The Birds and the Bees: or, Murder most fowl

Millard L. Foley was a bird salesman in Salem, Virginia active during the 1950s and 1960s. The M. L. Foley Collection (Ms2012-031) is a collection of correspondence related to his business. It was purchased by Special Collections and University Archives in 2012 for inclusion in our Local and Regional History and the Appalachian South collections and, despite my interest in birds, I had never had occasion to look at it before this summer. When I did look through it, I discovered some interesting correspondence between Foley and clients.

Most of the correspondence is pretty basic and rather what one would expect of correspondence from a small business offering mail-order sales. There are many inquiries from readers of Allen Publishing Company’s Game Bird Breeders, Pheasant Fanciers and Aviculture’s Gazette (also known as Bird Breeder’s Gazette or simply the Gazette). These are typically followed by a customized form-letter response. There are, however, a few series of correspondence that stand out from the rest. And there’s one in particular that caught my attention and seemed like a fun highlight for the blog.

The series of letters begins simply. Henry Safranek of Lebanon, Connecticut sends a simple inquiry to M. L. Foley asking about Elliot’s pheasant hens and Cheer pheasants. It’s short and basically the same as the other correspondence in the collection, but it begins a back-and-forth that is pretty neat to read.

Letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated October 17, 1959

Lebanon Conn.
Oct 17 1959.

Mr. M.L. Foley

Dear Sir:

I am interested in buying 1 or 2 Elliot hen phesants, also pair or trio of cheers. Please let me know what you are asking for them.

Thank you
Henry Safranek

Foley sent his typical response. In a letter that is all business and responds directly to Safranek’s questions, Foley let him know that he was out of Elliot’s for the year and that he had some Cheers available. Very simple, businesslike correspondence. Nothing remarkable.

Letter from M.L. Foley to Henry Safranek dated October 19, 1959

October 19, 1959

Mr. Henry Safranek
Lebanon, Conn.

Dear Sir:

Thank you very much for your inquiry on ornamental pheasants. I am very sorry that I do not have any more Elliots. I sold the last pair only yesterday. I have one trio of Cheers, breeders, left. The two hens laid 43 egges this season. But I will tell you that the Cheer cock is afraid of these two hens and will breed only occasionally. Another cock will have to be placed with these hens. I am offering them at twenty dollars ($20.00) for the two hens and with or without the cock.

We would appreciate your order and give it our most prompt attention.

Yours very truly,
M. L. Foley

Things start to get interesting with Safranek’s next letter. Within a couple of days, Safranek’s second letter arrives with further inquiries. He also provides some description of his prior experiences as a bird breeder and an explanation of why he is looking for an Elliot’s hen.

Page 1 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated October 23, 1959

Lebanon Conn.
Qct 23 1959

Mr. M.L. Foley

Dear Sir:
Thank you for your reply to my letter and am sorry that you have no Elliots hen left. I only bought my pair last spring and lost my hen from eating rat nip. We have been troubled with pack rats this summer and one must have carried a piece of bread into their pen as I lost her the next day.

I don’t know much about rare phesants as this is my first year with them, and although your offer on the cheers is O.K. I don’t know where I could get another cock bird from. So think my best bet is trying to buy a young pair to start with.

My Elliot hen laid about 20 eggs half of which were deformed and which I did not set. Out

Page 2 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated October 23, 1959

of the 10 which I did set 5 were good but I lost them after they hatched. I had them with 6 bantam chicks under a bantam hen. I guess that they were much to flighty for her and she killed them on me the second day.

I use to raise 4 to 5 hundred ring neck under bantams each year but no longer have time to take care of that many birds, so as a past time I thought I would try a few pairs of rare phesants.

The only person that I have met that raises rare phesants around here is Mr. Steve Rebello of Sumerset Mass. who has some of the most beautiful phesants I have ever seen. I bought a young pair of Lady Amhersts from him and raised 8 young ones. I was both suprised and happy that they bred the first year.

I see by your ad. in the Gazette that you also have Erckel’s francolins. What are

Page 3 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated October 23, 1959

you asking for a young pair as I would like to try raising some.

I would also appreciate it if you could send me the name of any reliable place here on the east coast where I could buy an Elliot hen, as the express charges are so high when you have birds shiped from out west.

Thank you
Henry Safranek

Hens dead from apparently eating rat poison? Deformed eggs? A bantam chicken hen murdering all the young pheasants!? The drama in this one letter is amazing. But, the series continues. Foley doesn’t take the bait of the ornithological drama in Safranek’s letter. His response is very businesslike and indicative of his usual style of customer service. He provides the information asked for, the appropriate prices, and an offer of service, but doesn’t delve into the tales of troubles with the birds.

Letter from M.L. Foley to Henry Safranek dated October 31, 1959

October 31, 1959

Mr. Henry Safranek
Lebanon, Conn.

Dear Sir:

Ralph Meachum of Rockingham, N. C. or Walter Oakie of Winston Salem, N. C. will probably have an Elliot hen for sale. I visited them a short time ago and they had some at that time. I would say that the express charges would be about seven dollars.

Ihave one pair of proven breeders in Erckels and one pair of this years hatch left. Am offering the breeders at $25.00 and the young at $10.00. You should be able to get a Cheer cock from Meachum or Oakie or Rebello for about $8.00. If you should like to have any of these birds, I would be glad to ship them , upon reply from you.

Yours very truly,
M. L. Foley

Then, we suddenly have a letter from Safranek for an order of some Erckel’s Francolins. What’s odd is that this letter is in cursive and the handwriting seems very different from the printed text in the other letters. I thought at first that this might have been a letter from Henry Safranek and that the others were possibly from his son. In researching that, I discovered that the author of these letters was likely Henry Safranek, Junior (born September 1, 1927; died September 17, 1991). So, I was correct that the letters were written by Henry junior but he was 32 years old at the time and, as far as I could find, didn’t have children of his own, so they weren’t written by a child with this one by a parent. I did, however, find that he had a sister and, from a later letter, I know he lived near or with his mother. So, maybe one of them wrote this letter for him? Anyway, other than that, everything seems to be in order. Maybe we’re done talking about dead birds? Is this the end of our dramatic correspondence?

Page 1 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated November 11, 1959

Lebanon Conn.
Nov. 7, 1959

Mr. Foley,
Dear Sir,

Thank you for the nice letter you sent me and the information I asked for about the Eliott Hen.

Enclosed you will find a check for $10.00 for which I want you to send me a pair of the young Erckels you wrote about in your letter

So kindly send by express to my nearest station which is.

Henry Safranek


Page 2 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated November 11, 1959

I thank you again

Henry Safranek.
Kick Hill Rd.

I wasn’t able to find a response to the order letter from Foley. Presumably, he sent the Erckel’s Francolins with a note and the note wasn’t copied into the collection. Our next entry in the series is from Safranek again. This letter is much longer and we have yet another dead bird! This time, the weather seems to be to blame. Safranek asks about housing conditions for the young birds, debeaking the birds to combat possible cannibalism, and recommendations for breeders to purchase another hen from.

Page 1 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated November 19, 1959

Lebanon Conn.
Nov. 19 1959

Mr. M.L. Foley

Dear Sir:

I received my birds Tuesday afternoon, and they arrived in very good shape. They were O.K. but today Friday when I came home from work I found the hen dead. we have had a week of very cold weather It hasn’t been above 32° since they came and has been down to 14°. I will now have to locate another hen. Do you leave your francolins out all winter? I have a small coop in their pen which they have been using. and they have plenty of cover. They are a rather pretty bird. and I sure hope to be able to raise them. would you know where I might buy another hen. I see that you have debeacked them, do they

Page 2 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated November 19, 1959

have a tendency to be cannibalistic?

I really don’t have any idea as to how to produce higher fertility in phesants, as never was faced with that problem when raising ring necks. I always keep extra cocks and in the spring used those that were most aggressive and showed the most development. Also having the breeding pens together where the cocks could see each other seemed to help, by making them jealus I would say.

I have only one pair each of phesants so I am afraid that I will have to just rely on luck and will try your feeding program on them, for now. I believe that to much interbreeding has been one of the reason that rare phesants have this draw back.

I sent to Paul R Hartzog of Niles Michigan for my Elliot hen and also bought a pair of black or dark throated goldens from him. They are the best birds that I have bought so far. My first Elliots came from North Carolina and although they were feathered beautifully they had crooked.

Page 3 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated November 19, 1959

toes and that has been enough to stop me from buying any more from him. When you pay 35 to 40 dollars a pair for birds plus express I think that you should get the best or at least should be told before hand, about such things. I also bought a pair of young Blue Manchurians from him that are extremely nice and hope to raise some this comming spring.

