The West Virginia University Press announces a new edition of The Smokeless Coal Fields of West Virginia , a 1963 book which has become an essential sourcebook, consulted and quoted in nearly every study of coal field history. W.P. Tams, the author, built the town of Tams, in Raleigh County, early in the twentieth century, and operated the coal mine there until 1955. His book is a unique perspective on mining and coal-town life.


“This is really a remarkable little book,”said Patrick W. Conner, Ph.D., Eberly College Centennial Professor of English and Director of the WVU Press.”It has been unavailable for years, but people still talk about it and ask about it. There’s just no other book with this kind of inside view of the coal business. The book will appeal to historians, but also to anyone simply curious about what life and work were like in the old mining towns.”


Author Tams started his career as a young coal engineer, and eventually became one of the senior barons of the industry. In retirement he became a celebrated source of information about his industry, and was even interviewed by Playboy magazine for his unique perspective on the bygone days of mining. In this, his only book, Tams details the mining methods of the time, the financial challenges of the coal industry, and the everyday life of an isolated mining community.


On that last point, Tams explains that most mines were opened in unsettled areas, so the operators had no alternative but to build their own towns to house the workers. The operator owned the town as completely as he owned the business.”To use the expression of the Middle Ages,”Tams recalls,”I was the high justice, the middle, and the low.”


This second edition features a new introduction by Ronald D Eller, a leading Appalachian historian and himself the grandson of a former miner at Tams.