The tour was not a journey for those addicted to creature comforts. The bus was modern, but the rides were long and hard on the derriere. The tour ran behind schedule. The food was mostly simple country cooking rather than gourmet fare. Travelers who enjoy an adult beverage at the end of the day had better pack their own, because the otherwise comfortable West Virginia state park lodges where we stayed were either dry or closed their dining rooms too early.

Estepp said he will learn from the first tour and tweak the itinerary for future trips.

The tour would conclude with a visit to the town of Bramwell in southeastern West Virginia. The contrast with gritty Matewan and Welch could not be more complete, because Bramwell was the town where the coal barons built elegant homes. Taken by itself, the Bramwell stop would have been a pleasant architectural tour. After three days of studying the plight of the miners employed by those millionaires, it was a potent political statement.

For some of the participants, the tour was a little too ideologically oriented.

"I'd have liked to have got a little bit more of an objective look at it," said retired Army officer Ralph M. Larson, a history buff from San Antonio who nevertheless found the history "fascinating."

But for other travelers, many with a background in labor unions or environmental activism, the message behind the tour was spot-on. On the last night, some of the travelers led the group in singing union folk songs such as "Which Side Are You On."

Mike Stilwell of Joppatowne said the topic appealed to him because of his family roots in the coal fields of southwestern Pennsylvania.

"It's fantastic," the Joppatowne resident said. "It's just blown me away how good it is."

If you go

West Virginia Mine War Tour

A second tour is planned for Sept. 25-27. The cost is $549 for single occupancy, $499 per person for two sharing a room. Two nights' lodging, meals, taxes, admissions to sites, tour DVD and T-shirt are included. A $150 deposit is required. Organizers also plan additional tours next year, with an October 2012 tour that will depart from Baltimore. For information, go to