John Prine singing the line “Daddy Won’t You Take Me Back to Muhlenberg County” evokes a specialized fondness for Ohio County’s Ed Whitehead family. Friday’s performance by Prine at the Beaver Dam Amphitheater found members of the Whitehead family in the audience cheering Prine on. Mrs. Greta Whitehead was given tickets to the concert as a Christmas present from her son. Once the rest of the clan found out they were going, more decided to attend, much to Greta’s delight.
Ed and Greta raised their family of six children in the Ohio County area, where Ed worked for Ken and Peabody Coal mines for over 40 years. The family has now grown to include 18 grandchildren, and 32 great grandchildren. During family reunions, the family sings Prine’s song, “Paradise” as a tribute to Ed’s career, and his legacy.
Ed started at Ken Mines at the young age of 17, and retired from the mines at age 62. He operated the Bucyrus-Erie 1450 dragline. The “shovel” was built at Ken Mine in 1964, where it remained in operation for over twenty years. In 1985, under Ed’s watchful eye, the 1450 was loaded onto barges that had been tied together and transported down the Green River to Gibraltar Coal Mine, another mine in the Peabody family of mines.
In preparation for it’s first river voyage, the 1450 was “walked” to the river’s edge on ground frozen by machines so that the dragline would not sink in the rich bottom land of the river. Slips were dug, and the 952-ton “Paul Bunyan” barge used its 32 water compartments to sink the barge, in order to allow the shovel to climb aboard. The 250-foot boom was rested on another barge to provide additional floatation. Preparation for this leg of the journey took two months to complete. Sounds simple enough, but it was quite a feat to move the behemoth 6.7 million pound dragline from one coal field to another. It took around four hours to float just a few miles, on the Green River, to its new home.
The shovel was used at Gibraltar Mine until 1992. It was then parked on a hilltop overlooking the Green River where it was easily viewed by passers-by on the Western Kentucky Parkway for years. In the early 2000’s Peabody Coal Company sold the 1450 to Minserco, to be used in contract mining in the Bahamas, by Martin Marietta. Once again the giant machine was prepared for river transport under the ever watchful eye of Ed Whitehead.
Minserco refurbished the entire machine. It took all summer, two shifts and countless hours to re-power the 1450 with GE electric motors and a shiny new paint job. Minserco then placed the vintage dragline, again on the Green River, onto awaiting barges for transport on inland waterways to the Atlantic Ocean, where it arrived a month of so later at Bahama Rock Mine.
The Whiteheads’ chronicled Ed’s career in a scrapbook that Greta continues to enjoy. In the scrapbook is a copy of the Peabody employee magazine, The Pulse, where original move was well documented, it was reported to be one of the largest Green River cargos at that time.
Playing to a sold out crowd, Prine ended the evenings concert with “Paradise”, obviously a crowd favorite. Prine said, “This was as close to Paradise as I’ve been in several years.” In the audience Friday evening, people from all over enjoyed the entertainment. For the Whiteheads’ it was ever so much sweeter because of their namesake.
Our area will forever be known for coal production, and our rich tapestry that makes up the coal industry history in Western Kentucky. These machines and men like Ed Whitehead made it happen.
— Kathrine Newman-Timmons, MyKYNews.com