Mister Consol’s Coal Train has hauled it away

By Paul Gipe

Bill Hopwood, a longtime friend and colleague, brought to my attention the sad tale of his former home of 27 years: a two-story farmhouse in the coal fields of western Pennslyvania. It’s gone. It was torn down to make way for the neighboring coal mine.

I couldn’t help but hear John Prine’s famous lament about Paradise, Kentucky where “Mister Peabody’s coal train has hauled it away.” In this case it was Mister Consol’s coal train not the defunct Peabody that hauled it away.


Hopwood hasn’t lived there for years. He fled the state and its extractive mining industries. First it was just coal mining. That was bad enough. The vestiges of coal mining for the past two hundred years litter the region.

Then the drillers came and started fracking the Marcellus shale for natural gas. It was the latest get-rich scheme that nearly bankrupted the natural gas producers. Here today gone tomorrow as the wells rapidly depleted with 2-3 short years. They had to keep moving and moving fast to keep ahead of the decline.

Hopwood tried to make a difference by developing wind and solar in the fossil-fuel loving region. He had some success, but not nearly enough to stop the mining industries from gobbling up more rural real estate. He had enough.


Critics of renewable energy are quick to find the few real or the many imagined problems with wind and solar energy. Seldom do they stop to think of the impacts from the fuels that wind and solar replace.

The reason we do wind and solar is to offset the impacts from mining for coal, and drilling for gas and oil. The extractive industries don’t paint a pretty picture on the landscape when they’re finished with it. Often the industry just walks away, leaving us to clean up their mess. And that’s before we even consider how burning those fuels pollutes our cities and is dramatically changing our climate.


The farmhouse had housed generations of families who worked the land—more or less sustainably. When Hopwood left, the property changed hands several times. It was no longer a house for farmers. Farming wasn’t what it once was. The mines dominated the economy and took more and more of the land as the mines crawled their way across the landscape. It became a bunkhouse for frackers, and then when the gas dried up, it became a refuge for squatters.

Boarded up, dilapidated, the farmhouse’s final indignity was to be torn down by a backhoe. The owner didn’t even care enough to get a demolition permit. Who cares? A shrug of the shoulders. It was an eyesore. It needed to go. It’s gone.

And some day the coal will be gone, the gas will be gone. What then?

The sun and the wind will still be there, waiting.