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    Posted May 29, 2014 by
    JeremyFarley
    Location
    Vulcan, West Virginia
    Assignment
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    Why a West Virginia town once applied for Soviet foreign aid

     
    The tiny community of Vulcan, West Virginia, once served as a thriving mining town in a remote corner of the coalfield county of Mingo.

    Unfortunately, by the early 1960s the mines ceased operation, reducing the once flourishing hamlet to little more than twenty families.

    Describing the community in his 1972 book, "They’ll Cut Off Your Project," Huey Perry wrote, “Their biggest problem was that the state had forgotten to build a road into the community. Although state maps showed a road into Vulcan, it was nowhere to be found. The only way people could get in and out was to drive up the Kentucky side and walk across a swinging bridge, which was too narrow for a vehicle. The bridge had been built by the coal company years before and was on the verge of collapse; although there were boards missing, the children had to walk across it to catch the school bus on the Kentucky side…”

    The grievances held by local residents was not limited to state and county officials. According to Perry, the children of Vulcan, at times, were forced to crawl under railroad coal cars parked on the track just to get to school.

    One of the former students, Troy Blankenship, even lost part of his left leg when he was eleven, crawling under a coal car that was parked.

    Further angering the townspeople was an N & W Railroad road that ran adjacent to the main line of the tracks, which passed through Vulcan. The road ran to the nearby community of Delmore, approximately five miles to the north of Vulcan; however, the railroad company locked the entrances to the road on both sides and hung a “No Trespassing” sign. Residents caught trespassing on the road were prosecuted and fined.

    The railroad company defended their actions by saying that the road was too dangerous for civilian vehicles, adding that opening up the road to residents would “jeopardize the railroad, and the railroad would be responsible if an accident occurred.”

    Norfolk and Western maintained that the problem was a local problem and that they were not responsible for providing transportation in and out of the impoverished community.

    Despite repeated attempts to convince government leaders to repair their bridge, no action was ever taken and over the next decade conditions deteriorated significantly. According to reports, the failing bridge eventually collapsed in 1975, leaving the residents of Vulcan hemmed between the Big Sandy River to their west and impassable mountains to their east.

    Residents then began illegally using the railroad's gravel road.

    Still, West Virginia officials were reluctant to rebuild the collapsed bridge, citing a lack of traffic and available funding.

    Feeling forsaken by their own government, the people of this West Virginia community made an unprecedented move which soon garnered international headlines. In the height of the Cold War, residents of Vulcan wrote to the Soviet Embassy in Washington, as well as to communist officials in East Germany, detailing their plight and requesting foreign aid from the two communist nations.

    Sensing an opportunity to shame the American government, the Kremlin immediately dispatched journalists to the United States.

    Interviewing the residents of Vulcan and broadcasting their troubles to the rest of the world, the government in Moscow did what the residents of Vulcan had been attempting to do for years, bring attention to the transportation problems of the tiny community.

    By mid-December 1977, newspaper headlines around the country were announcing, “Small Town Seeks Russ Foreign Aid” (Spokane Daily Chronicle).

    The Spokane Daily Chronicle wrote, “Soviet officials were amused today by reports that the small town of Vulcan, W.Va. has appealed to the Kremlin for foreign aid… The town, with a population of 200, asked the Soviet government for financial help to build a bridge after the town was turned down by the U.S. and West Virginia governments.”

    In the end, a Soviet journalist came to investigate and a local radio station began reporting bomb threats toward any bridge built with communist help.

    Embarrassed by the attention their lack of assistance was receiving, state officials soon committed $1.3 million and built a bridge for the tiny community.

    Though the only legal way to access the community of Vulcan, West Virginia, continues to be via Pike County, Kentucky, residents of the former mining town now enjoy a one-lane, graffiti covered bridge that connects them to the outside world!

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