Samuel E. Shrader
Class of 1963, BS
It is of little surprise that Samuel Shrader spent his career working in the coal industry. He was born in August 1938 in rural coal country’s Tazewell County, Virginia, just outside of Bluefield. He and his 10 younger siblings were the product of a father who started in the coal fields in 1932, himself a son of a coal miner, who worked for the same company starting in 1909. Coal was in his blood from the start.
When Sam graduated high school in 1956, he decided on college — Virginia Polytechnic Institute — to get out of the family business, and try metallurgy. He was the first person in his family to attend college. “People recognized I was not a knucklehead, but when I wanted something, I tucked my head down and went after it,” he says.
He stayed with metallurgy for two quarters before Charlie Holland — then head of the College of Engineering’s mining department — persuaded the young man to switch majors during a student assembly. Holland spoke of the Bishop Coal Mines, which hit close to home — figuratively and literally — for Sam. “As I listened, I thought, ‘Why am I in metallurgy when coal is the thing I know about?”
Mr. Shrader went home and told his parents he was switching to study mining. His father threw a fit. “And he was a man known for throwing fits. He was a big man. A huge man, six foot three, 250 pounds,” Mr. Shrader says. “If you shook hands with him, it was like shoving your hand inside an encyclopedia.” The father yelled, “I thought you went to college to get away from this stuff!” But, his son had a comeback: “I didn’t go there to get away from it. I went there so I could do a better job.” The father huffed and sulked. His offspring returned to Blacksburg as a mining and minerals major.
Flash forward some 55 years, and Mr. Shrader kept his promise: The third-generation coal miner did a much better job. The company his father and grandfather worked for was called Pocahontas Fuel, which became part of Consol Energy, part of the larger multibillion-dollar Consol Corp. When Mr. Shrader retired in the mid-1990s, he was serving as senior vice president of the corporation’s entire Eastern Region, overseeing mines in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, encompassing large swaths of his native Appalachians.
But Mr. Shrader’s path to success was not smooth.
In 1958, his sophomore year in college, he was forced to drop out of college because of lack of funds. He took a job with the U.S. Steel’s forestry department, worked in the same coal mines as his father and grandfather, and married his high school sweetheart, Judy, and — with help from her job as a nurse in the Catawba area near Roanoke — reentered Virginia Tech in 1960. “I don’t think I would have finished (college) had it not been for her,” he says.
He graduated with a degree in mining engineering in 1963, and set to work for Consol. It would be a 30-year career. He started at the Pocahontas office collecting reserve data and preparing reports on the rural Virginia Horsepen seam that would later develop into the very successful Horsepen strip mine. Soon he was working as the assistant to the division president, setting up contract mines in the Virginia/West Virginia region.
In 1964, Mr. Shrader was assigned to the Itmann No. 3 mine in Wyoming County, West Virginia, where he worked at the mine face and began getting management experience as a section boss. This field experience would help him later as he dealt with union, work, health, and safety issues.
In 1965, he was promoted to superintendent of the Buckeye Mine. Three years later, he was again promoted to regional industrial engineer. It was at this job that Mr. Shrader used several then-groundbreaking computer programs developed at Virginia Tech’s mining department. He worked closely with then-department head J. Richard Lucas, and mining professor Lou Prelaz, and hired summer interns from the college. Some of those interns have themselves bounded up the ranks of the mining industry.
In 1970, Mr. Shrader was named regional mining engineer and assistant chief engineer, and then promoted to regional chief engineer. It was at this latter post that he supervised the construction and opening of the Kepler mine and preparation plant in Pineville, West Virginia. He ascended through the ranks, being named vice president of operations for Bishop Coal Co., a partnership between Consol and Inland Steel Co. in 1974. The following year he was named vice president of Consol’s Tazewell County operations.
It was while working as chief engineer, a job Mr. Shrader says he “was tickled pink to have,” that he also was asked to serve as regional safety director for Consol’s southern Appalachian region. The need was great as a series of accidents put a bruise on the region’s safety record. With other senior officials, “we wrote up step-by-step operating procedures for every piece of underground equipment, with an emphasis on avoiding the shortcuts that people take that cause accidents,” the mining executive says. “We achieved a large reduction in our accident frequency rate.”
It was during the 1980s that Mr. Shrader’s star truly rose. In 1981, he was asked to serve as assistant to Bobby Brown, then the executive vice president of operations for all of Consol, who would then later ascend to president, CEO, and chairman. In 1984, Mr. Shrader reached his top position: senior vice president of the Eastern Region, overseeing dozens of projects and hundreds of employees. During his 10 years in this position, from which he retired in 1994, he saw production nearly tripled from 9 million to 25 million tons and profits went from $1 to more than $10 per ton. He also was tasked with opening the Bailey and Enlow Fork mines in Pennsylvania, the then-largest underground coal mining operations in the United States.
Mr. Shrader became widely known as an industry leader in the use of large-scale long wall mining, and was the first industry manager to use 1,000-footwide and 10,000-foot long panels.
Also a bit of an inventor, he developed two patents during his lifetime. One helped better miners’ safety while also speeding up a sometimes gruelingly slow, stop-and-start process of opening narrow-entry mines. The device allowed for people handling roof bolters and also miners to work simultaneously, instead of each waiting on the other. At the time, it helped Mr. Shrader’s teams to increase productivity by 40 percent.
Mr. Shrader also worked to insure rights and benefits for his workers, above and beyond those promised by union representation. At two nonunion mines in Pennsylvania — a state that leans hard to the union side — Consol opened two nonunion mines. Rather than a disaster of fleeing employees and threatened walk outs, the move proved wildly successful — pay was 10 to 12 percent above union scale, and he fought for the miners to participate in company matching investment plans and other benefit packages. The move was so successful, some employees were able to retire at age 50, Mr. Shrader says.
Today, he is enjoying his own retirement. He flies small aircraft recreationally; takes annual pilgrimages to northern Canada to hunt geese and ducks, and then to rural Bland County, Virginia, where he owes a home and hunts deer. While in Southwest Virginia, he also attends as many Hokie football games as scheduling will allow.
Mr. Shrader lives in Punta Gorda, Florida, for much of the year, sharing his home with Judy, the high school sweetheart he married in 1958, and fishes on a regular basis. “I like the outdoors, always have,” he says. He loves playing in the snow — skiing in Aspen, Colorado — but hates shoveling it. Hence Florida.
He remains active with the Virginia Tech Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, having served as a charter member of its advisory board from 2000-2009. In nominating him for the honor, both Greg Adel and Michael Karmis of the Department of Mining and Mineral Engineering say, “Throughout his career, Sam became known as one of the most knowledgeable coal-mining engineers and managers in the world and the chief go-to guy for Consol who could make any operation run and run profitably.”
Class of: 1963
Year Inducted into Academy: 2012