October Quest for the Original Cape Coalwood

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by DeBandi, Oct 27, 2008.

  1. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,172
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    I set out to find the original location where Homer Hickam, Jr. tested his rockets. I grew up in a small coal mining community in Kentucky. I left the community when I was 18 and now only return occasionally to visit family and friends. A few years ago I watched the movie October Sky Based on the novel Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, Jr. and that story is the subject of the this ride report.


    [​IMG]


    This would be a long four days of riding so serious time was given for planning routes and researching some background information.

    [​IMG]


    Of course we had to do this in October. After all, it was the launch of Sputnik in October of 1957 that created the “space race” and inspired Homer to want to become an aerospace engineer.



    Mo Boot was kind enough to join me on this adventure.


    We stopped in Petros, TN, to see what remained of one of the filming locations of the movie.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG] (Image from the web)

    The temporary set of the Olga temple was removed after the filming. It was located on this corner in Petros. Several other locations remain in Petros that were featured in the movie.


    [​IMG]




    Next, in Oliver Springs, TN, we saw Olga Coal Company still visible on several of the buildings in this small Tennessee town.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    We wanted to get to Erwin, TN, for the evening, so we had to take off after a bite of lunch.






    On day two the goal was to make it to Elk Park, NC, to meet up with Dlrides.

    [​IMG]
    Mo Boot had some battery trouble, and the weather was blowing trees at us at 4,900 ft up on Beauty Spot Gap road. I have never seen weather this bad while riding.


    Dlrides is a history buff and wanted to do the Coalwood ride with us on Saturday. He was gracious enough to show us some incredible historic items in & around Cranberry, NC. Friday was spent in that area exploring with Dlrides did a separate ride report for this day’s adventure http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=401209. :deal


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    Mo boot at a very long cable suspension bridge.


    My fuel pump began to spit and sputter on the 950 about an hour after this creek crossing.

    [​IMG] (photo courtesy of dlrides)

    The bike completely stopped running just as we pulled up next to a car wash. I had total fuel pump failure.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    After several attempts to solve the problem, it looks like this ride has come to a premature ending.:baldy

















    Let me look around & see what I have.

    Well, I will be dog, I just happen to have an extra fuel pump with me. :wings :rayof :wings

    [​IMG]
    Dlrides was kind enough to install the fuel pump, and we headed to find shelter and a warm, dry bed for the evening.


    Tomorrow - the destination is the Original Cape Coalwood and some historical information on the interesting coal village.
    #1
  2. GB

    GB . Administrator

    Joined:
    Aug 16, 2002
    Oddometer:
    61,697
    Lookin' good :thumb

    You carry a spare fuel pump with you? :huh :lol3


    :lurk
    #2
  3. flux_capacitor

    flux_capacitor I know a shortcut!

    Joined:
    Sep 28, 2004
    Oddometer:
    9,708
    Location:
    Cumming GA
    Yeah, he rides a 950!!! :lol3 David, I gotta tell you, I made fun of you for carrying that thing around but it looks like it paid off. Good work mang. :thumb
    #3
  4. dlrides

    dlrides 1:1.618

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2005
    Oddometer:
    6,279
    Location:
    Cranial Perfection
    DeBandi,

    Epic ride as usual !

    Before the report progresses, I would like to mention the roads taken to WV. We mostly picked our way on gravel and twisty backroads. along the way we found an abandoned road in western VA that was unbelieveable ! It ran through cattle farm country near Mendota VA, with parts that was extremely rocky grades. No pics of the rough parts, we were too busy getting the bikes through ! Some of the gravel roads in this part of VA run through huge cattle farms that are "open range" roads, meaning they have no fences and the cattle roam, simular to western states.

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]


    Carry on !
    #4
  5. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,172
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    Coalwood, WV, was considered a model mining community in the 1930s.


    [​IMG]
    This image is from the web




    I wanted to see this historical coal village before it vanishes forever.






    The road to Coalwood takes us through downtown War.

    [​IMG]

    War is home to Big Creek High School.

    [​IMG]

    This is where Homer went to school and was inspired by his teacher to pursue his dreams. He did just that. And Homer won the National Science Fair in 1960 putting Big Creek High School and Coalwood on the map.

    Keep in mind that he first saw Sputnik in the night sky in October of 1957:thumb
    #5
  6. Lopoetve

    Lopoetve Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jul 22, 2008
    Oddometer:
    667
    Location:
    Lafayette, CO
    sweet ride idea!
    #6
  7. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,172
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    Just down the road from War is the Olga Tipple at Caretta.