I would appreciate any information that you found helpful in raising your Elliots as my chicks were so active that is what must have prompted the hen to kill them as I wrote you in my last letter.

I always used eggs and hand pressed cottage cheese on my young phesants beside keeping good phesant starter in front of them.

Also in regards to higher fertility in phesants I read where one breeder put his cocks under lights for about 4 to 6 weeks before putting them in with his hens. This proved to be very helpful in making game phesants and don’t know how it would work with ornamentals.

Page 4 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated November 19, 1959

If you have extra birds that you could try it with it might prove to be beneficial.

As I have only started last spring with rare phesants, will have to rely on the trial and erro system for now. I sure appreciate any information anyone gives me that they find helpful and might be helpful to me.

Thank you
Henry Safranek

Next, we get a letter from Foley expressing condolences for the dead bird and providing advice on raising the birds and on who to buy a new hen from. Still avoiding that drama. Things are still businesslike but a bit of Foley’s personality begins to show through. It’s a bit more personal than any of the other letters so far.

Letter from M.L. Foley to Henry Safranek dated November 29, 1959

November 29, 1959

Dear Sir:

Was very sorry to here that the hen died. I am quite sure that it died of shock. Although we had not had any freezing weather until a few days after I shipped them. Shock is usually what kills birds in shipment also. I have seen healthy birds die just from catching them in the pen and releasing them again in a few minutes. Either from shock or a heart attack. In very hot weather I never disturb my birds at all. When they start to flying or beating against the wire they may die from shock or over exertion or a heart attack. I am by no means an expert on birds or claim to be. I am just relating to you my own personal experiences. Francolins will pick feathers as much as any of the other birds. I set my eggs under bantams but put them in an incubator the last two days for hatching. From sad experience I have found it is better to raise the young in brooders rather than under hens. Especially the rarer birds. As for putting the cocks under lights I would think that the hen would start laying too soon and you would lose some eggs from freezing unless you checked very closely many times a day. I lost some last year and am not nearly as far north as you. I intend to to go to North Carolina soon and will try to locate another hen for you. If you can get one I will ship it and will give you a pair of Nice Goldens. The freight want be any more.

Where did you get the Manchurians?

M. L. Foley

The next letter from Safranek is another lengthy discussion of his bird raising experiences. The discussions are becoming more of a back and forth at this point and less of a customer spilling their troubles out to a vendor. At this point, it’s apparent there is a bit of familiarity developing between the two.

Page 1 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated December 14, 1959

Lebanon Conn.
Dec. 14 1959.

Mr. M. L. Foley

Dear Sir:

I received the birds today Monday and they are all O.K.. I want to thank you for your trouble in getting me the Erckel’s hen and also for the pair of goldens, which you sent. If I have any luck with my birds next year, will send you either a pr. of Dark Throated goldens, or a pair of Amhersts, if you would like them.

I have been away on vacation all last week so did not read your letters until this Saturday. I called the Express office at once but they did not have the birds in. They came tonight at 5:30 Dec. 14th.

Since I wrote to you the last time I ordered a pair each of Swinhoe’s and versicolors, from Paul Hartzog. Which I have received.

I am afraid that I am buying more birds then I will be able

Page 2 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated December 14, 1959

to handle and have called it quits for this year.

I now have 10 pr. of phesants counting your goldens plus the Erckel’s a 2 year old pr. of Black Shouldered Peacocks and a 2 year old trio of Blue’s all of which I bought last fall I have all my phesants together in one large 18’x24′ pen, with the exception of the Blue Manchurian which have a 12’x18′ pen of there own. I bought my manchurians from “OAKIE”. They have gave me no trouble so far in keeping them all together and hope to be able to leave them that way until about the first of March when I will seperate them.

I bought a pair each of cheers, Bel’s and w.c. Kalij from Mitchell’s game farm in Anchorville Mich, and would have sent them back if I knew for sure that I would have gotten my money all back. They were the most bed ridden birds that I have ever seen. I have had them about a month now and still cannot get my crested Kalj hen looking like anything. She was almost dead when I got her, so I wrote to them about it but never did get an answer. They were like rails and had the dullest looking feathers, no shine and even

Page 3 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated December 14, 1959

the coloring around their eyer was a very dull almost purple color. I have been feeding them graded raw carrots + grapefruit skins, which they seem to like very well especaly the cheers. Plus cooked potatoes and pears. Beside keeping a mixture of 50% scratch feed and 50% Turkey fatting pellets in front of them at all times.

They have all begun to look like something now, but I have little hope for the w. c. Kalj hen.

The Erckel’s male has become a real pet and hope that before long will have him eating out of my hand.

I only want one more pair of phesants and they are Impeyans which I hope to afford next fall.

In regards to using lights on phesants, you only use them on your cocks. For about 4 to 5 weeks before putting them in with your hens. I wish that I could remember where I had read that article and could send it to you. I do know that Beacon Feeds made reference to it in there pamphlet on raising phesants and will try ang get you one of there booklets the next time that I am near one of there feed stores.

Page 4 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated December 14, 1959

Enclosed you will find a check for $5.00. I want to thank you again for your troubles and the goldends and hope to repay you some day.

Henry Safranek
Kick Hill Rd.

The next letter comes after the new year from Foley to Safranek, though it is addressed “Dear Sir” and there is no indication in the letter just to who the letter is directed. I was able to determine that this is a letter to Safranek based on the letter that follows it. That letter from Safranek to Foley in mid-January is sadly the last in this series. In these two letters we learn more about these men than in any others in the series. Foley is a hobbyist beekeeper in addition to raising and selling birds. Foley also apparently co-owned a construction firm as his main job. We learn so much in this letter about him. Then, in the following one, we learn about Safranek. We learn that he lives within proximity to his mother (possibly with her, but that’s unclear) and that he used to be in the Army.

Letter from M.L. Foley dated January 10, 1960

January 10, 1960

Dear Sir:

We really enjoyed the maple syrup on buckwheat cakes yesterday. Thank you very much. Hope you liked the honey. I have ten stands of bees that I try to take care of plus the birds. The bees are a lot of work at certain times but I enjoy doing it. This year I had 210 pounds from eight of the stands which is a reasonable average for this area. The other two were or are new swarms. They wern’t in too good condition when I bought them and it took most of last year to build them up. I have a really fancy set up for a hobby bee keeper. I like everything about abeet keeping bees except the bottling of the honey, and that is really a job. I live only a few blocks from downtown Salem and four miles from the heart of Roanoke. The city limits ajoin. So there isn’t to much bloon for the bees. If you have any spare time you might try them as another hobby.

I am half owner of this company and we do from small to medium commercial work. We just completed a $116,000.00 sewer line construction in Mt. Hope, W. Va. We have about a $60,00.00 job to start soon in Morgantown, West Va. We work all over W. Va. and most of eastern Virginia. I have to depend a lot on my wife to take care of my birds, but so far I have been able to work close to home during the egg laying and hatching season. I don’t think it is going to work that way this year.

I have 12 pens 15×10 ft, 3 pens 14×15, 3 pens 15×17 and 1 pen 12x 30ft. All are 7′ high. Hve just finished a 12x36x12 ft high duck pen. Am waiting on my Federal permit to get a pair of wood ducks. The duck pen has a spring in it and I buried an old bath tub in the spring to make a duck pond. Therefore have plenty of clean water and no trouble. Hope to get a pair of Mandarin ducks soon. Also have seven 4×8 pens with wire floors. You must absolutely raise your Cheers on wire until they are nearly fully grown.

I have as breeders the following, 1 pr Blue Manchurian 1 trio Cheer 1pr Silvers 1 trio Golden 2 trio Reeves 1pr Erckels 2 pr Elliots 1 pr & 1 trio Swinho 1 trio Amherst 1 pr W G Kalij and also had Blacknecks Ringnecks Mutants and Bobwhite quail but am not going to raise any more of the last four.

This is too much letter, so long,

M. L. Foley

Page 1 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated January 14, 1960

Lebanon Conn.
Jan. 14, 1960

Dear Sir: Mr. Foley

I received your very nice letter today and am glad that you enjoyed the maple syrup. I wanted to get it to you for Christmas but, the store where I usually buy it was all out and they had to order more. You know how long it takes to get things around christmas. I also want to thank you for the honey, which we have been using to glaze sweet potatoes an to base chickens with, when we roast them..

At one time there were a lot of bees kept around this area but since about the early 40s most of the small farms which had them have been turned over to raising chickens and everything that one thinks of as a quaint little farm has just about dissapeared, from around this area.

