Maasvlakte by Bart van Damme on Flickr.

Via Flickr:
Maasvlakte, Rotterdam industrial area, the Netherlands.

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© 2014 Bart van Damme

Visiting EMO, one of the largest transhipment terminals for coal and iron ore in the world.

I
Is the total black, being spoken
From the earth’s inside.
There are many kinds of open.
How a diamond comes into a knot of flame  
How a sound comes into a word, coloured  
By who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open
Like a diamond on glass windows
Singing out within the crash of passing sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
In a perforated book—buy and sign and tear apart—And come whatever wills all chances
The stub remains
An ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
Breeding like adders. Others know sun
Seeking like gypsies over my tongue
To explode through my lips
Like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
Bedevil me.

Love is a word another kind of open—
As a diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am black because I come from the earth’s inside  
Take my word for jewel in your open light.

- Coal, Audre Lorde

8

What Cheer, Iowa
Population: 646

“Robert Forsyth, born in Kilmarnock, Scotland, came to America in 1857, and made his way to Rock Island, Illinois, where he arrived penniless. He worked for most of a decade as a coal miner before coming to Petersburg, the future What Cheer. In the 1870s, he began buying coal lands around town, mostly on credit. When the railroad came to town, he leased his land to the coal companies and bought into a local drug store, eventually operating stores in What Cheer, Mystic and Jerome, Iowa. Other Scots from the Kilmarnock region (Ayrshire) also settled in the area. Robert Orr came in 1875 after working in the coal mines of Colchester, Illinois. His son Alexander went on a successful career as a mine owner in Mystic.

The Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Northern Railway (BCR&N) built a 66-mile (106 km) branch to What Cheer in 1879. With the arrival of the railroad, the What Cheer coalfield quickly became one of the most important coal mining centers in Iowa. The Starr Coal Company had over 200 employees and could produce 1,000 tons of coal per day. By 1883, they were operating three mines and took over several others. When, in 1884, the Chicago and North Western Railway built its line through What Cheer to Muchakinock, there was a further expansion of mining in the area.

Local Assembly 1474 of the Knights of Labor was based in What Cheer and had a membership of 65 in 1884. On Oct. 15, 1884, 500 miners in What Cheer went on strike, demanding higher wages. The established wage was 3 cents per bushel, and the miners demanded an additional half cent. The state militia was put on alert, but after 6 weeks, the miners accepted a quarter-cent raise. This strike cut coal production in the What Cheer significantly.

In 1886, the What Cheer Coal Company began to consolidate the local mines, buying up the Starr Coal Company and the Granger Coal Company. In 1887, they employed 1,100 miners, and they continued to operate until 1899. From 1885 to 1901, the Crescent Coal Company was an important local producer.

In 1891, the BCR&N Railroad’s Iowa City Division, serving What Cheer, carried 38,080 tons of coal, by far the most important commodity carried by that line. In 1892, mines along the BCR&N (all of which were in the What Cheer region) loaded 129,316 tons of coal.

On May 1, 1891, the miners of What Cheer and many other mining towns went on strike for the eight-hour day. 1000 men walked off the job in What Cheer, but returned to work defeated on June 16. On August 15, 1896, the miners struck again over several small grievances. The strike lasted 10 to 12 weeks. Local 841 of the United Mine Workers union was organized in What Cheer in 1897, and in 1902, it had 200 members.

The first industrial development in What Cheer was driven by the needs of the coal mines. In 1890, What Cheer was home to three firms making mining drills, Walker & Thompson, Enterprise Manufacturing and the newly formed What Cheer Drill Company. Within the decade, the What Cheer Drill and Miners’ Tool Company was selling equipment in mining districts around the nation. Alexander Walker, originally with Walker & Thompson filed numerous patents on mining equipment, most of which were assigned to the What Cheer Drill and Miners’ Tool Company, later named the What Cheer Tool Company. In 1903, the Starr Manufacturing Company, American Mining Tool Company and the What Cheer Tool Company agreed to a union wage scale with the International Brotherhood of Blacksmiths. At the time, the blacksmiths local 259 had just 17 members.

In 1907, the Volunteer Brick and Tile company was operating its own coal mine to fuel its kilns. The mine had a steam hoist to lift coal 40 feet from a coal seam from 4 to 5 feet thick. The Lea Brothers’ mine in north-central What Cheer also had a steam hoist and still shipped some coal by rail. The remaining mines in the area were all small, using horse-gins to operate their hoists.

By 1909, there were only a few mines left in the county, all producing coal for local consumption in What Cheer. The decline of What Cheer’s mines in the 20th century was reflected in declining union membership. In 1912, Local 841 of the United Mine Workers, based in What Cheer, had only 18 members.”

There was a time when renewable energy was expensive and its doubters were justified in saying, “Well, it may be cleaner, but how can people afford it?” These days, that argument looks silly. Renewables are getting cheaper all the time and, in some cases, they already match prices for traditional power.

The price of solar, in particular, has fallen precipitously. Six years ago, the average rooftop module was about 75% dearer than it is today. All indications show that it’s likely to keep falling in price, because that’s what generally happens with technologies as they mature.

How much does solar cost today? In about 30 countries, it’s already cheaper than grid electricity, according to a new Deutsche Bank analysis, and in some cases, a lot cheaper. In other places, solar is set to reach “grid parity” by 2017 assuming modest (3%) increases in conventional power and ongoing cost falls in solar power. Eighty percent of the world’s largest markets could see grid parity by 2017, according to DB’s analyst Vishal Shah.

Another one from yesterday when I climbed a hill of coal.

Often I am about to include the story this photo is part of in my mind but then again I don’t want to prescribe something. I love how different people see different stories while looking at the same photo.
For me it’s like showing one frame and hoping it will turn into a personal story in the mind of the viewer.