CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Preparing a vehicle for display at a car show is a form of expression, and David Lambert of Beckley is using his entry in the Charleston Boulevard Rod Run & Doo Wop auto show to express a tribute to the fallen miners of the Upper Big Branch disaster.
Lambert was standing at the drift mouth of the Upper Big Branch mine on April 5, 2010, the day an explosion deep inside it killed 29 men.
"My shift was getting ready to start," he recalled. "Me and an electrician usually start early, but we couldn't get a ride in that day."
When word came back that a deadly explosion had occurred, Lambert, like others who worked at the Montcoal mine, was devastated.
"I knew every one of those guys," he said. "We used to harass each other and carry on in the bathhouse after work. One of them -- Steve Harrah -- was my boss."
One day not long after the explosion, Lambert caught a glimpse of his own head and shoulders profiled in a reflection that gleamed off the side of his Pontiac Solstice. "I thought, if I had a truck, I'd have room to put pictures of all those guys on it," he said.
He bought a 2010 Chevy Silverado pickup and contacted friend and airbrush artist Gary Mullens of Street Dreams custom auto painting in Beckley, who signed on to the project. It turned out to involve far more than painting remarkably lifelike head-and-shoulders portraits of the fallen UBB miners.
"He worked with photos of the miners and with the photos that came out with the report on [the] Upper Big Branch explosion," Lambert said.
The hood of Lambert's glossy black "Upper Big Branch Memories" tribute truck features a scene showing white light pouring from the entrance to the UBB mine, silhouetting the profiles of 29 standing men. Spelled out in letters formed by bolted strips of metal are the words "Upper Big Branch, April 5, 2010, The Day the World Ended."
The tailgate art includes a scene with an American flag and police tape blocking the entrance to the mine, which is ringed with safety messages.
"We've been working on it for three years and it's still not done," said Lambert. "I'd like to add the pictures of the two survivors, and then I'd be done and ready to donate the truck to a museum."
Lambert said he's been funneling most of his overtime pay into the tribute project, but he's received some financial support from DuPont and from the Charleston Daughters of the American Revolution chapter.
"I wanted to do something to honor these men," he said. "They won't be forgotten until the day I die."
Lambert said friends and family members of the fallen miners have responded favorably to his truck-borne tribute. On Thursday, scores of car show attendees stopped to admire and photograph the truck's artwork, and in some cases, find the images of the UBB victims near and dear to them.
"Everyone seems to love it," said Lambert, who now works in a mine less than two miles from Upper Big Branch. "I'm proud of it. I don't really care whether or not I win a trophy. I'm just glad that people get a chance to see it."
More than 700 vehicle owners had registered to take part in this year's Rod Run & Doo Wop show by Thursday morning.
Among them was Korean War veteran Richard Robinson of Charleston, whose restored 1942 Ford GPW Jeep served as a tribute to military vets.