Although we live out in the country about 7 miles from Willimantic and 35 miles east of Hartford, I own less then an acre of land and have to depend on using my neighbors land for raising any thing.

I have just finished cutting enough cedar poles to build a 30 x 125 foot pen this spring and hope to start some small pens to raise my young ones in this weekend. I have always raised my young ones in small pens 2x4x2 with a 1×2 ft. coop at one end. This worked out very well for me and will take care of a hen and about 12 chicks for 2 to 3 weeks. Moving them every day to new grownd is the only problem. I am glad that you told me about the cheers so will have to make other arangements for them. I did try a small battery brooder once and had leg trouble with my birds so have never tried it since.

That sure was a very nice deer that you got this fall and you should be proud of it. I don’t do any hunting myself, We do spend alot of time at the shore though. I have a small runabout with a 35 horse motor on it and spend almost every Saturday and Sunday water skying claming, Crabbing or just riding around on Lond Island Sound with it.

I’m afraid that I am also guilty of havnig to have someone take care of my birds. I have to be at work at 7 am so my mother feedsand waters them in the morning and when I get home I do what is left to be done. Mother is always giving me hell for having stuff around and having to take care of it but she really enjoys it as much as I do.

An old army buddy of mine came from Roanoke and always wanted me to come home with him but I never did. I was stationed in the Honor Guard at Washington D.C. for 2 years and had plenty of opportunity to make a trip down with him, but I’m not fond of really hot weather and D.C. was enough for me. He had and old motorcycle which he pushed back and forth on. I think I could have taken it. I did make several trips to Luray and up into Cumbland Maryland. Infact we took a trip to Luray this fall up though Penn. into New York it is very nicecountry down through there and my Mother and Aunt really did enjoy it. I wanted to take the

Page 2 of letter from Henry Safranek to M.L. Foley dated January 14, 1960

entire sky Line drive into Winston Salem and back through Norfolk Va. along the coast home. We met some very nice people at Luray caverns who said that Spring is the best time to go South when all of the Roderdendrums are in blossom so we decided to make that trip another time. We enjoy travling very much. So from now until spring I will have to really get busy and get all my pens made. Because when the summer comes we are off. We are planing on making a trip through Canada and around the Great Lakes this year if all goes well.

Henry Safranek

These last two letters are very personal and there seems to be a genuine connection. Sadly, I do not know whether the two ever met in person or whether their correspondence continued. Foley continued writing letters over the next few years but there are no more in the collection to or from Safranek. Foley’s main correspondent from this point on is a man in Barranquilla, Colombia named Jose Raimundo Sojo who helped Foley source ducks for his bird business. I have yet to fully read that correspondence but if I find any more bird murders, I’ll be sure to blog about those letters, too. Of course, you can stop by Special Collections and University Archives and look through all the letters yourself! Just ask for the M. L. Foley Collection (Ms2012-031).

Mining and the Pocahontas Coalfield

Recently, CONSOL Energy announced it would be open a new mining operation on the Itmann Mine in West Virginia, and I’ve subsequently been fielding reference requests for information about Itmann and other mines in West Virginia. I haven’t spoken much previously about our mine maps in the Pocahontas Mines Collection, Ms2004-002, and this seems like the perfect time. The collection documents the development of the Pocahontas Coal Seam in southwest Virginia and West Virginia by CONSOL Energy, Inc., and its predecessors in the area. I have been working with the collection since late 2014 and several SCUA staff had been involved with it since the collection first arrived in 2004. The collection is a behemoth with 7,000 maps, about 3,000 survey books and ledgers, numerous photographs, and much more. It totals over 600 cubic feet in almost 800 boxes (but it’s not the largest collection I’ve worked on here!) We also have over 3,600 digital files of mine maps and other documents that I’m still creating metadata for!

Pocahontas Mines Collection at Library Storage Building
A student worker reviews a map from the Pocahontas Mines Collection at Library Storage Building.

When I was processing the collection a few years ago, I was very fortunate to have a student majoring in mining and minerals engineering here at Tech working on the project. Ryan Mair graduated in 2016, but before he left, he drafted a couple of blog posts about the collection, since he had extensive knowledge about it and the mining industry.

One of the blog posts by Ryan Mair, about the Itmann Mines, follows:

Consolidation Coal Company, Southern Appalachia Region Map of Itmann Coal Mines No. 1, 2, & 3. Pocahontas No. 3 Seam. 1983/03/04 Image: Con411.jpeg
Figure 1. Map of Itmann Coal Mines No. 1, 2, & 3, Pocahontas No. 3 Seam, Consolidation Coal Company, Southern Appalachia Region, 1983/03/04, CON411.jpg from the Pocahontas Mines Collection, Ms2004-002.

This map in Figure 1 is a production scheduling map of the Itmann No. 1, 2, & 3 Mines as operated by the Consolidation Coal Company. Maps of this type are used to depict the planned progression of mining operations with respect to a standard unit of time. This particular map progresses each future section of mining by year. The production schedule presented by this map was to start in 1983 and continue until the year 1992. The colored sections of the map represent what year coal production will occur in that area of the mine. the darker blue lines of the map depict the outline of the mine workings underground. Black lines are used to depict the property lease line and surface features, such as the buildings of the preparation plan.

These mines extracted coal from the No. 3 seam of the famous Pocahontas Coalfield. Coal from the Pocahontas seams was highly sought after because of its rare quality. This coal contains low amounts of sulfur and hydrocarbons known as “volatile matter” and leaves behind less ash material than most other coals. Pocahontas coal was especially prized by the U.S. Navy because it produces high temperatures while emitting little to no visible smoke when burned. Using this type of “smokeless” coal makes it harder to spot coal burning ships on the open sea. During World War II, the majority of coal from the Pocahontas seams were used to fire coal boilers for the U.S. Navy.

Diagram illustrating typical underground mining operation using room-and-pillar mining techniques from Arch Coal, Inc., SEC Form 10-K filed for fiscal year ended December 31, 2009.
Figure 2. Diagram illustrating typical underground mining operation using room-and-pillar mining techniques from Arch Coal, Inc., SEC Form 10-K filed for fiscal year ended December 31, 2009. 000095012310019343/c55409e10vk.htm

The mines depicted in the Itmann map (Figure 1) use two different methods to extract coal from the earth. Mines No. 1 and No. 2 use a conventional method called room and pillar mining, as seen in Figure 2. Room and pillar mining entails the extraction of coal while leaving large columns or “pillars” behind to support the rock overhead which is called the “back”, “roof”, or “top”. The open area left around the pillar is called the “room”. The shape of the pillars is typically that of a square or rectangle. Pillar dimensions vary with every mine design but are reliant upon the mechanical properties of the coal and the geological stresses present in the mine.

The No. 1 & 2 mines have completed their normal room and pillar mining operations and are recovering coal via a process known as “retreat mining.” Retreat mining is the selective excavation of the pillars to allow a controlled collapse of the mine roof while working towards the mine entrance. Retreat mining is done at the end of the life of a mine when the coal deposit had been depleted through normal room and pillaring. Normal room and pillar coal mines typically recover 40-45% of the coal located within the property. Mining the pillars upon retreat from a room and pillar mine allows operators to increase coal recovery to around 60%. Retreat mining is not always done due to the danger associated with it the unpredictable nature of the roof collapse. By removing selected pillars the mine roof or back is allowed to collapse while additional stress is placed on the remaining pillars. In some cases too much stress can be placed on a pillar. When a pillar reaches its maximum stress and fails, it shatters, sending rock and coal fragments violently through the air followed by the caving of roof around the area where the pillar once stood. This event is known as a pillar “burst” or “bump.” Many miners have died as a result of being near a pillar bump.

Diagram illustrating typical underground mining operation using longwall mining techniques from Arch Coal, Inc., SEC Form 10-K filed for fiscal year ended December 31, 2009.
Figure 3. Diagram illustrating typical underground mining operation using longwall mining techniques from Arch Coal, Inc., SEC Form 10-K filed for fiscal year ended December 31, 2009. c55409e10vk.htm

The No. 3 Mine in the northwestern part of the Itmann map (Figure 1) employs some room and pillar mining but its main design employs a method know as “longwall mining”. Longwall mining involves the complete extraction of coal from the working area using a “shearer” or “sled” that mines into a large wall or “face” of coal while moving parallel to that wall. A diagram of this method can be seen in Figure 3. As the machine cuts the coal free from the working face, an armored conveyor running parallel with the face transports the coal away. As the cutting and conveyor system move forward, it leaves the unsupported rock layers above to cave in a controlled manner in an area behind the machine. This caved area of roof rock is call the “gob” or “goaf”.

