch with the late 20th century. The 1980 census counted 21 blacks in the county. Only one of them, George Brady, a mason and carpenter, is registered to vote. County administrator Wayne T. Horne matter-of-factly calls Brady "Nigger George," as do many other local people.
"I been shot at. People sic their dogs on me. Several times I almost been run over by coal trucks that swerved to hit me," says Brady, 56, who attended Tennessee State University for two years and who moved to Grundy in 1976 because there was work for a mason. "A young woman on Main Street yelled at me: 'Nigger, you better get your ass out of town.'"
Smiley's motel on Main Street is Grundy's finest. Guest rooms at the Anchor Inn offer musty-smelling carpets, 60- watt reading lights and yellowed sheets.
"I run it to make money, not for your comfort," Smiley says cheerfully, standing in the motel lobby. He's about to drive to his mansion in neighboring Tazewell County. Like many Grundyites who've struck it rich, Smiley has moved uptown to the blue- grass pastures of Tazewell, 40 miles away from coal-truck thunder and dirt. He climbs into a 1982 Volvo station wagon, which he's owned for three days. Smiley can drive any of his five Rolls-Royces, but he's trying out the $15,000 Volvo as a work car. On the road, Smiley commences talking:
"Four people destroyed the United States of America. Sigmund Freud, he destroyed the law enforcement. In other words, if you killed your grandmother, it's not your fault. It's your daddy's fault 'cause he gave you red underwear for Christmas. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, with his socialism and communism and everythang else that is tearing this country apart right now, destroyed the people, their initiative. (Former Chief Justice) Earl Warren, he destroyed our courts. There's no more justice in our courts. Ain't no way to protect yourself from these criminals. Hell, they turn everybody loose. And Elvis Presley, all that screamin' and hollerin' and jumpin' up and down ruint the music. And, hell, a damn country can't be great if it hasn't got music. Thems the four culprits that done it."
In the Volvo, his 6-foot, 1-inch frame folded behind the steering wheel, Smiley looks part hillbilly, part dandy. His whiskers, once red, now white, are unshaven. He's chewing Work Horse tobacco. The chew, some of it encrusted like dried mud in the corners of his mouth, has stained untrimmed hairs in his yellow-gray mustache. His breath is heavy with the stuff. While talking he sprays the world within five feet of his mouth with ambeer, a pale brown goo formed of saliva and tobacco. Occasionally, as he talks, ambeer dribbles down his chin.
A genealogy buff who has traced his ancestry back to the Redclyffe clan of 11th-century England, Smiley wears only Redclyffe family colors--red and black: a black leather jacket, a red turtleneck shirt, black slacks and black loafers. All his cars are in the family colors: black Rolls-Royces, a red Volvo.
Underneath his shirt, he's wearing a girdle back brace with steel stays. He hurt his back in Italy as an Army infantryman during World War II. He says part of a brick wall fell on him during combat. About his back: "Everything is wrong with my spine that you can just about imagine. All my discs is ruptured and drained. I'm like you was drivin' this car with no rubber ties on it, no springs or nothin'."
A diabetic, Smiley says several doctors have warned him about malnutrition. He eats frequently at fast-food restaurants, if at all. "Hell. I'll go all day and not eat a damn thing. It takes 14 doctors just to keep me alive. I haven't taken care of myself. I'm all tore to hell. I'm supposed to be dead."
Smiley has a cleft in his chin and a long narrow nose that he uses as a sort of rifle sight while talking, tilting back his head, squinting his pale blue eyes and gazing down the nasal shaft. His face, especially the cleft in his chin, indicates a royal lineage, Smiley says. He claims to be the reincarnation of Sir Francis Redclyffe, an English nobleman born 300 years to the day before Smiley.
Driving east out of Grundy, Smiley passes the Anchorage Shopping Center, which he owns. Ten years ago, when he had a heart attack and was being rushed over this same highway to a hospital, he ordered his driver to stop at the shopping center so he could see how construction was progressing.
Besides not having time for heart attacks, Smiley says he hasn't had time for marriage. He married and was separated in the 1950s. The divorce, an expensive affair for which Smiley retained Virginia's premier divorce attorney, Betty Thompson of Arlington, was final just last year. Smiley has two married daughters who live nearby and who sometimes visit him. But he lives alone in his Tazewell mansion and says he likes it. Talk of his family reminds him of one of his winning principles. "Don't drink no liquor, don't work no relatives. On my teams there was never a position called son-in- law."
Smiley won't talk coal until he talks football, and football, as it turns out, has a lot to do with how he mined coal. He coached in the 1950s at a local high school with about 100 students. His teams, over three years, won 28 and lost 3; he won with as few as 11 players. Driving just beyond the shopping center, Smiley begins his football monologue:
"It was the only time in the history of man that we ever had total football. Every damn thing was geared to win. There are only two things I know about football. How to make touchdowns and not let that other son of a bitch have any. I used to tell my blockers, I said, 'Don't hem, hah, stutter, gag and puke, just cut that son of a bitch down.'
