Bear Pen Gap tunnel

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A person who follows this blog queried me on a tunnel he’d found access to of Hwy. 83 in Dickenson County VA.  I searched it out and found what it was, but I couldn’t find a blog entry about it.  I’d slipped up.  I thank the guy who caught this.
This is Bear Pen Gap tunnel, west portal, taken in April, 2011.  In my original digital photograph, the east portal is just barely visible at 1/2 mile away.  Returning to this portal today, May 24, 2015, I couldn’t see the other portal.  Part of the tunnel may have collapsed.  Very dangerous.
The air coming out of this tunnel today was cool enough to condense breath.
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This is the east portal, taken in April, 2011.  The water, as of May, 2015, was still flowing off the left side ledge.  This portal is a little over a half mile from Fremont.
This was the one tunnel on the Clinchfield Railroad’s old Fremont branch, which, starting in 1947, ran from Fremont to Moss #1 mine a little over 14 miles away.  The mine shut down in 1989, but this line was used for a couple more years hauling wood chips from an operation at the Moss location.
The latest rail date we saw in this area is 1972, Lackawanna.
As we walked up to this portal four years ago, a kid (may 13-14 years old?) came down the embankment.  He was totally togged out in Army fatigues – cap to boots – and was sporting a fake pistol in a proper holster.  We all nodded to each other and passed on, but my buddy and I exchanged a puzzled look.  Cosplay is everywhere.
Note: a bear “pen” is a place where early settlers trapped bears and killed them for meat.

Buffer stop

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Back a long time ago, a Clinchfield Railroad spur peeled off the main line at Kingsport Yard and came down to this stop, which looks to be a Linden-made piece, next to Oakwood Market on West Sullivan Street.  I assume it provided ship-ins to the grocery store and ship-ins and -outs for Roberts-Johnson Lumber Company.  The lumber company burned down sometime in the ’70s, I think.  Willing to stand corrected on that.  I can’t find a reference for it.
It’s amazing, sometimes, to see just what survives over the years…

Mudlick Junction

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Ladies and germs, welcome to Mudlick Junction, about halfway between Stonega and Andover, snuggled between Stonega Road and Roda Road.  The two lines on the left are, obviously, dead and I think originally went to the mines at Roda.  The line on the far right is live and runs up to strip mines north of Stonega.

According to Hanson’s placename book, “Roda” is short for “rhododendron” and you have the Post Office to thank for omitting the “h” that should have been in “Roda”.  Andover is named in honor of Andover College in New England, which was of some significance to the president of the Virginia Coal and Iron Company.  “Stonega”?  Hanson says it’s just “Stone  Gap” without the “p”.  Ahh, ha.

“Mudlick” isn’t a placename.  It might have been a small settlement once.  A “lick” refers to an outcropping of salt that attracted wild animals and, eventually, hunters.  Meat and salt, all in one.

Fremont

This is the original location of the Fremont train station in Dickenson County VA:

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As the railroad went up to Moss mine, Fremont became a busy place…built in 1915.  Sometime later, a giant grabbed the depot and put it on the hill.  Up there is Fremont Avenue (Highway 83 which wends its way between Clintwood and Clinchco.  On the other side of the tracks, across a rather heavy-duty bridge over the McClure River, is Highway 63 which takes you to, surprise!, McClure.
The renovated depot, by the way, looks great and continues to well serve the people who travel in this area.

Industrial Locomotive

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I took this in 2012 on Old Mill Road in Glade Spring VA.  This old gentleman, obviously owned by a Dale Earnhardt fan, this is, I think, a GM DH-1 industrial locomotive from the 50s.  The hopper behind it is an old Southern Railway 91848 model.  The track here is a spur to a line that used to extend from a wye in Glade Spring up to Saltville.
On the back of the locomotive is painted “The Intimidator”.

 

Dante Turntable

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I finally got back to Dante Yard to take a few pictures of the long-disused turntable.  I had to clamber (and believe me, I clambered) up a hillside on the far side of the turntable to try to get the whole thing in frame.  I didn’t quite, but I got most of it.
Using a turntable like this saved a lot of time when you needed to get a locomotive (all 100 tons or so of it) turned around.
And the motor that did all the work wasn’t that big:
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Look at how rusty the tracks are:
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I wonder if it was good to have the title of “the guy who runs the turntable”?