To protect the longwall mining system and the miners at the working face, numerous large hydraulic shields support the roof near the working face. These shields advance with each pass of the cutting head across the face. Longwall mines have considerably faster production capacities than traditional room and pillar mining but have more delays associated with the step and transportation of the equipment.

A working section of a longwall mine is known as a “panel” and are typically 800-1,500 ft. in width and 9,000-15,000 ft. long. Before mining the panel must be developed by what are called the “bleeder” entries. The bleeders serve to open up a path to the area while providing pathways for the ventilation of fresh air to the area. The bleeders are especially needed in the case of mining coal that contains high amounts of entrapped methane gas which is highly combustible. With the bleeder it is possible to degas or render the gas inert with enough fresh airflow. The pillars in bleeder entries are often called chain pillars and are left intact throughout the life of the mine to protect the ventilation and passageways.

In the northern section of the Itmann map (Figure 1), there are two geologic features that are identified. The two areas shaded in red denote areas where the coal on the property is less than 36 inches thick. Areas of deep underground coal that are less than 36 inches of coal are essentially too thick to mine profitably. Additionally, such areas make it difficult for both miner and machine to maneuver effectively. The second feature, shaded in light blue, is an area of coal with what is called a “parting,” a layer of non-coal rock that formed within the coalbed and parts the coal seam. Partings can be less than one inch to several feet in thickness. Thick partings are areas of coal to avoid when mining since the harder rock of the parting can excessively wear or damage cutting heads and requires more intense processing of the coal material at the surface plant.

Diagram of explosion area of Itmann No. 3 Mine, Itmann, WV, December 16, 1972, from the Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions in the United States, 1959-81, by J.K. Richmond, G.C. Price, M.J. Sapko, and E.M. Kawenski, Bureau of Mines Information Circular 8909, 1983.
Figure 4. Diagram of explosion area of Itmann No. 3 Mine, Itmann, WV, December 16, 1972, from the Historical Summary of Coal Mine Explosions in the United States, 1959-81, by J.K. Richmond, G.C. Price, M.J. Sapko, and E.M. Kawenski, Bureau of Mines Information Circular 8909, 1983.

The Itmann No. 3 mine shown in this map (Figure 1) was the scene of a mine disaster in December 1972. On December 16th, 1972, eight day shift miners had finished their shift and were exiting their working area of the Cabin Creek 4-Panel via an electrically powered rail car known as a portal bus (Figure 4). Unbeknownst to the miners, highly explosive methane gas had built up in the section. While in motion the portal bus trolley wire harp, which transfers electricity from the trolley wire to the portal bus, briefly disconnected from the wire. Such disconnections are common and are part of the design of the system but often result in an electrical sparking. Within the first 1,000 ft of the miners’ journey out of the mine just such an electrical spark occurred. This electrical sparking caused the ignition of the surrounding methane gas and propagated into an explosive wave. The blast wave and flames killed five miners instantly and seriously burned the other three. The blast force was also strong enough to blow out 14 permanent stoppings of cinderblock construction in the section.


Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection: All Plugged In

I began work on processing the Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection at the beginning of November 2019, and boy has it been a rollercoaster so far. This collection, which spans 248 cubic feet, consists of case files, general company records and correspondence, photo negatives, glass plate negatives, photographic prints, and some 40,000 metal samples encased in resin plugs (more on these later). The collection has largely been languishing in Special Collections since it was acquired in the mid-1990s.

Over the years, several student employees have chipped away meaningfully at portions of the collection, but the majority of the boxes remained untouched. Because my time to process this collection is limited, I will need to strike a comfortable balance between getting all the work done on the remaining boxes before the end of July- a high priority- and processing the materials to the highest useful level- also a high priority. (Note that I did not say to the highest possible level. There is a point of diminishing returns to optimizing arrangement and description, and archival resources are scarce enough that frequently this equation must favor a more rough-and-ready processing style in order to reduce backlog and make more collections accessible faster.)

This balance is especially important to consider, given the large size of the collection. The boxes that much of the material arrived in are significantly bigger than the standard sized archival record carton, which necessitates a certain amount of space planning for both pre-and post-processed containers. The increased volume makes them very heavy and awkward to handle, and so much more prone to accidents when retrieving them from shelves.

I havent dropped any yet, but hauling them around really makes me appreciate the elegantly dainty standard sized boxes Im moving the records into. This is infinitely more so the case with the boxes of glass plate negatives, which are substantially heavier than their paper-holding counterparts and have the additional challenge of being very fragile. Let no one tell you that the life of an archivist is boring or sedentary.

Another quirk of this particular collection is that the boxes were more or less put where they would fit in the offsite storage facility when they were first acquired about 25 years ago, without recording their shelf locations, which makes finding the boxes a bit of a scavenger hunt. Pictured is one of three aisles of shelves at the storage facility. Attempting to process the boxes in any particular order would be a waste of time as a result, and so Ive had to change my approach to arranging this collection.

Instead of refoldering and replacing the records into their final resting places, I am processing box by box, keeping careful track of what ends up where, so that I can rearrange things as needed once I finish and have a better idea of what order best suits the materials. This way is much faster on the frontend than doing the boxes in order, and the surprise of not knowing whats going to be in the next box has proved a lovely diversion from the occasionally tedious tasks of pulling boxes, refoldering, relabelling, and filling in spreadsheets.

My favorite part of the collection so far has definitely been the metal samples. There are approximately 40,000 squat resin plugs, each with a small chunk of metal embedded in it with one surface exposed for testing, and a serial number etched on the outside. They are quite unique, in my experience, and are an instant point of interest for anyone who sees them. Their quantity, their different sizes and shapes, and the complete obscurity of their purpose to the uninitiated, makes them a valuable showpiece for the collection. However, these characteristics also make them a challenging processing project. Several have sprouted highly colorful oxidation growths over the years, which are fascinating and delicate. I have not yet decided whether they are more valuable remaining intact, or if I should attempt to clean off this reaction residue, knowing full well that it will likely grow back in time, as the fresh metal is exposed to air and humidity.

Another slight wrinkle in processing that Ive encountered was the significant presence of mold on the cabinets housing the metal samples in the basement storage room used for some Special Collections and University Archives materials. The samples themselves were not in immediate danger, because resin and metals do not tend to support mold growth, but the mold would need to be killed and the plugs cleaned before they could be moved into appropriate archival boxes and placed near other, more vulnerable materials. I had planned to process the plugs first, but this had to be put on hold until the mold issue was dealt with. Luckily, we managed to employ a company specializing in mold remediation fairly quickly, and the problem was taken care of before it could spread to other collections being stored in this space. Now, the work of cleaning and boxing up the sample plugs can commence.

Christopher C. Kraft 1924-2019: A Miscellaneous Retrospective and Tribute, Including His Virginia Tech Connection, His Papers, and . . . the Story of a Close Call

Christopher C. Kraft

In the couple of weeks since the passing of Christopher Kraft, there have been many well-deserved tributes to a life of historic and significant scientific and technical achievement. As many folks may know, he joined the NASA Space Task Group in November 1958 as NASA’s first flight director, created the concept of NASA’s Mission Control, served as Flight Director for all of the Mercury flights and several Gemini missions before becoming NASA’s Director of Flight Operations. In 1972, he became Director of the Manned Spaceflight Center, soon thereafter to be named the Johnson Space Center. Kraft served as its Director until his retirement in 1982, having gone on to play an essential role in the latter Apollo missions, Skylab, the Apollo Soyuz Project, and early space shuttle flights. He was an indispensable force and presence in this country’s space program.

Kraft, a sophomore, from the 1943 Bugle

For readers interested in Kraft’s Virginia Tech connections, they are many. He graduated at the age of 20 in December 1944 (officially, Class of 1945) with a degree in aeronautical engineering. He had also been elected president of the Corps of Cadets his senior year. In November 1965, he was honored with a Convocation at Burruss Hall, where he was presented with the highest award the university can bestow on any person or alumnus, the Distinguished Alumnus Citation.

At the same event, he received from Time Magazine the original portrait used on the cover of the 27 August 1965 issue in which Kraft was featured, and, also, from the university, a Steuben Glass Eagle “on behalf of the entire VPI family.” According to the Roanoke Times, a crowd of over 3,000 was in attendance, including students, faculty, university officials, NASA colleagues, members of Kraft’s graduating class, and locals. Following the program, Kraft was also honored by a review of the Corps of Cadets on the Drillfield.

