Another story of scouts taking a day out of their Jamboree to commit to community service work.
Until a taxing sun flexed its muscles and reminded some visitors of home in the Heart of Dixie, this tiny hamlet enjoyed a reputation for two chief products: coal and pop singer Bill Withers.
Ain’t no sunshine?
Sure there was, and for an Alabama entourage arriving Wednesday morning, the drastic change from an air-conditioned bus to stifling heat was really no big shock.
In fact, it probably seemed a mite cool, compared to what they’re accustomed to back home.
“I like the weather,” offered Mary Catherine Showdors of Montgomery. “It’s much hotter in Alabama.”
Martin Copeland, leader of the Alabama group, explained his Scouts — a coed group — hailed from across the state.
Copeland is no stranger to West Virginia, having visited the state for skiing at Snowshoe.
Armed with paint brushes, the group applied coats of white to freshly-minted picket fences, typical of the ones that graced the front yards of homes that once stood proudly in this Raleigh County community back in the days when King Coal reigned without dispute.
At its height, Slab Fork boasted 300 homes, a number that has dwindled to around 30 or 40 in direct correlation to the decline of the coal industry, Lon Jones, land manager for Beaver Coal Co., told the Scouts just before the paint brushes wet with paint began to be applied.
Coal companies fell on hard times in the 1980s, and when they vanished, the town nearly folded up entirely, he explained.
“We’re trying to keep the town alive,” he said.
“That’s why we’re really appreciative of your help the next three to four days. A lot of them here are older citizens. People were born here and raised here. This is one of the few remaining viable coal towns where people actually still live. So, it’s important for us to keep the town alive. That’s our only goal — keeping the town alive.”
In advance of the project, aided by AmeriCorps volunteers led by group leader Tyler Monroe, photographs from that bygone era were uncovered so they could duplicate the fences that once decorated the landscape in a town where Withers grew up and honed his singing talent by singing in church on Sundays.