Imboden VA


This is one of three double trestles we saw in the area of Imboden.  The line on the left is active, but the one which was on the right is long gone.  It’s a vehicle bridge now, reinforced with steel, but with sorry-looking ties.  Looking at this from above in Google Earth, I think I can tell that the line on the right probably went up to a loader in the valley.  There are several coal mines in that area, mostly stripped out now.
Imboden was possibly named after Gen. John Imboden, the man who had a vision of making Damascus VA into a major iron smelting town.  I don’t know.  Heck, I’ve never figured out why Osaka is named that.  Or Sun.  My main book on Virginia place names ignores some of these.

The Intermediate Tweetsie

doerivergorge1 doerivergorge2

Both of these chrome postcards are from the late ’60s, when Doe River Gorge Playland was in business (check this link).  As you’ll read on that webpage, for about a year, it was Hillbilly World and it closed in 1971.  I’ve hiked the gorge twice, once from the Ministry side and once from the highway side.  I think the one on the left shows the Engine #1 at Pardee Point, the one on the right is just a general shot of the engine steaming along.
The technical details: On the left: the card is badly creased end to end.  Shame, that.
On the back: “Doe River Gorge, Highway 19-E, Hampton, Tennessee
A panoramic view of the Doe River as it winds through the Doe River Gorge.  This is just one of the many scenic views of natural beauty seen from “Little Whistler” as Engine Number 101 puffs through the 3 1/2 mile trip in the Gorge.”
Published by KING PRINTING 509-511 Shelby Street, Bristol, Tennessee 37620
It’s been scribbled on, apparently by a child.  Postally unused.

On the right: Card is in pretty good shape.
On the back: “Doe River Gorge Highway 19-E, Hampton, Tennessee
The “Little Whistler” puffs up the 2% grade road bed of scenic Doe river Gorge.  Steam engines have been pulling this grade for nearly one hundred years. A trip through Doe River gorge offers one of the most scenic natural beauty views in the southeastern United States.”
All rest is same as above.

Gate City Southern Depot


As you can see, the title of this postcard, a real photo card, is “SOU. DEPOT GATE CITY, VA 1963”.  There is no more information anywhere on this card.  I bought it maybe 10 years ago from a dealer in Maryland.  Since the first SLR cameras began coming into the United States in 1963,  it’s entirely possible this was shot with a regular rangefinder camera.  Either the lens was soft or the film was slow, either way, the sign about halfway down the building should be readable, but it isn’t, even at 10x magnification.  It’s out of focus.

The Clinchfield Special


This post card, never mailed, shows the tender with the livery of 1968 with Clinchfield in gold letters.

On the back: THE CLINCHFIELD SPECIAL – The most famous little steam engine of railroad history, built Aug. 1882, is puffing again through the Appalachian Mountains.  It sounds nostalgic episodes of history with its whistle echoing through the mountains.  Old No. 1 pulled first food, medicine and rescue workers to Johnstown, Penn. flood area May 1889, and the first refugees out.
Train Concessions Operated by
Color Photography by
Earle M. Walker
640 Holston Place
Erwin, Tenn.

Vertical Division line: Pub. by Earle M. Walker Photographer, 640 Holston Place, Erwin, Tenn. 37650

Published by Dexter Press, Inc. West Nyack, New York
Plate #53303-C

Note: in the PLACE STAMP HERE box, there is a small “69” in the lower right.  This may be the date the card was printed.

Inman School Train


Inman is an unincorporated community in Wise County VA.  This is a divided-back postcard that was allowed between 1907 and 1914.  A website had this card for sale and, without attribution, stated it was “1910’s”.  Close enough.  I think this is an Interstate Railroad steam engine, but I can’t be sure.

On the back, scrawled in pencil (it was never posted) “Hello CB  Ans soon CDM”
Addressed to Miss Blanche Gladson, RR #4 Rogersville Tenn.
If you want to know more about Miss Blanche, go here.  If it’s still not the top entry, look for “Rogersville Postcards” in the menu.

Clevinger Branch Tunnel

For want of a better name, this is the CSX Clevinger Branch tunnel…since it’s near Clevinger Branch Road (3227), about 3 miles NE of Coal Run Village in Pike County KY.  Coordinates (at center) are 37.5519, -82.5239.  It’s about 1,500′ long on an active line.
Inside the tunnel, the ties are concrete:


The ballast is covering the center of the ties.  I’ve seen flat (and cracked) concrete ties at the Indian Ridge tunnel in Johnson City, but none like these. Interesting.

Levisa Branch Trestle

You can read about this sturdy, 1894 Pencoyd Bridge & Construction Co. (PA) trestle over the Levisa Branch in Kentucky right here.  It once carried two tracks, maybe when it was over the Ohio River.  The website I noted above says that this bridge is closed to all traffic, but check the rails…they’ve been used recently.  The actual maker plate is on the right support.  It’s been broken, but it’s still readable.


Robinson Creek Tunnel

This tunnel at Robinson Creek KY (37.38180, -82.54229) was in the news in April, 2014, when two arsonists set the thing on fire.  The fire burned for weeks and the ceiling of the tunnel collapsed.  The arsonists were discovered and now face federal charges.
The tunnel is 700′ long and dates back 100 years.  It’s on an active CSX line that serves two coal mines.
Here’s what it looks like inside:

I’m told it took major work to get the tunnel back in operation.

Shelbiana KY

My buddy, the Navigator, had spotted on Google Earth what he thought was an extant turntable at Shelby Yard in Shelbiana KY.  So, we went up there and crossed over into the yard, metaphorically whistling innocently and stepping quietly, and, there it was:

It’s not operational; however, the current setup would have allowed it to rotate a locomotive (or four or five large African elephants, for that matter) or move the locomotive platform to connect to three different tracks, probably to repair facilities and so forth.
This yard was set up in 1917 by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad.  It’s now maintained by CSX.


Lonesome Valley Road Trestle

Looking up at the northwest end of the trestle, which is about 708′ long and around 100′ high, over Lonesome Valley Road in Claiborne County TN.   Here’s the southeast end:


This is on the same Norfolk Southern line I discussed in the Oakman tunnels posting.  This trestle, old as it appears, was most certainly a replacement or reinforcement of an existing trestle.  The original concrete footers are still there.

Bear Pen Gap tunnel


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.

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


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


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.


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


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


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


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:

Look at how rusty the tracks are:

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  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

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.

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


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).



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):







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:







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









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








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:






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:






But one thing had me puzzled.  Just a short way down the river from the main trestle, I saw these:






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






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


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








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:








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.









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.