 

Not much of a tunnel, anymore

Around the Dante VA area, from the turn of the last century to about the late 50s, the Clinchfield Coal Company, founded by George Carter, but later owned by Pittston, operated four coal mine areas in the hollows.  The one we explored recently is at the head of Straight Hollow.  There once was a 1912 adit, but it’s been overtaken by strip mining.  There are still an extant 1914 and two 1955 adits, which you can see in winter, but not in summer, because kudzu.  I’m posting them over at www.unclebobstravels.com.  According to the USGS topo map (St. Paul), there was a narrow gauge railroad that hauled coal out of this mine complex down to a conveyor or loader nearer the railroad.
This is the eastern portal at roughly 36.99604, -82.27922
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It’s been almost completely bermed up, but you can just see the top of the original entrance.
About 1,500 feet to the west is the other portal, also bermed up.
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This old railroad line, with this tunnel and another further down toward Dante, which we couldn’t find, are clearly shown on the USGS/TVA St. Paul quad, 1935 issue.

Mudlick Junction

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This is what remains of Mudlick Junction, on the N&S.  The coordinates are 36.94037, -82.79725.  It must have been a busy place at one time. Now, however, the two lines on the left are dead.  I think the main line, center, went  to around Osaka VA.  The line to the far right is live, bringing coal out from a strip mine up past Stonega.  The junction is called Mudlick after Mudlick Creek, which flows nearby.
This was taken on a Sunday, but we saw many coal trucks moving in and out of the mine area and there was a N&S loco there with a string of hoppers getting loaded up.
Raus McDill Hanson writes in “Virginia Placenames and Derivations” that Stonega is just “Stone Gap” without the “p”.  I’m not getting any love from any of my reference materials or the web on the origin of the name “Osaka”, which I’m told is pronounced “Osakie”, as Stonega is often said as “Stone-agie” (long a, hard g).

 

Glenbrook

In 1947, the L&N ran the Clover Fork Branch up to what was called Glenbrook KY (read about it here).  The reason was that Stonega Coal and Coke Company had decided to dip into the Wallins coal seam here.  They constructed five dated adits as they dug into the coal.  This one < at 36.88345, -82.91997> is representative of the three on the eastern part of this complex (it’s not really open…there’s a huge, rusty fuel tank stuffed into the adit to deter visitors):
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Right at these adits is a group of buildings…a service area for mining equipment, a power building, showers and lockers for the miners.  There were also offices installed sometime later, since they put in dropped ceilings to cover the original high ones with the pulleys that helped miners get out of their work clothes before showering.
On the west side of this particular complex are two more adits, also dated 1947:

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Here’s a long view of what was once a sorting/loading area:

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And this possibly was once a very early exploratory mine, now bermed in.  You can easily tell is was once a mine, though:

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This whole old mining area is in foreclosure.  It’s scheduled to be completely bulldozed early in 2015.  We took plenty of pictures.  We’ll remember it.

Dent (not Dante) Yard

Back in 1945, Blue Diamond Coal Company, out of Knoxville TN, opened up the Leatherwood mine complex, about ten miles up Leatherwood Creek from the North Fork of the Kentucky River.  At the same time, the L&N ran a spur from their main line on the north side of the river to the mines and, in order to handle the vast amount of coal coming out of Leatherwood, the railroad also built a breakdown yard a little further up the river toward Hazard, near a town called Dent (it’s gone now).  At the intersection of the main line and the spur (at 37.12946, -83.08649, nearest Google Earth locator is Cornettsville KY), a complex was built to service the locomotives.  It included a turntable (see it here), a pumping station to bring water up from the river to a tank used to service the steam locomotives, and various other buildings.  The remains of the turntable are still visible:
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To get a sense of scale, that’s my buddy standing over on the other side of the foundation (he’s dressed in white).  The remnants of the pumping station and various other buildings are still there, also.  This yard operation only lasted about a decade or so.
This is looking toward where Dent Yard once was:
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But one thing had me puzzled.  Just a short way down the river from the main trestle, I saw these:
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Another bridge, an old style bridge, didn’t seem to fit.  There was no need for a wye here and these piers seem to predate 1945.  It took a bit of researching, but I located a map of Perry County from 1937 and got my information.  The L&N came into Hazard in 1912 and spread out to service both timber operations and small coal mines.  In 1937, there was already a main line in place here.  I suspect this bridge carried a light rail line, possibly for timber (logging was certainly taking place around Leatherwood Creek in that time period…small coal operations, too), across the river to the main line.  How long it was viable, I have no idea.
Oh, that orange pipe crossing the river comes from a gas well across the tracks on the left.

