Monday, October 09, 2006

Coalwood, WV

On Saturday, we travelled to coal country. I had never been in this part of WV. It is beautiful. It is sad. We were headed to Coalwood, home of the rocket boys.

Do remember the movie, October Sky? In case you haven't seen it, it is the true story of Homer Hickam, a boy from coal country. He and some friends overcome many obstacles to build a rocket, and win the national science fair. Homer went on to work for NASA and has authored several books, one of which is Rocket Boys, on which October Sky was based.
Coalwood has a festival every year. Homer comes as do many of the rocket boys. Miles, Ashley (my nephew and niece), and Kellen were interested, so we decided to make the trip.

And a trip it was. Coalwood is, according to Mapquest, about 3 1/2 hours from us. We got up at 5:00 AM, because we wanted to make it for the parade. The six of us were going as were Mamaw, Papaw, Eric and his kids. We were in two vans.

Have a mentioned that there are almost no straight or flat roads where we live? It is worse in coal country. Have I also mentioned that Miles (my nephew) has a very weak stomach? Glad he was not in my vechicle! Mamaw gave him motion sickness medicine and they still had to stop three times on the way there for Miles to . . . well lose his breakfast.

We were following mapquest directions. There was a road we were supposed to turn on, that didn't exist. We ended up making a big loop to get where we were supposed to be. As you might guess, we missed the parade.

Coalwood was interesting. It was easy to imagine what it would have been like when it was a company town. The are two roads lined with houses. There are only a few styles of modest homes. A few of the homes are very well kept, but most show their age. There are large buildings that are falling apart. They were the Olga "club," company store, offices, maintenance and multifamily buildings. (I have pictures, but I can't find the camera right now. I will post them seperately.)

The festival is small, but we saw license plates there from at least six states. There was a parade (which we missed,) vendor boothes, and music. Homer's alma mater, Virginia Tech, had free activities for the kids. There was a trolley that took you to a rocket launch site. We also missed the rockets because we waited too long. The main attraction was Homer. He stood on the church porch all day long signing books or shirts and meeting people.

He seemed so genuine. He took his time and talked with each person. He had a smile. Mamaw asked if he ever got tired of meeting and signing. His answer, "Never." It seemed sincere. All proceeds from the day went to the local restoration group.

What a story his life is. It is a true American story of rags to riches, an inspiration to us all to reach and work hard for your dreams. It is also a picture of something that seems to be increasingly rare, someone who has succeeded, but remains humble and real. It was worth the drive!


  1. The road that didn't exist may or may not have been there, it wasn't marked well that's for sure. I was surprised that Homer still comes back every year and welcomes visitors. He also had and entourage, his wife and in-laws, and the woman in real life that helped him pick the suit in the movie was there also. While in line to meet Homer, we talked to his wife and in-laws for quite a while, and both of them didn't act as if they needed to be somewhere else, or annoyed that they had to answer the same questions over and over again, like it was the first time they were asked. I enjoyed the experience. The drive was entertaining and enlighting at the same time.The Camera is in the van in the cubby hole under the radio.

  2. We talked about coming down and going as well. Jake and I read the book a while ago and watched the movie many times. We decided it would be too much driving (down to your place and then to Coalwood and back) for one weekend. Maybe next year. It sounds like you had a lot of fun. Oh, I am glad we missed out on Miles barfing this time.

  3. Now you can't say that it is only our van that make Mile's barf. lol
    I wish we could have gone with ya'll Jude would of had a great time.

  4. I have had problems with mapquest before. At least you made it there, and had a good time.

  5. that sounds like an incredible experience.