We started in Cedar Bluff VA, working our way up the N&S line toward Rift WV. There are five tunnels along the way. It was a hot day. I ended up taking a belly slide down the shaley embankment off a rail line (I was nearly to the top of the 35′ embankment when the loose dirt crumbled away from my foot and down I went, clutching a small tree that I had grabbed, hoping for a little braking, but I got breaking) and getting a fair amount of scratches (two on the lens of my Nikon, prompting my buddy to remind me about, you know, a skylight filter to protect the lens…). Then, to top if off, a few tunnels on, I absent mindedly left my Olympus voice recorder and my eTrex on the trunk of my car and then drove away. God knows where they are. But, I’ve got replacements ordered. Paraphrasing a saying by my boss, “If you’re going to be stupid, you’ll have to pay.”
This is Dry Fork tunnel #5, centered at 37.109438, -81.723611. This is looking more or less south. By the Google Earth ruler, it appears to be about 790′ long. 1912 date, as you can see. This line could be far older than this date, since N&W could have done a full refurb of the line in 1911-1912 (there are these dates firmly on trestles and tunnels on this line), facing the tunnels and replacing old timber trestles. If further research shows this is true, I’ll update this.
I’m thoroughly enjoying your tunnel exploration exploits and am contemplating a trip to the area next fall to do some of my own snooping around. But I’m wondering if you had an encounters with the NS police, or train crews reporting you for trespassing….or any other problems. I’ve read from time to time on the blog where you asked permission to be on private property….but have seen no mention of the RRcops. Or do you intentionally avoid being seen by anyone? I pose a similar question about being down on any CSX lines in KY or Tenn..
I ask because I did encounter difficulties from time to time shooting coaling towers over the past 5 years and was just wondering what your experiences have been.
We were always careful. I didn’t like trespassing on RR property, but I also was on a mission to take pictures of the tunnel portals. I was always a little nervous, though, and didn’t want to push the envelope any more than necessary. We tried to obtain permission to cross private property and, when we couldn’t find anyone to ask, we made every effort to look totally unsuspicious. Waved the camera around some so it could be clearly seen. Personally, I wouldn’t go it alone. Someone to hold the strands of barbed wire apart so you can get through. Someone to back you up.
We rarely got hassled. Most locals were happy to answer questions when they found out what we were doing (my buddy’s into finding old coal mines).
CSX is pretty much the same, but around Eastman, we were in and out pretty quickly.
Where we nearly always got attitude was with the private guards on the sites of coal operations that are still in use or those that might contain stuff that scavengers are after (we actually saw a couple of guys on a mountain near Lynch KY calmly cutting up a rusty old tram car for scrap). We just walked away.
Hey Bob: Thanks for the reply..and I see you’re a jazz fan…well shit if you tell me you’re nuts for T. Monk or Sun Ra….call us soul brothers! So, if you’d be so kind…maybe a little further elaboration on your part if you don’t mind. So…as you were walking along ROWS …you occasionally saw a freight train that would pass and you’d wave? OR what?….and did you have a scanner to alert you to any train activity in the areas you were in…and acted accordingly? I assume also that maybe you guys had detailed in-hand topo maps to help you find pathways / county roads into trackside or tunnel portals? Or does the Garmon Etrek kind of do it all?
When I was shooting the coaling towers I got off to a bad start in 2013. I was between the NS mains at Capels, W VA shooting that tower there…….this after the head-end went by…and thinking I was in the clear…came out of hiding as the helper went by..someone must have phoned it in…..cause 5 minutes later a NS cop rolled up. He was friendly but I got a citation and a warning…”that next time…..” So for the next 4 years, shooting 110 CTs around the East most in moribund freight yards…I was quick to get in and out (as you say)…..and luckily didn’t encounter any other railroad dicks.
Last time I was around Iaeger and Welch last fall….the NS seemed pretty damn quiet.
But it does look to me that you did some extended walks along active mainlines.
Monk I can go for, but I’m older and more into Bill Evans and Miles – before modal.
Back in the aughts, I learned to use a Garmin when I was trying to locate the sites of the old houses and the school house up on Bays Mountain. My buddy has an affinity (as do I, to a lesser extent) for USGS 7.5 minute topo maps. Once I got a copy of Goforth’s book on the Clinchfield, I could correlate all the information and then find the tunnels. If a train came by, we’d just wave and walk on…just two guys walking along the railroad. We also listened very carefully for train horns, knowing that engineers must issue a standard horn sequence before any junction and usually just hit the horn a couple of times before they come close to a tunnel. You don’t want to be halfway inside a tunnel and hear a train coming.
Railroad personnel get jumpy if they see someone taking pictures around places of interest. And some bulls like to throw their weight around. We were never hassled, but I finished the tunnels project five years ago. Worked on truss bridges for a while, but Calvin Sneed’s got them covered in fine style. Things on the RR have changed. They’re quieter now.
We looked at West Virginia, but kind of backed away.
And, yes, we walked along a ton of railways…I really hate creosote. The scenery is often breathtaking, though.
Thank you so much for being so generous with information. Very much appreciated.
I’ll keep alert, eyes and ears open, and wear some good hiking boots!
Again: your site is very inspirational.