By Homer H. Hickam
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Extra info for Rocket Boys: A Memoir (October Sky)
It was the Captain, not my mother, who rode with him in the ambulance to the hospital in Welch. There the doctors gave him little chance for survival. While Mom waited in the Stevens Clinic waiting room, the Captain was allowed to watch the operation. After a long piece of his intestine was removed, Dad confounded everybody by going back to work in a month. Another month later, drenched in rock dust and sweat, his section punched through the header into the softest, blackest, purest coal anyone had ever seen.
From the moment Mr. Carter hired him and placed him in charge of operations, the Captain began to implement the latest in mining technology. Shafts were sunk for ventilation, and as soon as it was practical, the mules used to haul out the coal from the mine were replaced by electric motors. Later, the Captain stopped all the hand digging and brought in giant machines, called continuous miners, to tear the coal from its seams. The Captain expanded Mr. Carter’s building program, providing every Coalwood miner a house with indoor plumbing, a Warm Morning stove in the living room, and a coal box the company kept full.
I turned back to the worm and made another cut and began to pin back the worm’s flesh, taking meticulous notes. I thought to myself, Roy Lee just doesn’t understand. Dorothy Plunk was no mere girl. Could he not see, as I, that Dorothy Plunk was God’s perfection? She was to be worshiped, not handled. Happy in my daydream, I cut and wrote, wrote and cut. I was inspired. I was doing the work for Dorothy, my partner on this worm—and maybe more. Over the remains of a giant formaldehyde-soaked worm, I made up my mind to win her.