"In the locker room I would cry and beat those drums until I could see their faces wet with tears. I'd sweat and I'd vibrate, and I'd tell them they'd soon be with me in fields of clover . . . I can turn that button (of false emotion) on. I can get melancholy. I can cry till I pass out. One time at one little ol' ball game. Hell! Them boys had got themselves in trouble. I kept them son a bitches in the locker room until the referees penalized us for being late. And I told 'em, I got sweaty and tears ran off my face, and I said, 'I won't even be alive when this is over, so do it for me.' I said, 'I can't make it.' I said, 'I'm too shot up, too worn, too old,' but I said, 'Do it for me.' And they just stomped the s--- out of them. Hah, hah, hah. I double-crossed the son of a bitches, I didn't die."
What histrionic tales of small- town football have to do with the coal industry in Buchanan is that Smiley mined coal with the same hellfire abandon that he used to win football games. He recalls: "I knew nothin' about the coal business, but I knew winning principles."
Those principles were applied to the coal business this way: Smiley, like many independent coal operators in the early 1970s, ran a fast and lean truck-mine operation that leased coal land, worked nonunion miners (some of them at substandard wages), grudgingly abided by federal mine- safety regulations, regarded environmental laws as useless and pocketed nearly all the profits. When Smiley was at his peak in 1970, he ran 91 mines with 2,000 employes, leased 40,000 acres of land and sold about 1.6 million tons of coal.
"Smiley had the ability to inspire people to work for him," says one close business associate. "Some people call it leadership, some call it bull----, but whatever you call it, it worked. Smiley was typical of the operators who have been here over a long period of time. They didn't invest anything back in their business. They took the cash."
George Stewart, chief supervisor of the Grundy office of the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, says Smiley's mines were often cited for safety violations. But Stewart said Smiley would correct the problems. "I'd say he had the wrong attitude," says Stewart.
Smiley, who sold out his mining operations two years ago because of what he says was government interference, makes no secret of his hatred for environmental regulatig on and mine inspectors.
"The government is what ruint me. The so-called safety inspectors is what killed us. These mine laws were made by bald-headed politicians that never done a day's work and never made a damn nickel in their life."
Smiley's loathing of government has festered to where he has begun an attempt to buy an island in the South Pacific and set up his own nation. He's having trouble finding anyone who'll sell him an island. But in Grundy, where Smiley is ascribed Messianic power, many miners believe he already owns the island and that he jets off every weekend to tend to it.
The ravaged appearance of Buchanan County owes much to local coal operators of Smiley Ratliff's generation. In Virginia, which until recently had a coal-industry reputation for ineffective environmental laws and for lax enforcement of what laws there were, coal companies operated with few restrictions until the passage of federal strip-mine laws in 1977. The Virginia coal industry, the leading benefactor of state politicians, managed for years to delay enforcement of laws that environmentalists wanted.
Some 25 square miles of strip-mined mountains in the county appear as a moonscape. They were contour mined, using the "rape and scrape" technique, in which huge bulldozers follow a seam of coal along a hillside.
Black hillocks of slate, a waste product of coal mining, have been dumped in hundreds of hollows. The slate piles, along with erosion from strip and deep mines, killed nearly all the fish in the Levisa Fork River and gave it what the Army Corps of Engineers says is one of the worst sediment problems in the country. For years, the Levisa and most streams in the county ran black with a mix of coal, slate and dirt.
When the federal government arrived in the late 1970s, the era of "Smiley's winning principles" ended. Laws controlled black-water runoff, forced strip-miners to rebuild mountains to their original contours and ordered slate to be stacked in "hollow fills" with proper drainage and a covering of vegetation.
As coal mining became increasingly profitable, federal laws made it more expensive and complicated. As a result, the number of independent coal operators in Buchanan plummeted. In 1970, there were about 850 coal companies; now there are fewer than 220. Smiley sold out the last of his coal operation in 1980.
Since both the profits and costs of mining began exploding, coal has become the province of big business. Major oil firms such as Sun Oil and Conoco have invaded the county. A few local coal companies, such as United Coal, have grown into major national firms.
The fate of Harmon Mining Corp.--one of the county's oldest coal operations, which began mining in 1934--points to the internationalization of what had once been one of the nation's most parochial industries. Last summer Harmon Mining was purchased for $152 million by Inspiration Coal Inc. of Knoxville, a subsidiary of Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting of Toronto, a subsidiary of Minerals and Resources Corporation of Hamilton, Bermuda, a subsidiary of Anglo- American Corporation of Johannesburg, South Africa. Anglo-American, which produces 40 percent of South Africa's gold, is one of the world's largest mining conglomerates.
Big companies have radically changed the appearance of Buchanan in less than eight years, occupying hollow after hollow with 22 massive coal- processing plants. Jewell Smokeless Coal Corp., a mis- nomer if ever there were one, has built smoke-belching coke ovens at the mouth of the Dismal River to bake coal into a product used in making steel. Fumes from the ovens have denuded nearby hillsides along the Dismal. At night, spewing smoke, outlined by glaring mercury vapor lights, the ovens and the prep plants give the county the look of an industrial hell.
The arrival of big business coincided with marginal environmental improvement. A few fish now survive in creeks. The Levisa Fork River, for example, runs black only when it rains, instead of every day.
