He now works as the longwall coordinator at Murray Energy Century Mine Powhatan #6, working his way up from longwall production foreman to coordinator. He started his coal career in Ohio also, firstly as a laborer at the Powhatan #4 mine in 1977 to roof bolter and then longwall helper. He then made the move to Alabama for eight years working in Jim Walter Resources #3, 4, 5 and 7 mines as a continuous miner section foreman, longwall production foreman, longwall coordinator and finally longwall manager.
Out of work James has a passion for golf. “It’s a game that is totally and only you. It’s you against the course. When you play this game you must concentrate solely on it. It helps clear your mind and serves as a release."
ILN:What is your earliest mining memory?
JF: I was seven years old when my father took me underground at a mine where he worked. We walked down the slope to the underground shop. I still remember the amount of air that was coming up the slope. It almost took my breath away. I had a hard time breathing.
ILN: What made you choose mining as a career?
JF: I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my grandfather, father and my uncle. Growing up and listening to them talk about mining pretty much set my path.
ILN: What was your favourite job in a coal mine?
JF: Bossing a longwall section.
ILN: What was your least favourite job?
JF: Recovering materials from old workings.
ILN: Who, or what, has most influenced your mining career?
JF: First was my father, grandfather, and my uncle. They taught me how to treat and talk to people. Second was an English fellow by the name of Barrie Hurst. He had a great influence on my longwall career. The third was the conditions I learned to manage underground in the state of Alabama.
ILN: What do you consider your best mining achievement?
JF: At Jim Walter Resources Mine #4. I was responsible for a fifty shield longwall that was set up to pull pillars. Talk about a handful!
ILN: What do you see as being the greatest mining development during your career?
JF: Cable bolts. Being able to go cribless in tailgate entries has saved countless hours of labor and production delays.
ILN: Do you hold any mining records?
JF: Record for the number of shield cut in a shift at the American Energy Corporation, Century Mine. 3250 shields by C-Crew.
ILN: Do you have any unfulfilled ambitions?
JF: No. The longwall career that I have chosen keeps me busy enough without looking for anything else.
ILN: What was your most embarrassing moment in a coal mine?
JF: Coming upon a female employee in the return air course taking care of her personal business.
ILN: What was your scariest time in a coal mine?
JF: Building cribs alongside a longwall stageloader while the roof was setting down on it. As we worked, we were all praying “please don’t let it fall on me”. Luckily, it didn’t.
ILN: What is your worst memory of coal mining?
JF: The death of 13 men that I knew and worked with at the Jim Walter Resources Mine #5.
ILN: Do you think that the day of the fully automated remotely operated face is near?
JF: Great strides have been taken in this area. But I believe Mother Nature has too many surprises for the mining industry to ever be able to fully automate the face.
ILN: What major improvements would you like to see on longwall operations?
JF: Smaller equipment. Far too much unwanted material is being mined to make room for the longwall equipment. Smaller shearers, and shields, set up for low conditions would increase yield, and also take a great deal of wear and tear off the mines belt system as well, not to mention prep plants.