MATEWAN, W.Va. -- "Time is like a river," according to author Kevin R. Hutson. "It flows in one direction. But with a little force, you can go back."
Keith Gibson of Matewan provides the force needed -- an airboat equipped with a supercharged 550-horsepower engine -- to travel the Tug Fork River in speed and comfort and acquaint visitors with sites that were part of the landscape in the 19th-century Hatfield-McCoy Feud.
His Hatfield-McCoy Airboat Tours, up and running since June, also give passengers close-up looks at blue herons, kingfishers, mallards, Canada geese, turtles, beaver and other wildlife occupying the river, along with a goat that favors a rocky pillar towering over the stream.
A former surface miner, Gibson decided to stop riding out the booms and busts of the coal industry and take control of his own destiny -- at the helm of a powerful aluminum-hulled airboat.
"With mining in decline and me not wanting to move because I've lived here my whole life, I decided to try something that combines my love of airboats and my love of the river with the history of the area," Gibson said. "I bought the boat to try to create myself a job."
Gibson and a brother bought an old airboat several years ago, and got acquainted with the joys of running it over the shoals and pools of the Tug Fork, which carves out the West Virginia-Kentucky border in this part of the world.
"We got rid of that boat and, last August, I bought this one, which is a lot better," he said. "It's built by Diamondback, one of the best airboat makers in the world. It's got an LS6 engine, the same kind that's used in a Corvette. The way it's set up now, it can go 55 miles an hour," although touring speed is generally about 35 mph.
Gibson had planned to begin offering the tours last summer, after Kevin Costner's "Hatfields & McCoys" miniseries aired on The History Channel.
"We got a burst of tourism in the area after that show appeared," he said. But the arrival of premature twin daughters put that plan on hold until their health crisis passed.
"Now I'm hoping we get another burst of tourism from the History Channel's 'Hatfields & McCoys: White Lightning,'" Gibson said. "The locals don't like it much because it doesn't show the area and its people in a very favorable light, but it's fifth in the ratings, so it could interest more folks in coming here."
Interest generated by the Kevin Costner series on the famed feuding families prompted Canadians Chuck and Lynn Maier of Sudbury, Ontario, to swing through Hatfield-McCoy country during a two-week driving tour of the United States.
After clicking "things to do" at a Hatfield-McCoy country tourism website, the Matewan Depot Welcome Center and Museum popped up, and the Maiers decided to add it to their itinerary.
On Thursday, while visiting the depot, which contains exhibits on the Matewan massacre, the Hatfield-McCoy feud and the area's mining history, the Maiers spotted a flyer for Hatfield-McCoy Airboat Rides. Interested, having taken airboat rides previously in Florida and Louisiana, the Maiers contacted Gibson. A few minutes later, they were boarding the airboat and figuring out the controls to the headsets issued to passengers, allowing them to communicate over the roar of the watercraft's powerful engine.
Gibson began the tour heading downstream from Matewan, roaring past forest, farms, homes and the suspension bridge carrying golfers at Tug Valley Country Club at Sprigg across the Tug River.