Smiley Ratliff doesn't believe that black lung, the occupational disease of the mining industry, exists. He says it is the creation of "bleeding heart" doctors. Smiley is a social Darwinist, believing, he says, in the survival of the fittest.
The truly poor and the truly helpless, he says, should rely on the rich, not the government, for help. "If you destroy the rich, you destroy the poor. Who's going to help the poor if not the rich?" Smiley asks.
In Buchanan County, 1,725 former miners are totally disabled by black lung. Social Security Administration figures show that 7.8 percent of county residents are disabled, almost all because of black lung, mining accidents or mining-related arthritis.
Dr. Robert Baxter, who's worked in the county for 22 years, estimates there are about 2,000 other former miners who fall into a "no man's land, where a fella has enough dust that he really shouldn't go back in the mines, but by the blood-gas measurements and his ability to breathe he doesn't have total disability."
Bill Fred Lester, 42, falls into that "no man's land." Lester, who lives in a trailer on his mother's land, about 100 yards from where he was born, was told by the U.S. Labor Department in 1979 that he qualified for black-lung benefits. It took him 26 years in the mines, during which time he broke his back and shattered his right foot, before his lungs were bad enough to qualify. An X-ray report from a local clinic last year said: "There are opacities in all six lung zones read by us. . . . There is also moderate emphysema."
But the insurance firm representing Lester's last employer, the L&R Coal Company, challenged Lester's benefits. Under federal black-lung law, the Old Republic Insurance Company would have had to pay his benefits. The company sent Lester to a Bristol, Va., doctor who said his lung condition was bad, but not bad enough for total disability. So Lester, after nearly two years of waiting around and living off welfare, went back to the mines a month ago.
His boss, his uncle Elijah Lester, gave him a relatively easy job making $11.25 an hour as a helper on a machine called a continuous miner. But Lester is working in "low coal," a seam 34 inches high. He comes home from work now, his back aching, lies on the sofa in his trailer house and wheezes. Lester should wear a breathing mask in the mine, but his lungs are too weak to draw breath through one.
Upon arrival at his Tazewell County mansion, Smiley climbs out of his Volvo to unlock the entrance gate. He points proudly to two three-story white brick towers, which straddle his house.
"Those are gun towers. In England, all my ancestors' places, we always had towers to fight from. So after making a sojourn there, I said, hell, it only seems appropriate that I build some towers here. I told my men to spread rumors to the neighbors that we have submachine guns up there."
In front of the house, sheltered by a veranda with eight columns, hangs a bronze shield that reads: "For God and Empire."
But since Smiley no longer directs a coal empire, the mansion is now a command center for his new life as a self-described "simple country gentleman." Smiley raises 5,000 head of cattle on one of the largest ranches in Virginia, breeds Arabian and Appaloosa horses, manages his investments in the stock market and plots the purchase of that nation he wants to run.
"Is it not madness that a damn uneducated mountain fella wants to create an island nation?" Smiley asked a visitor late on a night during which he'd been showing slides of a South Pacific island he sailed to in the summer of 1981. For fear of queering purchase negotiations, he will not name the island.
The life of a country gentleman, Smiley says, is not nearly enough. He misses the coal business, and, since getting out of it, he has begun speaking of himself in the past tense. "It's all over for me," he says again and again.
Smiley speaks nostalgically of the good old hard life 40 miles back in the mines near Grundy:
"A coal mine is just like any place else. Livin's a dangerous business. And if you live, you gonna die." CAPTION: Cover photo, GRUNDY: How A COAL TOWN GOT RICH; Picture 1, Coke ovens of the Jewell Smokeless Coal Company spew smoke into a hollow at the mouth of the Dismal River. Fumes from the ovens have killed some vegetation on nearby hillsides. The ovens bake coal into coke, which is transported by rail out of Buchanan County and is used in steel making. At night, tongues of fire flare from the ovens, which burn around the clock.; Picture 2, Arthur M. "Smiley" Ratliff, who has amassed a fortune estimated at nearly $100 million, stands at the entrance gate of his 20,000-acre ranch in Tazewell County, Va.; Picture 3, Idie VanDyke and her son Virgil, a former coal miner who lost his right lung eight years ago and is disabled with black lung disease.; Picture 4, railroad cars filled with coal wait on a siding along the Levisa Fork River.; Picture 5, Bill Fred Lester and his wife, Roberta, hike to their hillside trailer. He suffers from black lung but does not qualify for federal black-lung benefits. he also broke his back and crushed his right foot in the mines.; Picture 6, William and Nancy VanDyke and daughter, Rhonda, at their Dismal Valley home, a house bigger and fancier than any relative's home.; Picture 7, Most of the land in Grundy is too steep for housing. Rapid population growth over the past decade has forced newcomers to live in trailer houses that are perched together in clusters on mountainsides. Landowners often must share their property with relatives unable to find parking spaces for their trailers.; Picture 8, George Virgil Brady, one of 21 blacks in Buchanan County, is the county's only registered black voter. Photos by Margaret Thomas; Margaret Thomas is a staff photographer for The Magazine.