    [​IMG]

    I am surprised that it has not been removed due to liability issues.


    [​IMG]


    The large metal screen on the left extends over the road. This was for a big cable bucket system that went up the mountain to a slate dump. The screen protected passing cars from possible falling debris from the buckets on the aerial tramway.


    The conveyor belt system to the right crosses above Highway 16 and was used for the coal and slate coming in by truck.


    [​IMG]


    This tipple was constructed around 1924.
    It is identical to the tipple that was at Coalwood.

    Coalwood is just down the road.:nod
    #7
  8. Stretch67

    Stretch67 Mad Scientist

    Joined:
    Mar 22, 2006
    Oddometer:
    9,191
    Location:
    Bent, But Not Broken
    I always enjoy your reports. :ricky
    #8
  9. mark1305

    mark1305 Old Enough To Know Better

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2005
    Oddometer:
    6,321
    Location:
    Merritt Island, FL
    Great report! Keep it coming.

    Dave, or Don... Didn't we ride through War on the epic Memorial Weekend ride in 2007? There are some fantastic places tucked away in that part of the country.

    When are you guys going to team up and publish a book or two on these vanishing bits of history that you dig up?
    #9
  10. clarkebd

    clarkebd Custom Title Goes Here

    Joined:
    Aug 28, 2006
    Oddometer:
    821
    Location:
    Cary, NC
    I really liked that book (movies are never as good).... I never thought of taking a ride like this!

    Thanks for sharing!
    #10
  11. MO Boot

    MO Boot mo boot

    Joined:
    Jul 4, 2008
    Oddometer:
    29
    Location:
    Missouri Bootheel
    DeBandi,

    Can't wait to see more! Absolutely incredible four days. :clap Look forward to riding with you and dlrides again soon.

    Mo Boot
    #11
  12. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,172
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    We finally reach our destination.

    [​IMG]

    Dlrides made an interesting comment: "Most of the roofs are original including the copper flashing."



    This is what the housing looked like back when the village was new.

    [​IMG]




    We stopped at the Olga Tipple site.

    Unfortunately, this small building (the machine shop) is all that remains.

    This was the site of the only shaft mine in Coalwood. It started producing coal in 1905 from the original wooden tipple. Some 600 feet below this site was the six-foot high Pocahontas coal seam which held some of the best low volatile, low sulphur coal in the world.





    [​IMG]
    photo courtesy of dlrides

    This is what the site looked like circa 1930s.
    [​IMG]
    image from the web

    [​IMG]
    image from the web

    The Olga #1 Tipple was torn down in 1959 but the mining operation continued.


    More Coalwood info to follow...
    #12
  13. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,172
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    As we enter Coalwood we stopped at the boyhood home of Homer Hickam, Jr.





    This is the actual yard where he first saw Sputnik fly over.:thumb
    The wooden white picket fence that he blew up with his first rocket has long been replaced with chainlink.

    This is one of the larger, nicer homes in Coalwood because his father was the mine engineer and in charge of ventilation at Olga Coalwood Mine.



    [​IMG]
    photo courtesy of dlrides


    A back view of the house around 1944.
    [​IMG]
    photo courtesy of David Goad collection (I think)


    The Olga mine at Coalwood never had a major accident. Many contribute that to Mr. Hickam's (Homer's dad) advanced knowledge of the mine and ventilation techniques.




    The old school is just about gone. I do not expect this to be here much longer.

    [​IMG]
    image from the web

    You can see Mo boot taking a picture of the incredible front facade.

    [​IMG]

    A closer look.

    [​IMG]

    More to follow...
    #13
  14. tn-steve

    tn-steve Addicted

    Joined:
    Jan 2, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,614
    Location:
    Clarksville, TN
    Great ride report, looking forward to more :lurk
    #14
  15. kdscoates

    kdscoates Long timer

    Joined:
    Sep 24, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,507
    Location:
    Dahlonega,Ga
    debandi:great report debandi!!!!

    was that a stock ktm pump???? looks like one.

    dl rides: that is hwy 16 in wv/va state line i found that road this summer that road rocks all the way to the ohio river!!!!!

    moboot: i am sorrry you had to put up with those two all weekend!!!:D
    #15
  16. dirty-diesel

    dirty-diesel "Spiffy comment here"

    Joined:
    May 4, 2008
    Oddometer:
    187
    Location:
    Hazel Green, AL
    Awsome report! Wow that old high school looks like something out of a horror movie now. What a shame to see all this wonderous history fading away. Thanks for keeping it alive.:clap
    #16
  17. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

    Joined:
    Dec 31, 2006
    Oddometer:
    3,172
    Location:
    Blount Springs, AL
    As we approached the center of the coal community, a few things stood out.


