Reflections on a special banquet

Through the years of my youth I heard so much about the Hanna Coal giant Earth movers from my dad, but it didn’t mean much at the time.

I knew they were some of the biggest machines built in the land and even saw some in action and walked into the shovel of one with lots of other people at a dedication once.

It is all coming back to me now that I attended the Harrison Coal Reclamation Historical Park Inc. banquet and saw photos of the shovels, some that I saw in person in my younger years.

My dad, Donald McHugh, most often known as J.D., was a mining engineer who worked at the Bradley office and at the St. Clairsville office for Hanna Coal.

He was part of the McHugh family of mining engineers, starting with my Uncle Russell, known as Foxie, and my dad was Rosie. I know no explanation for these two nicknames. My uncle William, the youngest, did not have a nickname to my knowledge. Then there was my cousin Bill McHugh, and Dean McHugh who worked there, too.

I went down into a mine and found it quite scary, typed some deeds for my dad and watched him draw up maps that are still on file at the Jefferson County Courthouse.

Small wonder that I took to the organization that was trying to preserve mining equipment for future generations to see and be aware that this was the way of living in our Jefferson and Harrison county areas for many years.

It was dangerous for the miners who went down deep into the mine to shovel coal in back- breaking labor. I saw a picture of my dad and Fred Straus covered with coal dust once, but I don’t think he ever did the manual work for a living.

I looked at all the coal shovel pictures on the auction table and thought to myself, “Did I see that one in real time?” I wish I remembered more about my dad’s tales now.

Kerry George, a graduate of Adena High School and Ohio University, was the keynote speaker at the recent dinner.

He is the author of “Black Damp Century” which chronicles coal mining in the Eastern United States and other areas through the stories of two fictional families. Black damp is a mining term meaning an atmosphere with little or no oxygen.

His talk focused on the evolution of our mining heritage and comes from experience. He is a fourth-generation miner and has worked both underground and on the surface as mechanic, oiler, section worker and foreman.

He was an inspector both underground and in surface mining for 24 years. He told of the dangerous strikes that occurred over the years and the deaths that occurred due to bad blood.

At the auction, I purchased three copies of Hanna Coal News, a monthly paper that apeared in the mail at our house and was read with great interest because you might be part of the news as a student of the month or there might be news of our dad or other relatives in it to read.

I will report on some of the stories I have gleaned from reading these three copies at a later date, telling about mines in Piney Fork, Dun Glen, Willow Grove, Bradley and Georgetown and all other areas.

Roger and Donna Sliva were present for the first time at one of the banquets. Roger is the one who walked up and down the huge Earth mover shovel, the Silver Spade, to film it before it was demolished and then shot the destruction of the shovel with carefully choregraphed dynamite.

He is very involved in the Memorial Day services at the Adena American Legion post each year, dropping duties as commander after he retired so he would have more time with his family.

We sat with Don and Karen Jochims at the dinner, and he saw to it that I got some soft food to eat as I was still on my regimented diet.

We sat there through the pulling of numbers for door prizes and wondered if our tickets were on the ground. After we left, Karen told me that one of our tickets was pulled for a prize but it was nearly over.

We had a chance to talk with Tony Pietrangelo, a family friend and a friend through a church friend, Julius Pietrangelo. He has been part of the coal mining industry much of his life, too.

The group is selling calendars featuring pictures of big shovels. This year, 2013, it was of the early shovels from 1939-1940 of Hanna Coal. There are still some from 2012, where the Gem is featured. Dale Davis is the editor of this work.

(McCoy, a resident of Smithfield, is food editor and a staff columnist for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times. She can be contacted at