Coalwood, West Virginia – Home of the Rocket Boys

Coalwood is a small town located in McDowell County, West Virginia. As the name implies, coal mining was the main industry for much of its history. It was also the birthplace of Homer Hickam, Jr., the former NASA engineer who wrote the memoir “Rocket Boys,” which was later adapted into the movie “October Sky.”

Over the winter I read The Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam. It is the story of a determined boy who grew up in the shadow of a coal mine tipple in the late 50’s – and would go on to become a NASA engineer. It is a testament to the power of a curious mind and a willingness to strive for more than your circumstances seem to immediately offer.

Welcome to Coalwood

welcome to coalwood home of the rocket boys sign

Having enjoyed the book greatly, it was a treat to be able to swing through Coalwood this past April. Riding through the town was like putting a face to a name.

Sadly, what remains of what I’d read as a bustling anthill of activity surrounding the mine is merely shadows and ash. It’s quite something to see how a remote town that relied on a single industry is decimated once that industry leaves.

coalwood west virginia - rocket boys memorial shuttle

A monument to the Rocket Boys along the wonderfully named Frog Level Road. Homer Hickam and the Rocket Boys are local heroes.

What remains in that old coal town is interesting to see. Especially when compared to historical photos and passages of the book that talk of the local goings-on.

Homer Hickam’s house still stands:

And as a motorcycle rider, you won’t be disappointed by the ride along Route 16 to Coalwood. It’s a lovely wiggler!


Rachael is the whimsical writer behind the 20+ year old Girlie Motorcycle Blog. As a freelance blogger, she is on a mission to inspire laughter, self-examination, curiosity, and human connection. Girlie Motorcycle Blog can be found on several Best Motorcycle Blog lists.

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2 Responses

  1. Bob says:

    I think this is a movie about the rocket boys:

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