Another Anonymous Tunnel

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I opted to show the approach and the tunnel because the tunnel isn’t particularly interesting.  No date, but it was constructed in the 1940s when the L&N opened up the Leatherwood Branch (KY) to bring out coal from the massive Blue Diamond Mine complex.  This portal is at 37.09080, -83.10304.  The tunnel, a little over .25 mile long, curves through a ridge at a bend of Leatherwood Creek. The track here actually dates to 1940, mostly Bethlehem Steel rail.  There are two trestles here: the closest is timber construction and the far one is deck girder, with no maker name/date plate.  It didn’t appear to have ever had such a plate.

This is looking easterly.  The track curves to the right practically at the portal.  The line then goes on to what is now a partial wye over the North Fork of the Kentucky River down at the end of Dent Yard.

Kingsport Yard, 1976

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I didn’t have any particular interest in trains in ’76, but I live close to the yard, so I always am wandering around with a camera.  The guy on the left was using a remote unit to operate this engine.
Even though I live four blocks away, people still ask me if the noise from the trains bothers me.  Huh, I was raised in Morristown just across the street from a switch and freight yard.  What noise?

Lone Mountain hub

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We were coming down Lone Mountain Road in Claiborne County TN when this caught my eye.  The lower track is an active N&S line, the upper track is very old steel and long disused.  As I was taking this picture, a man approached and wanted to know what I was doing.  I told  him I was interested in this old jib crane (called a derrick by the railroad) and asked him if he knew anything about it.  He tended to be a bit confrontational until I explained that I was from Kingsport and that I  had an interest in old railroad equipment and trackage.  He loosened up a bit and told me he owned the land here, but the jib crane still belonged to the railroad.  He said, “this old track was put down in 1878 to load granite and marble from a quarry up the tracks.”  We chatted for a bit more and I moved off, since it turned out that his wife and daughter were a little further down the track (for some reason) and he had gotten suspicious when he saw me exit my car and come in that direction with something in my hand (my camera).  Did I mention he was carrying?
I was rather amazed at the date, so I made an audio note of it and we moved on, looking for Lone Mountain elementary school, which was right in this neighborhood.  However, we encountered Dan Beeler, who told us the school had burned down eight years before.  He did confirm the dating of the railroad, though, and said the foundation of the old depot was still there, behind the still existing old store that had been a post office for Lone Mountain.   He also informed us that Lone Mountain was quite a hub of activity in the day, with trains stopping to load pulpwood, minerals, livestock and the like.  Here’s what the foundation of the old station looks like today:

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This is looking west.  The track here ends just a little bit beyond the end of the foundation…there’s a cross-rail block there.  The steel in this track varies from a 1901 Scranton to a 1903 Carnegie.

So, I had a puzzle. Dan Beeler told us the granite and marble (Tennessee marble, not “real” marble) came from a quarry in Springdale, about 4 miles to the east.  I carefully checked Google Earth to find any remnants of a railbed in that direction and couldn’t find any…then, it suddenly all clicked.  I’d been in the area before documenting the three tunnels on the old Knoxville, Cumberland Gap and Louisville Railroad.  The old stories handed down to the gentlemen we talked to were giving a date a decade or so too early.  This was the old K, CG & L line and probably came through here about 1888.  This was the company that managed to totally screw up the first digging of the tunnel at Cumberland Gap.  They also managed to off a number of important Knoxville personages on their very first run when the locomotive went off a trestle at Flat Gap.  This railroad company was as short on luck as it was on money.

My feeling is that the railroad came through and built the spur to the jib crane and down to the station.  The quarrymen (not the Beatles) and others would haul the product by wagon down to the railroad where it would be loaded onto freight cars for a trip to Morristown, Knoxville, or, eventually, to Middlesboro.  Everyone was hot for Middlesboro in that time, since quality iron had been discovered in the area.  Flash in the pan, as it turned out.