Time Magazine 27 August 1965
Time Magazine 27 August 1965

From 1970 to 1978, Kraft served on this university’s Board of Visitors. Among the many times he spoke on this campus, he gave the Founder’s Day Address at Burruss in April 1974, titled, “The Frontiers of Space . . . America’s Space Program in the 1970s” and was the featured speaker at the 110th annual commencement in June 1982. Well before he achieved the national spotlight and while he was working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, precursor to NASA) back in April 1954, he presented a technical paper, “Gust Alleviation,” to the Fifth Annual Engineering Conference on campus.

Opening of the Kraft Collection, 11 April 1986
Opening of the Kraft Collection, 11 April 1986

With regard to the University Libraries, 11 April 1986 was, likely, the most significant date in its relationship with Kraft as that was the day of the ceremony marking the opening of the Christopher C. Kraft, Jr. Papers and the establishment of the Archives of American Aerospace Exploration at Special Collections. On the program that day, in addition to Kraft himself, were Paul Gherman, Director of Libraries; David Roselle, Provost; and William Lavery, President of the University. Kraft had donated his papers, approximately 28 cubic feet of material when processed, that documented his 37-year professional career, and he would prove essential in helping Special Collections to acquire the papers of many of his NACA and NASA associates. In fact, collections from several individuals from NASA present at the 1965 Convocation went on to donate their papers to Special Collections, including Melvin Gough, Hartley Soule, John Duberg, and William Hewitt Phillips. Other collections in the group of over thirty include the papers of Robert Gilruth, Michael Collins, Blake Corson Jr., Marjorie Rhodes Townsend and James Avitabile.

Flight: My Life In Mission Control by Christopher Kraft
Flight: My Life In Mission Control by Christopher Kraft

As the details of Chris Kraft’s life can be found in numerous and just-published obituaries and tributes, as well as in his 2001 autobiography, Flight: My Life in Mission Control, I would rather offer a glimpse into certain early stages or moments in his career as represented in his Papers, and to choose a selection of items readers may find interesting, surprising, or, simply, less well-known. The collection includes more than 27 boxes and 5 large folders, so we’ll only be touching the surface. Check the finding aid for the collection to see a list of the collection’s contents. Lastly, I’ll end by retelling a story about Kraft involving a very close call that I discovered only in my preparation for this post.


You may be surprised to find that there are a few items in the collection from Kraft’s days at Tech. There are seven lab reports from the summer and fall of 1944, all from class(es) taught by L.Z. Seltzer (and all graded, by the way . . . one “B” and all the rest “A” or “A-“) on topics such as: Turbulence Test on the V.P.I. Wind Tunnel, Yaw Characteristics of Pitot-Static Tubes, Wing Tunnel Test on Low Wing Monoplane, and Airplane Propellers Problem, among others.

After leaving Blacksburg, Kraft went to work for NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), the US government’s agency for aeronautical research, at Langley Field, near Hampton, Va. (though not before a very funny brush with Chance Vought Corp. in Connecticut: see Flight, page 27). The war was still raging and Langley was doing important work. Kraft had been excluded from active military service because of a serious burn he sustained to his right hand as a child, and he clearly saw this work as his way to make a contribution. In those early days at Langley, Kraft did extensive work on the P-47D Thunderbolt and the P-51H, a late model Mustang, both piston-driven advanced fighters of their day. Kraft’s Papers include a good selection of this work, including various reports, calibrations, photographs, and memoranda.

You might notice that the photo farthest to the right in group above shows some of the instruments ready to be loaded aboard the Bell XS-1. Beginning in 1946, NACA began testing this aircraft and one other like it to explore flying conditions at transonic speeds. On 14 October 1947, Chuck Yeager flew faster than the speed of sound in the Bell XS-1, and Kraft’s Papers show his own involvement in this area of research. One of the documents, dated 23 June 1948 and titled, “A Free-Fall Test to Determine the Longitudinal Stability and Control Characteristics of a 1/4 Scale Model of the Bell XS-1 Airplane at Transonic Speeds” shows Kraft’s name at the top of the cover page and identifies him as Chairman, FRD [Flight Research Division] Stability and Control [Branch].

About this time, Kraft was handed another assignment to work on—gust alleviation—that is, creation of an automatic system that would smooth out the motion of an airplane when it encountered turbulent air. This is the same topic Kraft presented on at the 1954 Engineering conference at Virginia Tech mentioned above. As he was beginning this work, and as described in his autobiography:

I found a French aerodynamicist, René Hirsch, who’d designed and built a gust-alleviation airplane and was beginning to test it. We corresponded about our various plans and concerns and seemed to be in some agreement. Then he was injured when his airplane crashed. I never learned the cause of the accident. Gust alleviation was not only a mysterious quest, but now I knew it was dangerous as well. (page 41)

Draft and typed copy of letter from Kraft to Hirsch, July 1952
Draft and typed copy of letter from Kraft to Hirsch, July 1952

A reply from Hirsch to Kraft, March 1952
A reply from Hirsch to Kraft, March 1952

Well, of course this correspondence is available in Kraft’s Papers! In some cases, we have a draft version and a typed copy of Kraft’s letter as well as Hirsch’s reply. Through most of the first half of the 1950s, this problem took up much of Kraft’s time and there are many documents on the topic in the Papers. I’m no engineer, but I imagine this kind of exchange would be interesting to explore.

The collection of Kraft’s papers are arranged chronologically by year, and in the materials from 1959, following the creation of NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, in case you wondered) in July 1958, documents that refer to Project Mercury begin to appear. During this time, Kraft stopped being a flight research engineer and became an engineering manager, and these documents include Mission Documents for the first Mercury-Atlas and Mercury-Redstone missions. In NASA lingo, each mission was typically (there are exceptions) named by the spacecraft, booster rocket, and number. Thus, MA-5, which took place on 29 November 1961 with Enos, a chimpanzee, aboard, was the fifth mission to fly a Mercury spacecraft atop an Atlas booster. MR-3, NASA’s first manned suborbital mission, with Alan Shepard aboard on 5 May 1961 (about three weeks after Yuri Gagarin’s “first man in space” mission), was the third Mercury mission with the Redstone rocket. Also among the documents for 1959 are notes and materials related to a talk Kraft presented to a symposium titled, The Pilot’s Role in Space Exploration (a controversial and dicey topic) offered by the Society of Experimental Test Pilots, 8–10 October 1959.

Test procedures and reports; project discussions; post-Launch reports; flight plans; post-flight debriefings of Shepard and then Gus Grissom, the second American to fly a suborbital mission: these are among the documents to be found in Kraft’s papers from these early years of the space program. The success of Shepard’s 15-minute flight was followed three weeks later by President Kennedy’s public proposal “that the US “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.” We would do well to remember Kraft’s response, as recalled in his autobiography:

The moon . . . we’ve only put Shepard on a suborbital flight . . . an Atlas can’t reach the moon . . . we have mountains of work just to do the three-orbit flight . . . the moon . . . we’ll need real spacecraft, big ones and a lot better than Mercury . . . men on the moon, has he lost his mind? . . . Have I?

Well, the rest is history. And it can all be followed in Chris Kraft’s Papers: the technical aspects, the failures, the tragedies, and the successes, but mostly the development towards that success, as revealed through the documentation accumulated by Kraft over the course of a storied career.


But wait. There is one more thing. I promised to describe a close call in Chris Kraft’s life before ending this post. It does not involve a rocket exploding on a launch pad or anything like the difficulties of Apollo 13. In fact, I did not know about this story. Never heard it before. If you’ve read Kraft’s book, Flight, you probably do, unless you were blinking for the couple of paragraphs at the bottom of page 238 and the top of 239. Here’s what I found as I was going through our biographical file of newspaper clippings on Kraft.

That’s right. Just a few days after Kraft left Virginia Tech following the Convocation in his honor, he was flying with several other NASA officials on a National Airlines flight from Houston to Miami with a scheduled stop in New Orleans. As they were climbing out of New Orleans, a young man whom Kraft describes as “sickly” and carrying “a small paper bag” was seated by the flight attendant in the seat across from him. As Kraft tells it, the attendant said, “He’s acting funny. Do you mind if I put him in that seat across from you?”(Flight, page 238). The young man—Thomas Robinson, age 16, from Brownsville, Texas—pulled a gun out of the bag and pointed it at Kraft. As quoted in the newspaper article, Paul Haney of NASA’s Public Affairs Office and also a passenger, said, “He pointed it at Chris . . . it was only six inches off his jaw. . . . There was a click which I thought was a cocking action . . . it did not fire. That’s why I thought it was a cocking action. The kid stood up and backed toward the cockpit door and fired three shots in the floor of the lounge.”

