The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

New River Coal Operators Association

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Publicity photo of the New River Coal Operators Association of Mount Hope, WV, promoting the "New River Sewell Seam"
1931 advertisement of the New River Coal Operators Association

The New River Coal Operators Association was an organization made up of coal operators in the New River Coal Field. The exact date of the organization creation is unknown, but historical documentation regarding the organization dates from the 1920s through the early 1940s. According to an entry in the West Virginia Encyclopedia (pub. 1929) the organization was created "for the purpose of conserving the fuel resources of the State, of promoting and encouraging safety of employees and property, of advertising the New River coals, and of studying the best methods of cleaning and preparing coal." The organization was headquartered in the Masonic Building at Mount Hope, WV. An annual meeting was held, and special meeting called when necessary.

On at least one occasion the organization participated in cooperative-advertising with the Winding Gulf Operators Association. Another mine owners' association, the Smokeless Coal Operators Association, was made up of coal operators from the Pocahontas, New River, Winding Gulf, Tug River, Logan and Williamson coal fields of West Virginia. The term, smokeless coal, referred to the low volatile coal of the New River, Winding Gulf, and Pocahontas coal fields of Southern West Virginia, which came to be commonly referred to and widely marketed as smokeless coal because it produced very little smoke when burned.

While mine owners' and mine operators' associations were often formed for the purpose of preventing union organization at the operators' coal mines, the owners' organizations in the coalfields of Southern West Virginia were also attempting to combat the harassment and manipulation of the coal companies by the railroads. The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) and the Norfork & Western Railroad (N&W) both formed coal sale agencies during the late-1800s. If a coal operator attempted to sell the company's coal without using the railroad's sale agency the railroads would cut off or decrease the mine's supply of coal cars. Some have said that at times the railroad's sale agencies would negotiate a large sale of the owner's coal, without the owner being allowed to attend the meeting. The owner would soon afterwards be informed of the terms of the sale in a "take it or leave it" fashion. In general, the coal owners claimed the railroads were taking most of the profit from such sales, giving the operator just enough profit to manage to stay in business.

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