Harold Lewis and 130,000 other United Mine Workers went out on strike Monday night, but as he sat in his living room today, lamenting that the snow had ruined his deer-hunting plans, the train across the road kept reviving its engine for a run to Chicago with non-union coal.
As the miners began the nationwide walkout that union leaders predict will be the longest contract strike in history, the coal trains in this area ran on the normal schedule that has already bloated stockpiles at utilities to about 100 days' supply in most of the country.
Not a single union picket was visible in Harlan County, an area immortalized in song and film for its bloody union battles. After shift changes, the coal-blackened faces of non-union miners were visible in every town as testimony of the declining power of a union that once paralyzed the nation with every strike.
Lewis, who heads the largest UMW local in Kentucky, speaks in the slow cadences of the region but is quick in saying, "Guess we're going to have to do something about them trains."
Coal field observers say they fear violence if the miners try to close down non-union mines. With them operating, however, miners say a strike, even for the predicted three months, would not throw the nation into a fuel emergency.
The union represents about 50 per cent of national coal production and about 40 per cent in Kentucky, the nation's larges producer.
The most immediate impact of the strike was a complete cutoff in union medical care payments for miners and their families. For the first time since the pioneering UMW medical fund was created in 1950, it sis broke as a result of wildcat strikes that cut fund royalties.
The Daniel Boone Clinic in Harlan was swamped with patients yesterday lining up to get their last fre medicines, according to administrator Herb Emrich. He said the clinic would suffer a 30 per cent cut in income from the fund cutoff, but would treat miners who could not pay.
The local hospitals, according to Emrich, is admitting miners who cannot pay their bills on an emergency basis. Other area hospitals have a "no pay, no service" policy, according to a Harlan physician.
The union and the coal operators have been unable to agree on the two major issues in the strike, the local right to strike by union locals and restoration of health care benefits cut earlier in the year.
"I'd say it'll take about a week for the boys to get a little restless," says miner Jim Bailey. "Then I expect may be we'll see a little action." But for today the strike in Kentucky was hardly eventful. "If the weather clears up a little tomorrow, I may butcher a hog or a beeft," Lewis said. "Maybe even kill a deer."