It was in 1933, during the depths of the Great Depression, when Welsh coal miners founded Palmer Coking Coal. Tomorrow, the company will mark its 75th year in business.
Palmer Coking Coal, which operated the last underground coal mine in Washington, stopped mining coal 20 years ago and now sells landscape products at its location in Black Diamond on State Route 169. The products include sand, gravel, topsoil, beauty bark and specialty materials such as red cinders, lava rock and streambed gravel. There are six types of sand – including one used for sand traps at golf courses – and more than 20 kinds of gravel alone. And one of the cinder products is used on the warning track at the outfield walls of Safeco Field, home of the Seattle Mariners.
But the company is known as much, or more, for its history. That dates back to Aug. 14, 1933, when four Morris brothers – John, Jonas, William and Edward, part of a family that moved to the Pierce County and King County areas in the early 1890s – joined with Joe Kieulak and J.G. Raley to incorporate Palmer Coking Coal. The name came from Palmer (also known as Kanaskat), a junction on Northern Pacific’s east-west railway line, and the type of low-ash coal that was popular among people who burned it at home for heat.
Palmer Coking Coal’s Web site states that with about 30 companies “competing for a share of a declining coal business, coking coal shipped from Palmer – but mined in nearby Durham, Bayne and Occidental – provided the company with the marketing edge it needed to survive the 1930s and the Great Depression.”
The Web site goes on, “The early development of the Puget Sound area was built on natural resource industries such as fishing, logging and coal mining. Production from Washington’s coal mines peaked in 1918, coinciding with World War I. Competition from the introduction of California oil in the 1920s, hydro-electric dams in the 1930s and pipelines delivering natural gas in the 1950s all contributed to coal’s decline as a component of Washington’s energy markets.”
Over a 53-year period, Palmer mined and sold nearly 2.4 million tons of coal.
On Dec. 17, 1975, Palmer Coking Coal workers dynamited the portal to the Rogers No. 3 mine in Ravensdale, closing the state’s last underground coal mine and ending a part of Washington’s history. Besides Ravensedale, coal mining in King County once flourished in places such as Black Diamond, Newcastle, Renton and Issaquah.