Robinson demanded the plane fly to Cuba. He actually had two guns and fired both into the floor of the cabin. Kraft writes, “He fired both into the floor of the lounge in front of me, then he was tossed sideways as the pilot put the plane in a high-g turning descent, heading back to New Orleans.”

At that point, another passenger, Edward Haake, described in the newspaper as an electronics executive and a decorated B-17 pilot (of course) got involved. Again, from the newspaper:

Haake was the only other person in the lounge, Haney said. The husky 6-footer talked to Robinson calmly, pretending to go along with the wild plans about going to Cuba, even though Robinson now had a revolver in the other hand. “He even fixed him a drink,” Haney said.

“Then the kid calmed down and Haake pulled out a plastic holder full of gold coins. He asked the boy if he would like to see them. The kid said he was a coin collector.

“At some point along the way, the kid lowered his hands. I think he was going to reload the gun. When he put his hands together Haake grabbed them.

“Chris and I immediately jumped. I was the first one there. Haake held his hands and I threw him against the seat.

“And while Haake held him, both Chris and I helped subdue him.”

According to Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us: Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, Robinson pleaded guilty to attempting to intimidate a pilot, a less serious charge than air piracy. He served a brief sentence at an Arizona prison camp for youthful offenders.

As I said, quite the life!

For more on the life of Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. see an earlier blog post: Chris Kraft: Oral History of an Aerospace Pioneer.

Commemorating Apollo XI


July 20 marks the 50th anniversary of humanitys first moon landing, and Special Collections is commemorating the monumental achievement of the Apollo XI mission with an exhibit of materials from our collections.

Curated by Special Collections Public Services & Reference Archivist Marc Brodsky, the exhibit features items from the Christopher C. Kraft Papers (Ms1985-001), the Michael Collins Papers (Ms1989-029), and the Evert B. Clark Papers (Ms1989-022).The three collections comprise part of Special Collections Archives of American Aerospace Exploration (AAAE), which itself represents part of our larger collection focus area in science and technology. The papers of Christopher Kraft, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 1944 (BS, aeronautical engineering) provided a seed from which the AAAE grew. Kraft, a 1944 graduate of Virginia Tech (BS, aeronautical engineering), served as director of flight operations for the Apollo missions before being named deputy director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (now the Johnson Space Center) in 1970. The donation of his papers to Special Collections in 1985 encouraged others with ties to the space program to donate their papers to Virginia Tech. Among these were Michael Collins, command module pilot on Apollo XI. Providing a somewhat different perspective on the space program are the papers of Evert Clark, a journalist who worked as a science correspondent for the New York Times and Newsweek during the 1960s.

More about the materials featured in the exhibit may be found in an online story that appeared on VT News on July 3. The exhibit’s profile was heightened earlier this week with a story in the Roanoke Times and a WFXR live remote in which Project Archivist Sam Winn discussed the exhibit and the space program. A second news story featuring Sam and the exhibit appeared on Roanokes WSLS News yesterday. Thanks to the media attention, Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 has proven to be one of the departments most popular exhibits to date and has drawn a number of off-campus visitors. The popularity of the items in the display cases spurred staff to pull more materials from the collections and make them available for viewing in the reading room.

Somewhat downplayed in the nationwide commemoration of the Apollo XI accomplishment is the fact that it wasnt a single, spontaneous event but was instead a milestone in a continuum of space exploration achievements initiated more than a decade earlier. Special Collections holdings document not only the moon landing itself but the years of work that went into reaching the goals and objectives that led to the mission’s successful accomplishment. The Marjorie Rhodes Townsend Papers (Ms1986-003), for example, chronicle her work as a project manager at NASA, overseeing three Small Astronomy Satellite launches. Reports in the Otis Jerome Parker Papers (Ms1987-065), meanwhile, detail an early effort to develop devices for astronaut extravehicular activity propulsion. And the many manuals in the papers of James J. Avitabile (Ms2001-057), who served as an astronaut mission operations instructor at Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy, provide insights into the training of astronauts in a pre-digital age. Together, these and many other primary source materials (not to mention the related materials in our book collection) give us a broader understanding of the many elements that had to successfully work in tandem to reach the landmark achievement of July 20, 1969.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 will run until August 16.

A Trip Up the Sweetwater River

Hidden History at Special Collections IV

The title of this occasional series may be something of a misnomer, as the materials discussed arent hidden at all but instead are readily located through existing online discovery tools. Still, though adequately described for retrieval, these items may remain hidden to interested users who overlook them because they’re housed in such unlikely locations.

Any manuscript repository of significant size or age is bound to have its share of outliers, collections that simply dont fit into any of the repositorys primary focus areas but somehow find their way into the repository, through one route or another. With our collection focuses here in Special Collections at Virginia Tech being well known, researchers recognize us as a go-to resource for primary and secondary sources in several subject areas, including university history , women in architecture, the history of food and drink, local and regional history, and the Civil War in Virginia. The casual user, however, may be surprised to learn that a number of our collections dont relate to any of these things. Many of these are legacy collections, materials that were acquired before the department narrowed its scope to a few well-defined focus areas.

And that explanation brings me today to write about an item that we simply call the Wyoming Photograph Album (Ms2017-026), which had been housed within the department for a number of years before recently being made more widely accessible through the creation of an online finding aid.

Measuring 11 x 12 inches and containing 75 photos, the album documents the journey of a group of unidentified menmost likely a surveying teamthrough central Wyoming around the turn of the 20th century. A photo on the first page of the album, bearing the stenciled title “A Trip Up the Sweetwater River, explains the event commemorated by the collection.

On the pages that follow, the albums anonymous creator has pasted photos that chronicle a journey that was deemed of sufficient personal significance to be memorialized.

The albums first few pages include photos of several public buildings and private residences in Cheyenne. While Cheyenne isnt on the Sweetwater River, the city was likely the departure point for the groups journey. From Cheyenne, the group made its way north to Glendo, then westward to Casper, and eventually south to the Sweetwater, with a photographer documenting the landmarks of both the natural and built environments throughout the trip.

Included among the photos are images of ranches, livestock, dams, rock formations, rivers, and mountains. Together with these sights, the scrapbook records the surveyors at work and hints at the hazards of early travel across the plains of Wyoming.

This photo of a broken wagon near a ditch (referred to elsewhere in several places as Bothwells Ditch) is captioned Breakdown.

Elsewhere, the scrapbook records the simple pleasures of camp life, as in the chow-time photo below, captioned Camp Sweetwater. The inclusion of a National Biscuit Company crate in this photo allows us to somewhat narrow the date of the photograph, as National Biscuit (today better known as Nabisco) was formed in 1898.

This detail from the camp photo, showing a young fellow enjoying a biscuit, allows us to place the album within a broad timeframe.

The team eventually made its way into Wyomings gold- and iron-mining region, and several photographs document the areas mining enterprises and settlements. The level of clarity in some of these images is remarkable, and the photos provide a glimpse into early development in the area.

The scrapbook ends, as we may assume the journey also did, near the Wind River Mountains in western Wyoming. Unfortunately, the final photograph, captioned A Remembrance of the Past and which may have provided some clue as to the identity of the scrapbooks creator, was removed.

At least one photograph in the album is attributed to C. C. Carlisle, and a little online digging led to information on a Charles C. Carlisle (born 1876). His biographical sketch in I. S. Bartletts History of Wyoming (1918) notes that Carlile, a civil engineer, worked in various capacities connected with waterworks and civil engineering during the first two decades of the 20th century. An article in the June 16, 1904 edition of the Wyoming Tribune mentions that a survey of the central part of the state being conducted by assistant state engineer Carlisle had measured the Sweetwater River at Devils Gate. It seems safe to conclude that this is the survey documented by the photo album. Further digging by an interested researcher might reveal whether Carlisle compiled the album.

Outlier collections sometimes contain outliers of their own. Tucked into the front of this album, consisting entirely of Wyoming scenes, is a photograph of a man on horseback at Gibson Park, Great Falls, Montana in 1899. The man is identified as Wallace Coburn.

Wallace Coburn, Gibson Park, Great Falls, 1899

Wallace David Coburn (1872-1954), a Great Falls rancher who gained national renown as a cowboy-poet through publication of his Rhymes from a Round-up Camp, later operated a movie theatre. The theatre serving as his springboard into the field of motion-picture entertainment, Coburn established his own film studio, Great West Film Company. Great West appears to have produced only one film The Sunset Princess, based on Coburns own poem, Yellowstone Petes Only Daughter. The would-be mogul later appeared in a few films produced by others, most notably the silent anti-German propaganda film, The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin. Why Coburns photo appears in this album devoted to a survey of the Sweetwater River will likely remain unknown.

