Jessica, 27, is executive assistant to Alpha’s president. The Clevinger’s son, Bradford, 24, worked underground for about a year as a miner at Deep Mine 41, near McClure in Dickenson County, and now works in human resources at Alpha headquarters. Jenny Clevinger’s sister, Brenda Steele, recently retired from Alpha after being in the industry for 32 years. But this family’s association with coal goes back even further—Jenny Clevinger’s grandfather worked in the coal industry for more than 20 years (for several companies, including Clinchfield Coal Co.) as a miner and nightwatchman. “Everything you see here has been provided by coal,” says Jenny Clevinger. “There are certainly other respectable careers in the coalfields,” says Teddy Clevinger, “but this is the job.” On a recent morning, he and 55 other miners worked to remove about 28 tons of overburden—the earth and stone that lie above the coal—for each of the 425,000 tons of coal they produce annually at Surface Mine 88. After the coal has been extracted, Clevinger uses the bulldozer to move the earth back to its original approximate contour, according to federal regulation. Surface Mine 88 is a lot like an outsider might expect: It is a patchwork of terraced hillsides, sheer cliffs and level enclaves where coal is loaded into trucks and carried along muddy roads that wind circuitously
up the hillsides. “When we’re finished, we’ll put the land back the way it was, as close as we can get it,” says Clevinger. Jenny Clevinger recognizes that her husband has a risky job. And so did her son Bradford when he worked as a miner at Alpha’s Deep Mine 41. At the start of each shift Bradford and a dozen other miners made the 15-minute trip to the mine’s face aboard a “mantrip,” a long, squat vehicle designed to maneuver easily under the mine’s short ceilings, sometimes as low as five feet. More than 400 feet beneath the surface, Bradford and his colleagues used a continuous miner, a contraption which, on its business end, has a rotating steel drum studded with teeth to shred coal from the seam’s face. A conveyer belt moved the coal more than half a mile up the sloping shaft to the surface. Then it was washed at a nearby processing plant, put in a tipple and loaded into railcars, destined for customers around the world. Despite the dangers, Jenny Clevinger says she has always felt reassured by the measures in place for miners’ safety. “I don’t get worried about them,” she says. “I get up in the morning and say a prayer for my family, and that’s it. We all go about our day.” Bradford Clevinger earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Virginia’s College at Wise in 2009, and is today one
Above, clockwise from left: Guest performers at the Carter Family Fold; Leah Needham, guitarist for the Dixie Bee-Liners; Mountain Rhythm Cloggers perform at the Fold; Sav Sankaran, bassist; clogging; Sarah Needham, vocalist and fiddler; Leah Needham at the mic; Richard Bateman enjoying the music.
of a handful of young men in Alpha’s “Next Gen” program. Alpha and other coal companies are facing a generational predicament. Regularly occurring fluctuations in international energy markets and a downturn in coal markets in the 1980s, along with technological advances in mining techniques and increased mechanization that eliminated jobs compelled mine operators to cut back on hiring, forcing then-young men to look for work elsewhere. Many employees are now nearing retirement age, and there are not enough younger workers to fill that void. So Alpha is actively recruiting younger workers like Bradford Clevinger and rotating them through jobs around the country to give them exposure to the different career options the company offers and prepare them for future leadership positions. Bradford Clevinger, for instance, first worked in payroll at Alpha’s headquarters before going underground at Deep Mine 41. He then did a stint at a surface mine near Pound, Virginia, and is now working in the human resources department. “I like the different types of jobs that are available and seeing the company from so many angles,” he says. Alpha’s CEO Kevin Crutchfield, 50, is a 24-year coal industry veteran who joined the company as executive vice president in 2003 and became its chief executive in 2009. Running a coal company, says the Virginia Tech grad, has changed dramatically in recent decades due to, among other things, increasingly strict oversight of the industry. As a testament, Crutchfield shows me a photo of an Alpha employee standing beside the paperwork V i r g i n i a
L i v i n g
8/24/11 5:53 PM
Published on Sep 1, 2011
The October 2011 issue of Virginia Living is the tastiest yet, featuring our favorite pairings of cheese and wine, with every crumb and drop...