If anyone has more information on this or wants to tell me I’m all mouth and no trousers, please make a comment.

Imboden

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In the late 1880s, Gen. John D. Imboden, late of the Army of the South, working for the Tinsalia Company, helped convince a bunch of rich Northerners of the great potential for iron and coal in Southwest, by God, Virginia.  However, it wasn’t until around 1903 that the Imboden Coal Company lured the Virginia Coal and Iron Company into running a line up Pigeon Creek (which goes under these trestles) to extract coal from ICC’s mines.  This is one of three former double line trestles over the Pigeon that we saw on a trip up this line.  The line on the left is active, sort of;  the trestle on the right has been converted to auto and foot traffic.  The curve to the right just beyond the converted trestle heads up to a former coal mine.
Note:  the ties on the right trestle are rotting.

Imboden is between Appalachia and Exeter.

Mohawk Station

 

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This is old Mohawk station, now derelict.  The line in front is booted off.   Here’s a look inside what may have been the ticket office/waiting room:

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About 2,000 feet to the east of this station is the contemporary Lick Creek Bridge, a truss/deck girder combo.

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This is looking west, back toward Mohawk.  On November 8, 1861, Union sympathizers burned the bridge that was here (the bridges were made of timber then).  It was part of a effort by the “Bridge Burners” to take down the 9 bridges between Bristol and Bridgeport AL.  They succeeded, but many paid the ultimate price.
The date plates on this bridge have been chiseled off…thanks, vandals.

Triple Overpass

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This triple overpass is over West Summer Street in Greeneville TN.  This bridge closest to us is a dead siding, no longer connected to the main line.

Here’s what it looks like to the left:
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And here we are up top.  The dead siding is on the left, the main N&S line is on the right.
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The third overpass is for Railroad Street:
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There’re even steps coming up from Summer Street to Railroad Street; although, they appear to be lightly used.
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CXS Pony Plate Bridge

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This is a multiple unit pony plate bridge over the Nolichucky River (in the background) and some privately-held land.  This is looking northwest.  The bridge is about 680′ long and belongs to CSX (old Clinchfield).   There’s a big dent on the top of the plate nearest the camera, indicating that some time in the past, something got off the tracks.  To the left of where I’m standing (36.09812, -82.44180) is the old community of Unaka Springs.

Vandals have relieved all sections of this bridge of their manufacturer’s date plates.  Boo.  Hiss.

Devon Tunnel

First it was timber that drove the railroads, narrow gauge lines, into Buchanan County VA.  The timber baron W. M. Ritter ran Shay engines and a few passenger cars along with his freight cars, the Big Sandy & Cumberland Railroad, all over Knox Creek, up the hollows and, eventually, on into Grundy.  When the N&W line took it all over in 1923, they had a problem.  N&W was standard gauge.  Shay engines can do a 6% grade, slowly, but the big non-geared wheels of the steam engines couldn’t.  The N&W opened its company coffers and rebuilt the line to reach the rich coal beds in the area.  They built a wye over the Tug Fork from the Pocahontas Main Line and constructed this tunnel, Devon Tunnel.  This north portal is at 37.52763, -82.04658.
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You can see in the above picture, on the left wall of the tunnel, a niche.  Apparently, there was once a manual switching unit there.  It’s all controlled now remotely.  Here’s a better look at the mechanism.
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And, my favorite picture, looking out of the portal to the deck girders forming the wye over the Tug Fork.

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On the other side, about 1700′ back, is the south portal, a little more worse for wear.  The date on both is 1930.

