The original company houses in Jenkins were adequate for the times, and were excellent when compared with some crude mountain homes that some families lived in before moving to the coal camps. Many young people stayed, made their careers working in the coalmines, and lived a happy and successful lives. Others, however, recognized the limitations of living in a coalmining town, and either moved to other areas of the country for employment or went on to college, seeking self-improvement. Children reared in coalmining camps have excelled in careers as doctors, attorneys, accountants, educators, military officers and other professions.
When I received my discharge from the Army Air Corps in 1946 and came home to Jenkins, I could not believe the coal company was divesting itself of the residential and business properties while retaining ownership of the coal production properties. I only wish I had the money to buy one of the houses in Camden at the price of only a few hundred dollars. I would most likely still be in Letcher County today.
Miners were permitted to buy their homes, and the stores and other business properties were sold to private enterprises. With private ownership, major renovations were made to the homes by the new owners. Additions were made, almost all installed modern bathrooms, replacing the outdoor privies, and attractive brick and other types of siding were added. New houses were built on residential lots sold to the employees. Jenkins began looking like a town built by individual owners rather than like a ‘company town.’
It is sad to recall some aspects of the coal miner’s life. I remember the older miners, stooped from working for years in the mines. They would come out of the company store with a brown paper poke containing the carbide they used to charge their carbide lamps so they could see to load the coal while working miles back inside the mountain. I remember them dragging home with their metal lunch buckets under their arms, exhausted after working 12 to 14 hours and completely covered with coal dust.
Most of the information in this story was taken from the genealogy of our family, compiled by my cousin, classmate and hero, Jack Donald Brummitt, and with his permission.
Jack Brummitt graduated from Jenkins High School in 1947, where he was an outstanding athlete in football, basketball and baseball. He attended Virginia Military Institute, U.S. Military Academy, University of North Dakota, Boston University and Southwest Texas University. He holds a B.S. in industrial engineering and retired in 1991.
While in the Air Force, Jack earned the rating of aircraft observer, and pilot, senior pilot and command pilot, logging nearly 5,000 hours of flying time in the F-89, T-33, F-100, T-29 and the C-130 aircraft. He served in Viet Nam in 1970 and ’71 while flying the F-100 at Phan Rang Air Base, South Viet Nam and the last part of his tour as a director of the Airborne Battle Staff at Udorn Air Base, Thailand. While in Southeast Asia, Jack flew 143 combat missions. Jack is another Letcher County boy who made good, and I’m so very proud of him. He lives in Austin, Tex., now, but spends a lot of time in Letcher and Wise counties.
All those years we were both in the Air Force, and sometimes at the same base, we never ran into each other. The next time we saw each other was at our 25th and 50th Jenkins High School reunions. We write and talk to each other on the phone.