The machines were greased and the coal pits were newly suspected for safety yesterday as virtually everyone here in the heart of Viginia coal country - the miners, the silent state troopers in squad cars near every mine entrance, the truck drivers and the mine owners - waited for the Taft-Hartley injunction to be served.
"We're ready to open. We can start up as soon as we get the miners in there," said Steve Anderson, spokesman for the Westmoreland Mine, one of the area's largest operations. But the injunctions did not arrive, delayed by an apparent mix-up in Washington.
"Ain't nobody told me to go back to work or to stop picketing either, and until they do, I won't," said Rick Hunsucker of Norton. "I won't then either," he added. Hunsucker, the target of much ribbling yesterday because his picture graced the local newspaper's front page, allowed the he missed working at his job driving heavy equipment at a strip mine. "It's good to be outdoors, see the sky all day. These guys are a bunch of moles."
The thing about mining deep coal, disagreed Louis Mullins, who has done it for 22 years, is that it's always 65 degrees and you never get rained on. "Safer than standing here on the highway, too," he said.
There was a lot of good-natured shoving and poking yesterday. Spitballs flew and small cherry bombs and firecrackers went off under the tables amid much hilarity at the Copper Kettle, where the business community gathered for lunch. When the talk was briefly serious it was of the waiting for the injunction.
TThe papers must be individually served on the mine operators, ordering them to open the shafts and on the United Mine Workers district offices and on each UMW local president. The local mine worker officials must then meet to hear the orders explained and each local must then gather its members to inform them. As of yesterday afternoon, the injunctions had not yet arrived at the U.S. marshall's office in Abingdon, which maust distribute them to the six county coal regions. Instructions for their enforcement had not been given either to that office or to the Virginia State Police, according to spokesmen for both groups.
"We have no alternative but to ask our people to obey the law and that's what we're going to do," said UMW District 28 president Ray Marshall. "Traditionally, no," area miners won't listen, he said, "but we'll see." All sides agree that no one knows just what will happen when the formalities are finished.
Meanwhile said Ronnie Junkins of Norton, "I just keep on truckin'." Jenkins' monster coal truck was also photographed recently in the morning newspaper, being chased down Guest River Road by striking miners. "Sure, I know all of them on the line, I guess. I don't know that I'd call a man my friend when he's trying to break my head though," he said.
Jenkins, 32, has been driving for Sunshine Inc. strip mines for five or six years. "The man I work for, he closed the mine down for a month, out of respect for them (the strikers), you know. But he would have lost everything he had after a while so he opened up again. It never was a union mine."
Even so, the distinction was lost on the picketers, who broke Jenkins' windshield twice and flattened several of hsi tires, he said. "Yeah, I get a little tense when I drive through there," he admitted. "Only done two loads today." The round trip from the mine down Guest River Road to the "tipple" in Norton where the coal is loaded onto railroad cars takes about an hour. Although the trucks are supposed to carry 25 to 30. "Hell, this truck is overweight just standing empty," Jenkins said.
The uniforms for the miners and drivers, strikers and strikebreakers alike seem to be a baseball cap, denims, galoshes and longish hair with many younger men sporting beards. Dennis Gibson's bushy curls are barely contained under his cap.
"My whole family was miners. How can I not like it?" he asked. He was taking a break from his new job "pushing piles of dirt around" to expose coal seams at the Pilot Coal Co. strip mine, which is still operating.
Gibson was a deep miner for another company and member of the UMW until last summer, when he was laid off in a dispute with teh company over seniority. The union did not defend him, he said and other mine companies blackballed him as a trouble-maker. "I tried all over to get union work but nobody would hire me, so Now I'm scabbing." He ralatted this in an aw-shucks manner, with a slight smile and eyes averted, toes scuffing the mud, spurts of tobacco juice punctuating each sentence. "I got bills to pay. Have to work somewhere."
Carl Connell, 62, disagreed but was sympathetic as he listened to Gibson. "Well, I don't like them crossing the line, but I wouldn't do nothing to 'em," he said. "I was 42 years in the mines myself. It's good work, and I know a man's got to work. This situation right now is pitiful."