Harlan KY

This is a 1910 Louisville Bridge and Iron Company pony girder just off 421 going into Harlan from the south.  CSX now owns this former Louisville & Nashville bridge over Martin’s Fork River.  Beyond the bridge you can see the huge door that closes off this area in the event of flooding (which Harlan was very susceptible to)…it’s part of a 5,000′ long wall that protects the city from rising water.  The flooding used to be worse, before they cut the three large tunnels to divert the Clover Fork River to near Baxter (see the tunnels here).

Bridge over Martins Fork (KY)

This is one of three deck girder bridges over Martins Fork in Harlan County KY between Chevrolet and Cawood.  They were constructed in 1928 by the   Bethlehem Steel Company in Bethlehem PA.  This line is active CSX, but I suspect the line was put in by the L&N.  There’s a spur line, now dead, just north of here at Lenarue that parallels (sort of) Hwy 990 up to the Mary Helen mines.
This particular bridge is just off Hwy 3001 over Martins Fork.  It’s about 280′ long.

#53 Honeycutt tunnel

This eastern portal of Honeycutt tunnel is at 35.86638030, -81.969960.  The tunnel is 1,688′ long and about a half mile or so west of the Ashford Cut.  The reface date on the lintel is 1923. This, of course, is the penultimate tunnel on the line from Elkhorn City KY and Marion NC.  I stood and looked at this tunnel for quite a few minutes, knowing this was the end of an over two-year project to document these tunnels.  This was the last tunnel to be photographed, since we had gone into Marion two weeks earlier and had recorded the tunnel there.  My buddy walked over to an outcropping over to the right of  the line, back about 50′ or so, to investigate what appeared to be a cave.  It wasn’t, but he found two stone cairns there.  Since this tunnel is relatively isolated, I wonder if they were piled up by the workers here in 1907 – 1908.  Could have been grave markers, too, since many men, often foreign labor, died blasting out these tunnels and doing the hard labor of laying a railroad.


The Loops: 4th Rocky

Imentioned in an earlier posting that 3rd Rocky tunnel (centered at 35.85881, -81.99896), was opened up, according to Goforth, in 1977.  It was originally about 420′ long.  As Butch Adkins commented, this was to widen the area to extend a siding track, not due to any instability of the ridge.
This, however, is the very sturdy 4th Rocky tunnel, just 179′ long.  This southwest portal is at 35.863089, -81.990881.  No visible date on the lintel.  We were rather tired by the time we got to this tunnel, having walked from 2nd Rocky down past the remnants of 3rd Rocky.  It was only about 2 miles, but, then it was 2 miles back.


The Loops: 2nd Rocky

Just about 770′ to the south of 1st Rocky is 2nd Rocky.  It’s 757′ long. This south portal is at 35.865584, -82.004314.  The date on the refurb portal is 1918. You have to get permission to cross private land to get to both 1st Rocky and 2nd Rocky and there are two ways to get to them after that.  Fairly easy.  4th Rocky is a long trek away.  Believe me.









This is the northern portal of 2nd Rocky.  The date is partly eroded. I can see 192, but the fourth numeral is gone.



The Loops: Upper Bridal tunnel

About a mile or so southwest of  Upper Pine Ridge tunnel, lies Upper Bridal tunnel.  It’s a curved tunnel, which mimics the curve of the Blue Ridge Parkway to the northwest of it.  The tunnel is fairly easy to get to, if you know what you’re doing.  This weathered southwest portal is at 35.855180, -82.035674.  The tunnel is 927′ long.  Around 1905 or so, nine workers were killed here when someone accidentally ignited 15 cases (100 pounds each) of dynamite (according to Ashton Chapman in the Charlotte Observer 8/23/53).  Seven workers were killed on the same day, in another area, when a cut they were working on collapsed.


2nd Cawood tunnel

This tunnel, fairly short, is south of the Cawood KY tunnel on Bob’s Creek at 36.766159, -83.242214 (this is the north portal. The south portal is unfinished).  A man who lives near this tunnel, after checking our religious credentials (we lied)(sorry), confirmed that the 1929 date on the tunnel is consistent with the building of this line.  He also regaled us with stories of at least four people who died on the railroad for various reasons (drunk, stupid).  That stuff rolls off our backs like duck water.

