Wilma and Edwin Adams moved to Lynch in 1949. Before that move, Edwin had spent two years as a Kentucky state trooper and served in World War II, winning two bronze stars, a Purple Heart and participating in the Invasion of Normandy. He was in Lynch to become head of security for United States Steel Corporation for the coal mining operation located there.
A graduate of Transylvania University, Edwin lost part of his hand in that war and felt he could never teach school which was what his initial plans had been. At Lynch he worked security for 33 years with men who, according to Wilma, “relied on him for everything.”
The couple lived in one of the better homes at Lynch, and when U.S. Steel began to sell the company-owned houses to residents, they bought the house for $700 and added three rooms.
Wilma reports, “When the miners were on strike, Edwin was on salary and going to work every day and drawing his pay. It was hard to know the striking miners and their families were doing without when we had everything we needed and more.
“Edwin had informants who coached him on what the situations were with the strikers, what they needed/wanted and what would bring an end to the strikes. Edwin would then report his finding to the assistant mine superintendent.”
Edwin took his orders from his supervisor at U.S. Steel who told him, “You’re used to arresting people. If you find a man drunk on the streets here in Lynch, do not arrest him. Take him home so he can sober up. We lose 12 tons of coal for every day a man is in jail.”
In addition to drunks on the streets, Edwin handled everything from thefts at the Washer Plant in Corbin to investigating the backgrounds of men who applied for work at the plant. The most difficult part of the job was, according to Wilma, “dealing with the mine fatalities. Edwin would call me ‘cause he didn’t want me to worry to let me know he wouldn’t be home from work until 3 or 4 the next morning because his job was to be in attendance while the fatality was being investigated.”
Although both Edwin and Wilma wanted children, none of her multiple pregnancies resulted in a live birth, so she was able to travel with Edwin on some of his investigations as well as on the numerous vacations they took with their schnauzer Sam sitting between them in their car with his paws on the dashboard.
A night that brings a laugh to Wilma is an account of the trip to Mine 32 on the top of Black Mountain. It was 3 a.m. when Edwin called, “Would you like to go?” “Yes, I would.” “Well put on long pants, heavy socks and a warm sweater. It’s snowin’.”
Wilma was eager to go — until they were halfway through a mile-long tunnel that led to the mine. “I ain’t going no further. I’ve walked aplenty.”
Edwin’s response was, “There are rats as big as cats in this tunnel, and I have to go on and there’s only one light.”
Wilma declared, “That’s all right. You go on ahead, ‘cause I’ll have made pets out of them rats by the time you get back.”
She went ahead with him through the tunnel and into the mines to “the ramp where they dumped the coal to come down to the world’s largest coal tipple.” Wilma says, “I never told about that trip that night because old-timers believed that if a woman went into the mines, there’d be an accident. I was afraid someone would get killed, and they’d blame me. “
Copper thieves from “up and down the river from the town of Cumberland would go into the mines to steal the trolley copper wire which was three inches in diameter. They’d cut it into one and one half foot lengths that they could sell for $60.”
With reliable informants, Edwin would get calls that the thieves were on their way to the mines, and most often the informants would identify the vehicles the thieves were driving and at times the license plate numbers.
One night at 4 a.m., Edwin had previously received a call and was in the mines waiting for the thieves. He was required to wait until they had actually cut the copper wire before arresting them. He reports that he was so close in the darkness that he could have touched one of the men. Then he heard a slight noise behind him and reported to Wilma, “I thought I was a goner.” It was his friend, an informant, who said, “You’re not alone; I gotcha covered.” The informant was holding a rusty old gun that was at least 150 years old.
As Wilma continues to tell her story of her life with her husband Edwin in Lynch, she gets sad, and I stop the interview after this last segment because I’m crying, “When there was a mine accident, that disturbed me the most. I was at the bank one day and a young woman and I were talking. She was so happy about Christmas and her plans for her husband and children. She lived close to me, so I could see their house from my window, all decorated for Christmas.
“At 4:30 that afternoon, I got a call from Edwin. Three had been killed and one was the husband of the young woman at the bank.
“In that same accident another close neighbor was killed. The next day I said to Edwin, ‘Look comin’ down the back alley.’ It was the wife of another of the deceased, and she said to me, ‘I want to ask Edwin one thing. Did he say anything before he died?’ Edwin said, ‘No.’ She turned around and went back home.”
One of the worst times for Wilma was the Scotia Mine Disaster in March of 1976 where 26 miners and mine rescue team members were killed.
“When I heard the sirens of the mine rescue team vehicles coming over Black Mountain from Big Stone Gap through Lynch, my heart was broken. It was happening all over again, just like it did on Oct. 21, 1927, when my dad was killed on first shift at Kildav. He was crushed, covered over with rocks and dirt. He lived for one day at the old Harlan hospital. At the time, my 26-year-old mother had four children, ages one to nine. That’s what she went through, and I knew these widows would go through the same.
“At Lynch when a miner was killed on first shift, out of respect for that man second and third shifts did not work. The men at Kildav worked those shifts on the day my dad was crushed and gave their pay to my mother.
“But back to Scotia, our pastor Wade Hughes from the Lynch Church of God was responsible at Scotia to identify the body and go with the coroner to tell the families.
I never saw men cry, but after that horrific time whenever anyone mentioned Scotia, the Rev. Hughes just broke down and cried. One of the things he said about his role at Scotia that touched me to the core was, ‘One of the little fellers they brought out…..his gloves on his hands was still smokin’.’”
Edwin Adams died in 2001. Wilma Adams now resides in London.
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