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Raitt Tunnel

Raitt Tunnel was part of an expansion by the Norfolk & Western into the coal fields of Buchanan County VA.  It’s 3,700+ feet long and was completed in 1931.  This west portal is at 37.35168, -82.07228 between Big Rock and Hurley.  It’s just off the Highway 650 and, if you find the little trail down to it, it’s easy to get to.
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This is the east portal  (37.35408, -82.05974).  As I was walking up to it from the car, about 900 feet or so away, a sudden summer shower dropped a bucket or two of water on me.  I kept the camera dry with my cap, but I got wet.  The temperature that day in the sun was around 90 degrees and humid; the temperature at the portal was maybe 15 degrees cooler.  The second picture is taken from the portal of the mist rising from the hot tracks after the cool rain.
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Natural Tunnel x 2

These are both early shots of Natural Tunnel, near Duffield (sort of) in Virginia.  This first one is an E.C. Kropp (Milwaukee) card.  These people are obviously celebrating something.  The sign on the red-topped building reads “Natural Tunnel”.  There are no power poles visible.  I would guess that the original picture (it was in black and white; the color was added at the printing company) dates to the first quarter of the 20th century.  Note that the railroad is listed as “C.C. & O”.
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This is a somewhat newer card, an Asheville Post Card Company issue.  On the back:  “The Natural Tunnel, located on U.S. Highway 23, 14 miles west of Gate City, Virginia, in Scott County, is said to be the only Natural Tunnel in the world used by a railroad.  Through it the Southern Railroad has hauled many million tons of coal from the rich deposits of Southwest Virginia. (Kodachrome by Robert Suttle)”
Note that there are now power poles through the tunnel.

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Smalling Bridge

This through truss, 200′ long or so, spans the Watauga River at 36.34587, -82.28300.  Luckily, whoever tried to pry the maker plate from the bridge failed – thank you.  Some antique dealers, knowing these plates have been vandalized from existing bridges, buy them anyway and sell them outside the area.  I saw one plate for sale on “American Pickers”.  Anyway, as you can see, this is a 1941 vintage structure, made with Tennessee steel.  It is located on Smalling Road, hence the name.
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Here’s the maker plate:

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Another Luten Arch

Luten Bridge Company, actually a company licensed to build Luten Arch bridges in Knoxville TN, existed in the first half of the 20th century (so long gone, now).  The earliest Luten Arch I’ve seen is up north of Pennington Gap…here.  It’s a 1918 bridge.
This one, in the Wallins Creek Community in Kentucky, spans Laurel Creek.  It’s 1929 vintage.  36.82482, -83.41535
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Pine Mountain tunnel, west portal

Just a couple of days ago, a person who had visited this blog sent me some extremely valuable information on the Pine Mountain tunnel, bored in 1947-1948 from Jenkins KY over to the Virginia side of Pine Mountain.  The C & O was eager to open up a vast, 300 million ton, coal field just east of Pound.  The tunnel was completed in 1948 and was out of service by 1958.  The east portal, which I’ve posted before, is more or less open, if you like slogging in waders to get through to it.  This west portal, near Jenkins, was boarded up rather thoroughly (although I’ve had at least one person comment that they had gone through it).  Thanks to a photo by Chris Balthis, I know that this portal is well reinforced with concrete.  The literature indicates that this side of the mountain wasn’t as stable as the east side.  Look closely and you’ll see the inscription above the tunnel.  They did things like that then…now they just throw tunnels up and slap some concrete on them.  Hmmph, kids these days…
Anyway, I thought I’d posted this western portal.  I hadn’t.  Error corrected.
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Loyall Yard, KY

First of all, Loyall Yard is pretty big.  To get a look at it in its entirety, check Google Earth at 36.85470, -83.34902.  The yard was built by the L&N in 1920 and originally had numerous tipples, a turntable and many other structures.  The town of Loyall was once known as Shonn, which is local slang for “railroad siding” (Wikipedia).  The yard and town are protected from Cumberland River flooding by a flood wall and gate.
This structure, probably a control point of some sort is just east of Loyall Yard and is abandoned.
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This is the flood gate on Highway 314 (the “Jerry Chestnut Highway”) coming into Loyall (this is looking east, away from Loyall).
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This is a bit of Loyall Yard.  The turntable used to be over on the right, past the row of hoppers.
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Kentucky truss bridge

This solidly built double-track 1925 Fort Pitt Bridge Works (Pittsburgh PA) structure spans the Cumberland River just west of CSX’s Loyall Yard.  The bridge, in three sections, all box trusses (for a total of around 410′ in length), is at 36.85093, -83.36837.  It’s on an active line that winds on into Pineville.  This view is looking more or less west.  To give you a sense of scale, that’s my buddy standing in the second section on the right hand side of the tracks.
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