    Coalwood is vanishing -- one building at a time.:eek1


    [​IMG]
    This was the original clubhouse & doctors office.
    image from the web



    [​IMG]
    This was the original school. Later it became the community center. Only a swimming pool exists at the location today.
    image from the web



    So sad. Coalwood is one of the longest surviving coal company towns in America. Or, at least what is left of it.

    I'm attracted to Coalwood for several reasons.




    This hidden little coal company town does not resemble any other coal town I have ever seen.



    It was a model town back in the 1930s because of its pride of community and pride of ownership. Olga Coal made this little coal town a great place to be. Most company towns were nothing but company owned housing and a company store holding the employees hostage by paying them in company scrip instead of actual American currency. They could not leave because the company scrip was worthless, except at the company store. This usually provided for an atmosphere of nothing but squalor, poverty, crime and very little sense of pride.

    Not so for Coalwood. It makes me think of an Alpine Village in the Swiss Alps.



    The company apartments were once very impressive.

    [​IMG]
    image from the web

    They have seen better days and I expect they will disappear in the next few years.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]



    The clubhouse is no different.

    Homer used to go to the roof and watch for Sputnik to fly over.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    That's the superintendent's house up on the hill.


    The Olga Coal Company office still stands today.

    [​IMG]


    The machine shops still stand.

    [​IMG]

    This is where Olga mine employees helped Homer with his rocket nozzles.

    [​IMG]

    Hard to imagine that a large part of the American race for space actually happened in these very buildings.

    [​IMG]


    They, too, are in terrible disarray, and I expect they will not last much longer.




    The company store was demolished just a few months ago.

    [​IMG]
    image from the web




    [​IMG]
    image from the web




    This is what sparked my desire to see Coalwood before it is gone forever.




    [​IMG]

    image from the web




    This is Homer at his rocket test site: Cape Coalwood.



    [​IMG]



    This is Cape Coalwood today.

    [​IMG]






    All of this does relate to Exploring Alabama. :nod

    [​IMG]

    Homer Hickam, Jr. became a NASA aerospace engineer and retired from Marshall Space Center in Hunstville, Alabama.

    [​IMG]

    More on this later. :thumb
    #17
  18. Sidviscous

    Sidviscous Adventurer

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Oddometer:
    31
    Location:
    Chained to Ohio
    I rolled through Coalwood and War a few years ago on my way to the Smokies and never gave it any thought other than "another WV mining town in final decline. What a neat history lesson. Bravo! I've also go to find that road in Virginia, I love toolin' around in that part of the woods.
    #18
  19. dlrides

    dlrides 1:1.618

    Joined:
    Jul 21, 2005
    Oddometer:
    6,279
    Location:
    Cranial Perfection

    Correct, we did pass through War.

    Remember this ?
    [​IMG]

    I have often thought about a motorcycle ride themed book, but considering the number of books about international motorcycle riding, sales probably would not justify publication costs. It seems that most riders don't have an interest in regional sights and history, and would rather read about exotic travels instead of create their own rides.
    #19
  20. mark1305

    mark1305 Old Enough To Know Better

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2005
    Oddometer:
    6,321
    Location:
    Merritt Island, FL
    Maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of armchair tourists/riders that may just be a waiting audience. Exotic travels? Lots of folks are clueless about how much exotica is buried in this regions history. Hell, I live on the Space Coast and remember watching Sputnik go over the GA skies when it was still the only satellite up there - and I had no idea of Hickam's background or Coalwood's history.

    You never know what will be a hit.

    Not the same subject matter, but my cousin that hails from Highlands, NC and still splits her time between there most summers and NJ in the winters :huh has been quite a successful author of childrens books for decades. Most have a message written into them about how to live life. And you'd think that wouldn't sell in kids books.

    So you guys hang on to that material as you compile it. When the pile reaches critical mass, you'll know it and start to figure what to do with it. :deal

    Back to the show....
    #20