The Wyoming Photograph Album would of course be of interest to anybody researching irrigation and development along the Sweetwater River, early Cheyenne architecture, and the regions mining history. (Astute researchers could undoubtedly make some connections that I havent even considered.) So while this stand-alone collection may seem a misfit of sorts housed here among our collections, its potential value to interested researchers makes it worth a little extra promotion on our part. The album can also serve as a reminder to researchers in other subject areas not to overlook far-flung resources when searching for relevant materials.

Osborne 1 Portable Microcomputer

Osborne 1 Microcomputer in portable configuration

Osborne 1 Microcomputer in operational configuration

We recently received an Osborne 1 Portable Microcomputer as a donation from Virginia Tech alumnus, Bob Sweeney. We asked him some questions about his background and this computer. Here are his answers:

Q: Tell us a little about your background as it relates to computing in the 1970s-1980s.

A:At the time, I was a technical writer for a software house that developed products for the HP-3000. We were a small company and I could not always get access to a terminal to access theLARC-3000 word processor I used (Los Altos Research Center – chosen because it spelled Larc, as in “Going out on a larc.”). I was an experienced TW, but this job was the first that allowed me to us a WP. Well, allowed is the wrong word. My buddy – Steve White, VT Class of 1962 – was our head of sales. I mentioned to him that I was ready for my manuscript to go to the typing pool. He replied, “Bob, we’re a computer company. You use the computer.” (I never wanted to do it any other way again. I’d spent 2/3rd of my time proofreading!)

Q: What initially attracted you to the Osborne 1?

A:The Osborne 1 ads showed people carrying the machine in elevators, buses, through an airport. At $1600 with a printer and a bundle of software, this was an affordable machine. When I bought the O1, for instance, a business man was buying a comparable machine (same printer, same processor, same drive, same memory) and he paid twice as much for his IBM. By the by, you probably can find one of those ads online.

Osborne 1 ad c.1981

Q: What was your experience with the computer? Did it work as advertised?

A:It was great! I used its WordStar WP to do my stuff at home and prepare files for the HP. (LARC-3000 was an embedded-command WP. For example, like HTML, <b>….</b> for bold, <p>…</p> for paragraphs.) I could encode the files for HP. With a simple application (included) I could conduct work as though the Osborne was a terminal to the HP. Best of all, I could save my files on a floppy, allowing me to work at home, offline!

I loved the Epson printer, too. In fact, I had trouble reloading the paper one day. I got out the manual and was surprised to find no loading instructions! In frustration, I tried again. The path was so simple, if you just stuck the paper in, it would load properly! I’d thought too hard about it!

Q: The computer was advertised as portable, did you transport it from place to place like one would with a modern laptop?

A:Yes, I carried it from home to work and back. But best of all, we were working on a proposal with a customer in Boston. We took the Osborne up with us on the plane and that night updated the propsal!

Q:What was your favorite thing about this computer?

A:That flexibility. WordStar was easy to use. There was also Basic and VisiCal, although I used neither much. We did do several proposals and business plans using the Visicalc and its links to WordStar (A mail merge function). (If I remember, VisiCalc was the first spreadsheet for microcomputers. We could probably dump it into LARC-3000, too.)

Q:What was your least favorite thing?

A:As you’ve seen, the screen is small! I got a magnifier for the screen, but my nephew – with good eyes – threw it away!

Q:Why did you decide to find a home for the computer rather than recycling it as many would do?

A:It has no value, so I just couldn’t send it off to some beach in India. It was my first and started me out on a career of the future. I still marvel at how any writer did it in the old days! You spent twice as much – possibly three times as much – of your days proofing than writing. (Of course, we also had to learn a new skill – usually from several hard experiences – backing up.

Q:Is there anything more you would like to share about the Osborne 1 Computer?

A:Not as famous as the Apple, but the Osborne 1 was an important step for businesses in the computer revolution. They would be better known if they’d developed an IBM clone. They did have a machine with a larger screen, but it was still CP/M.

Some Computer History

When looking at history, we often ascribe specific importance to that which is first. For example, in 1911 Roald Amundsen from Norway was the first person to reach the South Pole and in 1926 he was recognized as the first person to reach the North Pole. Regardless of the objective truth of these claims (whether indigenous people reached the North Pole before him) he is granted a certain cachet by being recognized as the first. You can find an entire list of similar firsts on Biography Online‘s site.

What does all of this have to do with the Osborne 1 portable microcomputer? Well, it is one of those special things that is special because of its status as first. The Osborne 1 was the first portable microcomputer. For those not familiar with computing history, this was the first (type of) computer (the woman, not the machine):

Computer at her work with microscope and the Friden calculating machine. (NASA).

After human computers came large room-sized machines such as the Harvard Mark 1 in 1944.

Harvard Mark 1 room sized computer. 1944. (

As the world of computer technology progressed through the later half of the 1940s and through the 1950s and 1960s, improvements to computer technology were developed and introduced. Punch card input gave way to keyboard input. Components got smaller, leading to “microcomputers” which are just computers that are small. The term generally refers to computers smaller than room sized. Screens were added. Networking via phone lines was added. New and exciting programming languages were created.

As the 1970s progressed, we saw the introduction of the first personal computers (meaning small machines that were within the grasp of an individual to own/operate) from companies such as IBM, with the IBM 5150 Personal Computer being released in 1981. The 5150 followed a great deal of work by IBM in developing a commercial personal computer. Their main competitor was Xerox who introduced the Xerox PARC Alto (a computer that we would recognize today – with a monitor, mouse, and keyboard) in 1974.

In 1976, Apple released the Apple I and then followed with the Apple II in 1977. That year, Tandy Radio Shack (TRS) released their TRS-80, Atari released their computer gaming console, and Commodore entered the market with the PET. Computers were entering the public consciousness and it wasn’t unheard of for people to have a computer at home. It was also becoming much more commonplace to have one at work. During this time, the subject of portable computers was a hot topic and there were entrants to the space as early as 1973 (HP-9830A). Still, an affordable, easily portable personal computer was something that remained mostly a dream until the Osborne 1 was announced in 1981.

Osborne 1 ad: Afghani Mujahadeen posing with the Osborne 1. c.1981

The Osborne 1 was billed as revolutionary, hence the ad featuring the Mujahadeen. It was the first really portable computer. It weighed 24 pounds and came in a case designed to absorb the inevitable knocks it would receive being transported from place to place. It was the first product of the Osborne Computer Corporation, named for its founder Adam Osborne, and known for lending its name to the Osborne Effect – a company going out of business by announcing a new product too soon and killing sales of their current product. Despite its demise in 1985, the Osborne Computer Corporation succeeded in producing a viable portable computer

The corporation had effective marketing and certainly grabbed the attention of the computer-savvy business professional of the early 1980s.

Page 33 1982_03_BYTE_07-03
BYTE magazine, March 1982, page 33

Page 35 1981_08_BYTE_06-08
BYTE magazine, August 1981, page 35

And, Interface Age magazine whose tag line was “published for the home computerist” named it an “outstanding buy” in November of 1981.

Our Osborne 1 is the first of what we hope will be many classic computers housed in Special Collections and available for the public to interact with. If you want to see this piece of computing history, stop by Special Collections in Newman Library anytime Monday-Friday 8:00 AM-5:00 PM.

Merging Major Interests

Double Majors at Virginia Tech are becoming more common. Partially as a need to stand out among others, partially as a method of seeking more specific educational goals. I am a double major in English (Creative Writing and Professional Technical Writing) and Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE). I am frequently asked how this could possibly be a good combination? Where will I ever apply both?

My answer is traditionally communication between engineers, management, and the public need to be clear and concise. Interning at Special Collections has helped me to broaden that statement by giving me the opportunity to archive Engineering Collections. I started with transcriptions and gradually worked my way up to understanding and organizing collections of multiple boxes. When I was experienced enough in archiving, I was allowed to choose the collections I wanted to archive. From this point on I witnessed firsthand example after example for the ways in which my degrees worked together. Most examples seemed to be reports and instruction manuals.

I continued to learn more about organization and private company improvement over time as I worked through collections. I was also able to work with interesting subject matter like NASAs Wind Tunnels and the collection I am currently archiving, the Avery-Abex Metallurgical Collection. From each I learn something different. Throughout the Avery-Abex Collection, I have come to better understand manufacturing processes and plant systems by organizing the businesss internal and external papers. From this experience I was also able to develop a deeper understanding of the applications of professional writing as an engineer.

