Ever since November, Stacey Moeller, a 58-year-old lifelong Democrat, feels a sense of hope when she wakes up at 3:45 each morning. The unexpected reason: Donald Trump.
Moeller is a career coal miner in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. When she works day shifts, she gets up early to make lunch (her favorite: sliced vegetables and turkey), feed her part-dachshund, Rosie, and make it to the mine with enough time to spare so she can catch up with her work friends before her shift starts.
“Because of the kind of work we do — it’s dangerous and it’s demanding — we have to take care of each other,” Moeller said as she drove to one of her 12-hour shifts last month. “Because our lives depend on it, we become a family. And that’s what I love the most, is the kind of people that I’ve met.”
Residents said that’s just the kind of place that Gillette, Wyoming, is: It’s one of the largest cities in the heart of a coal-rich basin where people pride themselves on the work they do and the care they show their neighbors.
There are two sayings frequently heard around this city of nearly 32,000 people. The first — said proudly by the mayor and on signs along the busiest thoroughfare — is that Gillette is “the energy capital of the nation.”
Any casual chat with residents here or even just a drive along Main Street quickly makes it clear that coal is king in Gillette. The most popular choice at local bakery Alla Lala Cupcakes and Sweet Things is the Double-Seam Coal Cupcake for $2.45. A mural along the city’s busiest street depicts a bison next to a truck full of coal. Even the carpet in the mayor’s office is emblazoned with the city’s symbol, which looks like an atom.
Just over a quarter — 26.7 percent — of Campbell County’s workforce is employed by the mining, oil and gas extraction industries, according to the state’s latest economic analysis division report.
The second saying, seen on posters around the city, in bars and the local bowling alley, is “Stay strong, Gillette.”
The phrase is meant to be encouraging and to serve as a reminder of the economic downturn that hit the area so hard last year that its lowest point was dubbed Black Thursday.
But more than a year after Black Thursday, residents in the town are feeling optimistic. Although the demand for coal has been on a downward trajectory for years as a result of increasing energy competition and concerns about coal’s environmental impact, people in Gillette feel they have finally got a friend in the White House.
Meet the real face of mining
Miners like Moeller are the new face of the industry. For most of the last century, coal mining has been portrayed in popular culture as men toiling far underground and relying on canaries for their safety.
“I think most Americans do think that coal still comes from Appalachia….