MUHLENBERG COUNTY, Ky. (10/25/13) — Do you remember Peabody Coal Company's River
Queen Mine Marion 5960 coal shovel? How about Bucyrus Erie's 3850 Shovel at the Sinclair Mine, also known as the world's largest shovel?
Author Michael Davis, a native of Muhlenberg County, remembers a lot more about these world famous shovels, and now is sharing his love of coal mining's mammoths in his new book entitled, "Coal Mine Equipment At Work". The book is now available on Amazon.com and other sites.
Davis lives and works near Fort Campbell. But his heart is still in the Western Kentucky coalfields. He was raised in the rich coal seam that has made the area a vital source of energy for the nation for over a hundred years.
"I had planned this book for years. But it took a while to get around to actually getting down to the mammoth task of writing it, " Davis told SurfKY News.
After graduating from Muhlenberg North High School in 1997, Davis attended Madisonville Community College. He then began his career in radio, got married and had a child. He is the son of Mitchell and Diane Davis, who still live still live in Central City. Davis said that growing up around so many miners in his family and his friends just made it seem the thing to write about.
"Putting this book together was something I envisioned. I worked on it for years off and on in my spare time, as far as research," he said.
When he finally knew there was a chance to get his book published, he took on the huge task worthy of the area that has supplied the nation with energy for so long. To someone like Davis, it truly was a labor of love by a coal miner's son. His father once worked on the famous world's largest shovel.
Davis said, as he went through life he would try to tell people from outside the region about growing up in Muhlenberg County.
"It was frustrating, because I would be excited in talking to people about what massive machines we had here, what it was like to see these enormous shovels in action, and they just could not comprehend what I was talking about,” he said. “So, I thought, 'I've just got to give people something that shows my memories in book form. Then I can show other people from outside Western Kentucky exactly what I'm trying to talk about. To create something that people could actually see."
Davis said he originally pitched the idea for the book to a publisher as a Muhlenberg County only book, but later it was decided that surrounding counties should be included to show their contribution to the industry as well.
"What began as a fact finding mission focused on one county, turned into a really big project, including mines in neighboring counties to Muhlenberg,” he said. “Hopkins, Daviess, McLean and Ohio counties' mine equipment are all in the book, along with bits of history you won't find in one place. At first, the thought of adding other counties into the book was sort of a dilemma, because since I was from Muhlenberg, I was somewhat prejudiced. I wanted this book to be something that honored the miners and the many families that I knew growing up. But in the end, the publishers had the last word. Now I can see that it is a more complete history thanks to including surrounding counties."
He said that the most difficult yet rewarding part of the project was, "just finding out who had the original pictures needed. Finding the information on this book was hard and time consuming. Many of the people involved had passed on, so it was a case of having to become like ancestry.com in many cases. It was quite a task, but well worth it."
Davis said local historical resources provided much of the needed information.
"I started, obviously, with the Duncan Cultural Center and then the Hopkins County History Museum, both of which have a wealth of information on even the smallest details of coal mining's history,” he said. “There were also a lot of the pictures that I took myself, because I wanted to cover all of the history of mining, up to the present."
Davis said eventually the mass of information about the world's largest machines came together.
"The entire project, once I finally took it to task took well over a year.” he said. “Then it took over six months to bring all the editing together. It's put in chronological order. There are rare pictures, and of course, a lot of specific facts and figures that many miners and others will find fascinating."
And when it came to the world's largest shovel?
"Well, I did make a special effort at the back of the book to focus on the world's largest shovel, the Peabody 3850 at Sinclair Mine in Muhlenberg County,” said Davis. “I had very close relatives that worked on and around that shovel. It was finally buried on Peabody property when it was retired, and is still there somewhere beneath the ground today. I had the honor of seeing that shovel close up several times. And I was lucky enough to acquire very rare construction photos of the shovel from a friend of Bucyrus Erie, who built it. These are some very fascinating bits of history."
Davis said many people unaware that another machine, River Queen Mine's Marion 5960 shovel, was actually bigger than the 3850.
"My father worked on and around the 5960. He took me up on it when I was 5 years old,” he said. “That machine got its own chapter. If I had to do it over again, I would do the back story on that machine. At that time, this area took a lot of pride in having both these machines in western Kentucky. We really could see the results of everyone's hard work every time we turned our lights on."
The book contains rarely published photos sure to interest everyone, said Davis.
"One thing that did happen in the book, that is of interest is that Peabody allowed me to publish accident photos,” said Davis. “The boom collapse on the 3850 was one in particular. It happened right before that shovel was buried. I really think people will be fascinated to see these rare photographs."
Since the book has been released, there is an added bit of satisfaction in hearing what people think of his labor of love on the history of mines and the companies that ran them, said Davis.
"A lot of people appreciate the photos and the trip down memory lane,” he said. “They can take the book and show others what their memories hold. That has been the biggest thrill to me."
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