Mr. Tom

In recent years, Drummond Co. has been expanding its operations in Alabama. Late last year, the company fired up Mr. Tom, its nickname for a giant 1970s-era dragline, to strip coal at the company’s Shannon mine, southwest of Birmingham. Mr. Tom is a 3,750-ton crane with a 320-foot (98-meter) boom that swings a bucket big enough to scoop up four Toyota Priuses. In January, Drummond moved the dragline 18 miles from an old mine near Brookwood, Alabama, to the Shannon mine on mechanical feet. The state required the company to write a 22-page cultural resource assessment of artifacts that Mr. Tom might crush on its journey.

Garry Neil Drummond’s newest project, if he goes ahead with it, would be a mine on the banks of the Black Warrior River, near where the city of Birmingham draws its water. Shepherd Bend LLC, a Drummond holding, obtained a permit to mine there from the Alabama Surface Mining Commission in 2010. Much of the land is owned by the University of Alabama, where Drummond is a trustee emeritus. According to the Washington-based environmental group American Rivers, any mining on the Black Warrior would endanger Birmingham’s drinking water. Cathy Andreen, a spokeswoman for the University of Alabama, says no one has approached the school about mining on the land.

‘A Conqueror’

Garry Neil is going it alone. There are no relatives in Drummond Co.’s upper management. For years, the company prohibited new generations from joining to avoid family fights, Zervos says. Four years ago, Garry Neil broke with precedent and hired his nephew, Segal “Ed” Drummond Jr., as executive vice president. Ed resigned earlier this year, the company says.

About 100 Drummonds gathered for Easter this year, Carolyn “Cappie” Drummond, who’s Ed Drummond’s wife, says in a telephone interview. Asked why Garry Neil doesn’t retire, she says: “He’s done it all his life. He’s a conqueror.”

Drummond has five children. One is a vascular surgeon in Birmingham. Another, Gary with one “r”, died in 2008 at 51. The same year, the University of Alabama established the Gary Drummond Jr. Memorial Research Award to study schizophrenia.

‘Exit Strategy’

“The big question about Drummond is what is the exit strategy,” says coal industry consultant Douglas Blackburn of BlackAcre LLC in Richmond, Virginia.

Drummond Co. could sell the two Colombian mines, where it produces coal at lower cost, to a giant like BHP Billiton Ltd., Blackburn says. Drummond Co.’s neighbor in Colombia is Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which bought the nearby La Francia mine in 2010.

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