#6 Russell Tunnel

This is Russell Tunnel, seen from the south side, with the impressive bluff above it.  It’s 11.52 miles (at the other portal) from Elkhorn City.  The tunnel is 448′ long and was refaced in 1921.  We met an older man who was parked there on the road on the right.  He said he just came up there to watch the trains go by.  He’d worked on the railroad when he was younger.  We wished him well and good train spotting.  We’re still in Dickenson County, a little away now from Haysi. Next up: McClure Tunnel on the McClure River.

A Short Interruption

I want to make a few comments:

1) My hiking buddy and I are pretty practiced at slogging along railroad lines chasing down tunnels (well, finding them….after all, tunnels aren’t in the habit of moving around a lot).  We’re skirting legality, too.  Railroad companies are nervous lately, for good reason, I suppose, since they’re a critical infrastructure and there are pockets of really crazy people lurking out there.  Anyway, all CSX property is posted.  We’re careful, we never touch or move anything, and we get the hell out of the way of trains.

2) Speaking of which (trains, in case you lost track…lost track, get it…), trains are crazy heavy, run pretty darn fast most of the time, and on either side can extend around 12″ from the end of the ties, or sleepers.  Give them plenty of room.  The wheels squeal and a wheel with a flat place is noisy.  The ground moves when the locomotives come by. They also include engineers, who know that if they see something ahead on the tracks, there isn’t even a teeny chance they’ll be able to stop that train quickly.  Don’t let a train surprise you. They blow their horns often, though, and you can hear a train coming a quarter of a mile away, unless you’re on the opposite side of a bend (nervous, nervous).

There are plenty of rails-to-trails you can hike or bike…The Creeper in Abingdon or Damascus, the stretch of old L&N line that goes from Appalachia to Big Stone Gap (rails still there), Guest River Gorge Trail (fun going down…a beast coming back up), and various remnants of the old ET& WNC line from Johnson City to Cranberry NC, where the iron mines are that furnished the metal that was forged into the big guns of the Confederacy, way back when.  The ore is magnetic, too.  Wonder if you stood near one of those cannon with a compass, it would point gun?

I would never suggest that you go running the tracks taking pix.  Anyway, in this area, we’re just about finished doing just that.  Get your own project <grin>.

Next tunnel coming up: Russell.

#5 Hills Mills Tunnel

Built into the remnants of an ancient sea floor, this is Hills Mills Tunnel in Dickenson County.  It’s 448′ long and was faced up in 1920.  However, as you can see, the years haven’t been kind to the right side of the facing.  Note the old power line draped over the portal.  Most all these tunnels once had working lights in them, probably for work crews.  We’re now 9.05 miles from Elkhorn City, moving south.  Next up, Russell Tunnel.

Tunnel #4 Skaggs Hole tunnel

Here we are at Skaggs Hole (or just Skaggs or Skeggs) Tunnel, all 519′ of it.  This one’s near Bartlick in Dickenson County. It was faced up in 1931. It’s centered at 37.256862, -82.327199.   A trestle comes into the tunnel over the Russell Fork River…we’re about 7 miles, trackwise, from Elkhorn City. It was a long side road drive to get access to this one.  We’d parked our car and were standing at the track kind of looking down the line when a motorcycle came up.  Lee flagged the guy down and asked him about the tunnel.  The guy knew where the tunnel was and gave us great directions.  He worked in Kingsport, it turned out, but he lived in Bartlick, with his new bride.  Nice guy.

The other portal of Skaggs Tunnel.  Stand here, turn around, and you’ll be looking down the track as the old Clinchfield rolled south.  We’ll be rolling south, also, as we head on down to Hills Mills and Russell Tunnels.  Did I mention how cool, temperature-wise, these tunnels are on a hot day?  And they’re bloody freezing in winter…literally freezing.  And Skaggs Hole, by the way, is a feature in the river near the tunnel’s Elkhorn City portal.

Stateline and Towers tunnels

This is the Elkhorn City portal of the Stateline Tunnel, which crosses under the Kentucky-Virginia State Line at The Breaks Interstate Park.  It’s 1,523 feet long and that’s a locomotive light there in the tunnel.  It was a pusher locomotive for a train that had just passed by.
State Line Tunnel

Here’s the surprise.  A little over halfway through the tunnel, we found this: a side portal opening out into The Breaks.  The picture doesn’t show it, but it has a definite cut shape.  Whether it was opened on purpose or was the result of a rock fault or maybe a little too enthusiastic blasting, I’ll never know. (later: anecdotal evidence indicates this was partially the result of an instability in the rock at this point)
State Line Tunnel Side Portal
Here’s the exit portal of State Line Tunnel.  We’re actually in The Breaks now.

State Line Tunnel exit

And this is Towers Tunnel, Elkhorn City portal.  The date on the facing is 1926, but that only notes when the tunnel was reinforced and faced with concrete.  The actual tunnel is older than that by maybe 10 years or so.  This tunnel is 921 feet in length and cuts through a ridge between two geological features in the park “The Chimney” and  “The Towers”.  You can’t see the end because it curves to the right.  Next up: Skaggs Tunnel.

Towers Tunnel

Pool Point Tunnel in and out

This is the first tunnel from Elkhorn City.  It’s near the entrance to The Breaks Interstate Park.  This is Pool Point Tunnel, 642′ long. It’s just a short hike down from State Route 80 out of Elkhorn City.







And here is the trestle over the Russell Fork River at the other end of the Pool Point Tunnel.  The river forms a pool just about 50′ (or so) below this trestle.  It’s really pretty here.  Going across this trestle and on down the track for about a mile we’ll hit State Line Tunnel… and find a surprise.