Carolyn H. Eichelman: I Was Also a Coal Miner’s Daughter

Photo: Carolyn Eichelman’s father, Everett Harr

Loretta Lynn gained great fame with a song about being a coal miner’s daughter and there was even an excellent film made of her life. I take nothing away from that as my family and I met Loretta years ago and found her a very nice lady. However, the song plays a bit into stereotypes about coal miners. I was a coal miner’s daughter myself and had a father who did not fit the image of living in a cabin or being a captive of United Mine Workers which at times seemed like an arm of the Democrat Party.

My father was a man with only seven years of formal schooling but had a doctors degree level of talent. Talent can be encouraged, it cannot be educated if it doesn’t exist. Talent comes from within and while it can be nurtured by education systems, it is either something you have or you don’t. There are many talented people in the hills of Southwest Virginia whose ability may only be seen by friends and family. Such a man was my father, Everett Harr, a master carver who spent his life inspiring young people. A very independent thinking man.

Everett’s family was original from Portsmouth, Ohio and they were neighbors of a family that was to become famous through a musically talented son Leonard Slye. The Slye family left Ohio for what they thought would be a better life in California. The Harr family never considered themselves poor and did not like that term as it implied “poor of spirit.” In California Leonard Slye took to singing and changed his name becoming the King of the Cowboys, Roy Rogers Fortunately for me Everett’s family elected to stay in Ohio.

Everett Harr began working the mines at a very early age turning down an offer when in 7thgrade to have a college education paid for. Mine money was big money and he was a miner for 33 years. Before this time he had developed a love for nature and for carving wood, something he had a special talent for. He spent extra time working to learn about all the different kinds of wood and shaping it to conform to the visions he had in his mind. He was very careful with his money saving to buy the best of tools for a shop he hoped to own some day.

This did not mean he was too busy for a social life. As a young man he was a lover of God and studied the Bible which he felt was the one book you needed to learn all about life. His studies led him to church and there he met a lovely young missionary, Ida Hurley. Ida worked in the hills of Kentucky and for seven years after they met Everett courted her finally winning her hand in marriage. Yes, these were my parents. He was a hard worker and like him Ida was a saver so that one day they could meet what was considered the American dream, to send their daughter to college to become a teacher.

Politics was also something miners were concerned about and it was said in the thirties and forties that in every miner’s home you would find two pictures in the living room. Franklyn D. Roosevelt and a bigger one of John L. Lewis. Unlike many in his trade, Everett did now think of Lewis like a demigod, During World War Two when Lewis threatened to shut down the mines to have certain needs met, Everett stood up in open UMW meetings to protest. To him it seemed un patriotic to cut off coal when our real enemies were over seas. Though considering himself a Democrat, he voted solidly Republican during the Eisenhower Reagan years. He believed in voting for the man, judging him by his honesty and his ability to lead.

There was also a hint of an educator about him. In his shop there were always young men who learned from him the use of tools and many considered him like a father. One even went on for a career in politics and served several years on the local county board of supervisors. This influence would greatly effect the career choice of his daughter. To be an educator

After working as a lineman in the mines Everett decided it was time to retire and devote his life to his love of carpentry. It just so happened that his daughter worked in a school system in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia that very much was in need of a good carpenter. Everett seized the opportunity and quickly found himself not just the head of school carpenters, but employees in other areas, He hd built his own house and knew a great deal about electrical work, plumbing and other areas. For the next ten years he was in demand for his skills in over thirty county schools, there never was a shortage of projects needing his special talents. Diring those years he also mentored many young people in the skills he cherished.

After ten years Everett returned to the mountains of Southwest Virginia hoping to spend his time hunting and fishing. However the demands on a craftsman does not end when he becomes older. If you have the soul of an artist then it is going to take your waking hours and this did not mean Everett only worked for himself. He was constantly called upon by others for making everything from furniture to designing new rooms for homes. Considering this a labor of love he never charged as long as he was furnished with the materials needed and this led for him an exciting new subject.

He saw in a magazine a design for a grandfather clock and it came to his mind that he could do that only better. Hence came what was to give him the nickname of The Clockman of Virginia. His clocks were made from a variety of wood and there were novelties attached. For example on the side of the clock face a window so you could look at and wonder over all the gears and other implements required to keep time. His clocks came into instant demand.

Sadly in 1991 The Lord decided Everett’s skills were needed in Heaven. After all, Everett gave God all the credit for his talent so it would be fitting for him to go to a new home. In his will he left all his tools and wood he had saved to local school systems to use in their shops. Unlike Loretta Lynn’s implications in her song, Everett Harr died a very rich man indeed.

Carolyn H. Eichelman

Carolyn Harr Eichelman is a retired teacher with forty years of service with primary grades. A graduate of Radford University she earner a Masters Degree from Virginia Tech and State University. As a teacher she was runner up as most outstanding teacher in Virginia in 1978. She also was an author of the state curriculum guide for kindergarten when it was first begun in the state. Outside of teaching Carolyn served a number of years on the City of Salem Republican Committee and has been very active in Southern Baptist Churches. In recent years she has headed guest relations in Christian related media conventions that raise funds for cancer research. As a cancer survivor this is an important cause. Carolyn is married to a retired teacher, Dr. Frrd Eichelman, has two children, five grandchildren and will soon be a great grandmother.

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