My favorite part about working on the Avery-Abex collection is that I had to develop a method of organization that would restore order to the case files. Most of the collection boxes are sporadically numbered. There will be files from 1946 -1948 in box 114, 152, and 75 for example. I had to find a way to pick and choose which boxes to chip away at and how to label them in such a way that the materials fit the company timeline. The solution was to organize by case number, one of the few details listed on each box. However, many of the files are metallurgical samples, negatives, lantern slides, and even reels of film. So I had to develop number codes for the different types of material to keep track of where materials were going and what materials had been processed. The whole experience really tested my ability to think through the given materials.

As I got further into my ISE major, I began to learn more about facilities, systems, and linear programing problems to organize everything and create a more efficient environment. I began to see this in my work at Special Collections as well. As a scholar, a student, there is a moment when you can see dots connecting. The feeling is incredible because you go from understanding theory to seeing it in application. I started to get a lot more out of the work I was doing because I was able to understand deeper connections between the systems engineering that I was studying and the workplace/warehouse type environment where the theory was applicable. The more I saw ties between my majors and my work, the more interesting each shift became. I wasnt just dating papers, I was developing a system that will become a resource for students and researchers.

My time with Special Collections has never been dry. I will be returning in the fall to continue my work on the Avery-Abex collection. I look forward to what the future of this collection holds and everything that I will be able to learn from it.

By Kaitlyn Britt

R. Buckminster Fuller

R. Buckminster Fuller. This name is probably familiar to most people in the United States. It conjures images of futuristic domed cities of the type typical to a mid-20th century vision of the future.

Richard Buckminster Fuller, also called Bucky, was a celebrity. He was an engineer, an architect, a veteran, an environmentalist, a philosopher, and a poet. He was a celebrity because of these things rather than in spite of them. He was born July 12, 1895 in Milton, Massachusetts. He went to Harvard University for two years but did not finish. He later went to the United States Naval Academy (1917). He was an officer in the United States Navy during World War I.

For me, Fuller is a legendary figure. I grew up with cultural references to “bucky” balls, images of domed cities in speculative fiction, and knowing conceptually about the structure of fullerenes. So, when I was wandering through the archives looking for something to post about this week, I was excited to see a box labeled “R. Buckminster Fuller Collection 1949-1978” (Ms1975-007). Opening it up was like opening a present.

Our collection includes one folder of correspondence from and to Fuller, three folders containing copies of things Fuller wrote, six folders of things written about Fuller, and two oversized folders containing some rather large items within those categories. Looking through the materials, they aren’t like what most people expect to find in an archives. They aren’t handwritten. They aren’t really old. They aren’t deteriorating. They’re just extremely fascinating.

The letters are from November 1953 – December 1962. Most are from Fuller’s time working on his business Geodesics, Inc. They are typed. They are unsigned. Yet, for a fan of his work, they are exhilarating to read. The first one I laid eyes on was written while Fuller was with the Department of Architecture at the University of Minnesota. As if these being Fuller’s own words wasn’t enough, a connection to Minnesota biases me in favor of something from the start.

In the letter, Fuller is telling Tyler Rogers of Owens-Corning Fiberglas Co. about the challenges and modifications of his designs that have been necessary because of a lack of the necessary facilities to safely employ fiberglas in their construction. The letter is a finely crafted plea for assistance from this fiberglas manufacturer, and, according to a note added at the end, the plea was successful leading Owens-Corning to supply all the fiberglas used in the project to construct Fuller’s dome.

Take a look. Maybe you’ll find it as fascinating as I do:

Fuller Letter 1Fuller Letter 2Fuller Letter 3

Digging further into the materials, even just glancing, I learned much more about this mythic figure from my childhood. Had he been alive today, I am confident Fuller would have been viewed as an activist. His engineering ideas were rooted in his conception of the need for humanity to work together to support itself. He felt that domes could solve world housing problems. He also felt that industrialization had led the world to war and that as long as income inequality was creating “energy slaves” we would inevitably progress into further wars. Dipping into our small collection yields evidence of these views quite quickly.

Fuller graphics 1.jpg
An illustration created by Fuller in 1927.

The above illustration hints at Fuller’s environmentalism and highlights his concern for housing the population of the Earth. It reads:

26% of Earth’s surface is dry land
85% of all Earth’s dry land is here shown
86% of all dry land shown is above equator
The whole of the human family could stand on Bermuda
All crowded into England they would have 750 sq feet each
“United we stand, divided we fall” is correct mentaly and spiritualy but falacious physicaly or materialy
2,000,000,000 new homes will be required in next 80 years

An example of his analysis of the world’s energy economy and its effect on the incidence of world conflict appears on the same folded sheet:

Fuller graphics 2.jpg

This graphic is from 1952 and is titled “The Twentieth Century.” His analysis reads:

World Industrialization: Its rate of attainment as an industrially objective advantage to individuals. i.e. When 100 inanimate energy slaves* are in continual active service per each and every family existing in governing economy and those energy slaves are primarily focused upon regeneratively advancing standards of living and in articulating amplifying degrees of intellectual and physical freedoms until critical point is reached majority of world men are “have nots” and are incitable to socialism by revolution against the seemingly ever more unduly privileged minority after 1972 majority are “haves”.
* One energy slave equals each unit of “one trillion foot pound equivalents per annum” consumed annually by respective economies from both import and domestic sources, computed at 100% of potential content

Overall, it’s an interesting plot. His analysis, while raising the specter of Communism as villain (typical of the early 1950s), shows global instability and a trend toward possible conflict through 1972. That tipping point is supposedly when most people in the world will go from being “have nots” to being “haves”. His predictions may or may not have been accurate (I’ll leave the correlative analysis up to you) but they certainly are interesting.

The last thing I’ll share is a portion of something I found somewhat interesting from among Fuller’s writings. Most of his writings in our collection are reprints of articles he had published. From a publishing standpoint, I find them interesting because of how they are printed. They are self-contained. In the case of the one I will share, an entire page describing articles in the publication is present but the only one that is printed with full clarity is the one by Fuller – the others have been “blurred” via the addition of slight pixilation of the ink in the printing process. I have yet to actually read this article, so I won’t go into depth. I also won’t share the entire thing here because I really don’t want to make the publication if came from mad at me. Also, just to be clear, I’m reading it for the article (I mean, really, that’s all that’s even here!).

This is just a hint of what’s in our R. Buckminster Fuller Collection (Ms1975-007). I plan to delve into it more myself to satisfy my curiosity about this fascinating man. Please stop by and do the same! And, if you want even more Buckminster Fuller content, Fuller donated his full archive to Standord University in 1999 where it is available as the R. Buckminster Fuller Collection.



Chris Kraft: Oral History of an Aerospace Pioneer

Virginia Tech is proud to be the alma mater to many pioneers in aerospace engineering, perhaps none as famous as Christopher Columbus Kraft, Jr. The VT Stories team recorded an oral history interview with Kraft in April 2017, and Special Collections now has the full interview and transcript available online. The VT Stories summary of the interview is available here.

Chris Kraft being interviewed by VT Stories project director Ren Harman at his home in Houston

Chris Kraft graduated from Tech in 1944 with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. The university was operating on a 12-month schedule because of WWII, therefore Kraft graduated after only three years. Despite only this truncated time at Virginia Tech, Kraft rose through the ranks to become president of the Corps of Cadets, which he counts as teaching him important leadership skills. Kraft also recounts his classes with Professor Rasche, contracting Scarlet Fever, and dance weekends from his memories at Virginia Tech in his interview.

After graduating at age 20, he joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor organization to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Kraft worked at Langley Research Center as a flight test engineer for 13 years, until the space race began.

Kraft works at his console inside the Flight Control area of the Mercury Control Center, from Wikimedia Commons

In 1958, he became one of the original members of the NASA Space Task Group, which was established to manage Project Mercury, the nation’s first project to put a man in space. During Project Mercury, Kraft developed many of the basic mission and flight control techniques used in manned space flight, which culminated in the creation of the Mission Control Center at the Johnson Space Center (originally the Manned Spacecraft Center) in Houston, from which all of NASA’s manned space flights have been conducted. He also served as Flight Director for all the Mercury missions and many of the Gemini missions. Kraft was named deputy director of the Manned Spacecraft Center in 1970, and later director in 1972. He retired from NASA in 1982 and and subsequently served as a consultant for various corporations. In 2001, Kraft’s autobiography, Flight: My Life in Mission Control was published.

Special Collections also has Kraft’s papers, which he donated in 1986. The collection consists of approximately 28 cu. ft. of manuscripts, particularly NACA and NASA reports and documents, meeting notes and agendas, research materials, and the manuscript for 2001 Kraft’s autobiography. You can view the finding aid for this collection here.