Vance tunnel

Here’s the requisite picture of Vance tunnel (35.895091, -82.024390, 2721′ elevation, 527′ long), just across a ditch and a fill from Altepass Baptist Church (can’t miss it, there’s a big red caboose sitting across from the church).  These tandem engines are heading back toward Tennessee.

Here, however, is a shot of the above portal, showing the 1907 date.  Once I’d scrambled up the fill to the track and trotted down to get this pix, I turned around and saw that I could have just as easily walked in from a crossing just up the way.  But, then, there’s some romance somewhere in carefully stepping across a green, slightly greasy, little stream and then, crab-like, making my way up a fill.  Most of the time it works fine…

#34 Free Hill tunnel

Gray, TN, used to be called “Gray Station”.  There was a train station right about where the big telemarketing building is now.  Just to the east of that location is the 41′ or so narrow ridge that the railroad had to tunnel through to maintain grade.  Thus: what is known now as Free Hill tunnel.  It’s a 472′ jobbie that quite a few people who work and live around the area don’t even know is there (and they probably don’t care, either).  There are also two single-lane  concrete railroad overpasses in the area, indicating that there were extant roads in the early 1920s (they also carry 1927 dates).  But they didn’t carry a lot of traffic, or cars were a heck of a lot narrower then.  Anyway, here’s the tunnel’s EC (west) portal.

A Sidebar on rails

Non-continuous steel rails were often dated when forged or extruded or whatever the hell they were.  The date isn’t stamped into the rail, but is a bas relief, like this one on a siding rail between the old Holston Glass and Holston Distributing buildings in Kingsport.  The date is 1920.  Trust me.

In Dante yard, in the old area around the turntable, the track was more recent. 1927, t’be exact.

This is near to the earliest we’ve seen.  The Kingsport track, assuming it was laid down within a year or so after it was forged/extruded/whatever, dates to near the time that the city was re-chartered in 1917.  I stand there and wonder what the area looked like then.  Pretty thin on the ground, I’ll bet.

Wrecked locomotives

We were up in Dickenson County on Sunday tracking down two tunnels I’d missed in our last sweep and we happened to turn onto Stratton Creek Road and found these two locomotives, CSX 105 and 439, unlocked and unguarded.  Both were heavily damaged. I clambered up into 105 (all the usual steps were stripped away) and carefully walked to the engineer’s control room and took a couple of pictures (and nothing else).  The second seat’s windshield was blown inward, but that could have been done by vandals.  I did a little research later and found that 105 had been the lead engine in a derailment, but where I don’t know.  I couldn’t find anything about 439.This is the front of 439.This is the engineer’s control area…not badly damaged at all.

But whatever happened to these two engines must have been scary to be in.

Dante Yard

Just for fun, we stopped at the old Dante Yard to check out the locomotive turntable that used to operate there.

This is it.  It’s a large circle and the interior part turns on a track.  The track in the area (which is no longer used) is dated 1927.  This whole complex must have been a happening place back in the day.  We’re going to do some investigating of other rail operations in this area, including numerous narrow-gauge lines that serviced both the coal mines and the timber industry.  Sounds like fun to me.

#8 Hewitt tunnel

This is Hewitt Tunnel, about 13.6 miles from Elkhorn City.  This was the most difficult tunnel for us to reach, since we opted not to wade the McClure River (it would have been easier to do that…the river’s not really deep in that area), but to drive in on a road I’d spotted on Google Earth.   The gravel road was about a mile downhill with drainage berms cut across the road a regular intervals.  I got my Honda Civic over them with minimal scraping going down, but coming back was a white knuckler as the car spun in the gravel and failed to gain traction.  With my buddy’s pushing and the little car’s gutsy (!) front wheel drive, we managed to get the job done, but my hands were shaking from adrenaline when we got back to the main road. I also found out later that all that spinning and stuff had basically destroyed my tires.  It was time for new rubber, anyway.