This is the last tunnel in Tennessee as the CSX heads east to North Carolina. This is Indian Ridge tunnel, in Johnson City. It’s 1.023′ long and centers at 36.345467, -82.424185. This is looking westerly.
It was a sunny day, so the ballast and the ties (or “sleepers”, as they call them in the UK) overexposed a bit. Notice that the ties are concrete. And a fair number of them were badly cracked.
It was hard to get to this tunnel. We had to park about a half-mile away and carefully walk down the side of a fairly busy road that had no generous shoulders. Then we had to scramble (there’s a lot of scrambling when it comes to getting to tunnels and bridges) down to the cut. The date is 1912 on the facing. Squint hard, you can see it.
We’re just north of the intersection of Highway 36 and Moreland Drive, near Colonial Heights (centers at 36.491976, -82.504663). The railroad goes under Ft. Henry
Drive (Highway 36) and into this 502′ tunnel, completed in 1912. Walking up to the tunnel, you can easily see how the highway overpass was added to when Ft. Henry Drive was taken to four lanes. Interestingly (to me), the railroad concrete bridge over Reedy Creek in Kingsport is dated 1907, and it’s on this line. North first, south later, I guess. Gray tunnel, also known as Free Hill tunnel, is next, close to the now long gone Gray Station. See you there.
If you’d been hanging out around this area in, say, 1777, you would have seen a fort down near the river, at a location that’s probably been obliterated by Tennessee Eastman or the plant that preceded it. That would have been Fort Patrick Henry (nowhere near the dam that carries the name). However, the tunnel wouldn’t have been here, since it was completed in 1927 1913 or so. There are just three more tunnels in Tennessee before the rail line heads into the Appalachian Mountains (and that’s ap-UH-latch-ian, not ap-UH-lace-ian) (’round here). This tunnel is 154′ long. First is the western portal, then a look back at the eastern portal. A bridge here (which can be clearly seen on Google Earth) overlooks the old Kingsport waterworks and the never-completed 3-C railbed. Over the river and on to Colonial Heights.
Early in the process of laying out the route of the railroad, engineers had to determine where to build trestles and where to fill in to keep the track on a steady grade. When they came to the valley carved between Click Ridge and Sensabaugh Ridge, they opted to fill. They built a concrete tunnel over Sensabaugh Hollow Road and Sensabaugh Branch (it runs through the tunnel). Then, using the rock hewn out of the ridges for Click and Sensabaugh tunnels, they fashioned a 30′ or so high fill to keep the trackage at roughly 1300′ above sea level. The fill spans the distance from Click tunnel and Sensabaugh tunnel (coming up next). Coming out of Virginia into Hawkins County, you hit Click tunnel at 88.2 miles from Elkhorn City at 36.584876, -82.630481. The tunnel is 608′ long and apparently has the original facing set in 1913. There are stories about the road tunnel below the track being haunted, but, from what I hear, the locals think that’s hooey. This picture was taken looking northward, with Sensabaugh tunnel to my back.
Clinch Mountain tunnel, in Scott County VA, at 36.637520, -82.735412 (center top of tunnel), is 4,135′ long. The date on the lintel is 1909. If you have hawk-keen eyes, you might just be able to see the tiny speck of white near the bottom of the tunnel opening…that’s the other end. It’s unfaced and just across Highway 23 from the Vulcan quarry in Speers Ferry, over a girder plate trestle. The next picture is back on the Kermit side of the tunnel, just off to the right. These are the ruins of a factory that was extant here in the early years of the last century. It mined sand from up on the Clinch Mountain, processed it, and shipped it Pittsburgh Glass. Odd to find that here…maybe it was super duper sand, or something. Remnants of the rail siding are still visible (not in the picture)(sidings aren’t particularly interesting).
As of October, 2013, the ruins of the factory are still much the same, but heavily overgrown. And, just as the last time, as I was taking this picture series (I’m just posting one), a CSX mixed-unit train came rolling through, generating enough wind in the cut to nearly take my cap off.
Here’s the north portal of Clinch Mountain tunnel:
This tunnel is just west of Gate City VA at 36,647391, -82.744457. It’s 1,116′ feet long and has an odd-looking south portal, kind of skewed. Just back toward the highway from the tunnel is a quarry that you shouldn’t mess with, but is really an interesting place. I’d tell you we walked all through the quarry, which is quite large and rather moonscapey (if you had a moonscape complete with a deep blue lake off to one side) and got some interesting pictures (which I’ll be posting on my other blog unclebobstravels at some time), but I can’t, since that would have been trespassing and such. With this tunnel, we’re nearing the Tennessee line. Up next, the 4,135′ Clinch Mountain tunnel, with an associated surprise.
We’re a little more than 77.5 miles south of Elkhorn City at Clinchport tunnel, actually near Boulder VA. The railroad here crosses SR 644 on a 1929 overpass (shown). Tunnel is at 36.671713, -82.745216 and is 637′ long. The first picture is looking south and the second picture is looking north with the lintel of the tunnel clearly showing the 1913 date. This was two years before the Clinchfield Railroad was officially completed.
Located in Scott County VA, where the Clinch River makes a wide bend, these two tunnels bypass it by cutting through two close ridges. The North Twin (308′) is 71.26 miles south of Elkhorn City (quickly vanishing in the distance, well over the horizon, lost in Kentucky). The South Twin is just a few feet beyond the North. If you were standing between them, you’d be at 36.709679, -82.646909 and an elevation of 1343′. South Twin is just 236′, a mere slip of a tunnel. The first picture is the south portal of South Twin, looking north to the North Twin. The second picture is the north portal of North Twin, looking south to the north portal of South Twin. They’re both dated 1912.
Here we are a little over 70 miles south of Elkhorn City at Starnes tunnel, 517′ portal to portal. This is the south portal, 1911 date, looking north. Again, it’s a horseshoe cross section. The next picture is from inside the tunnel looking north to what is known as the 3rd Clinch River bridge, a 372′ through rivet truss (according to James Goforth). Calvin Sneed tells that the community near here, Starnes Slant, got the name when the crews were laying the railbed around a curve and kept fighting landslides, so the “slanted” the hillside to provide stability. Hence, Starnes Slant. Hold your breath, the Twins are coming up next, then it’s on to Clinchport tunnel.
Heading south, we’ve gone from Shannon tunnel in Russell County past the Guest River Gorge, past the old Miller Yard (it was quite a place in its day), to Townes tunnel in Scott County. It’s 1,098′ long. It’s at 36.851101, -82.436563. This view looks northerly, toward Miller Yard. This is an unusual horseshoe shaped tunnel, but the shape is related to the stress lines along the line of the tunnel. There was a train collision in this tunnel back in the day. It’s said you can still see the scars of the wreck inside the tunnel. I didn’t check, sorry. Starnes is next, then The Twins.
We’re now 47.6 miles from Elkhorn City, between St. Paul and Carfax VA in Russell County at 36.890949, -82.354993. The first picture is the horseshoe-shaped EC side portal of Shannon tunnel, 820′ in length, cutting through a ridge in an oxbow of the Clinch River. The horseshoe cross-section is deliberate, required, research tells me, by ground conditions in the area. This tunnel is not dated, but there is an impolite reference to CSX spraypainted on the lintel. The next picture is of the south (actually west) portal of the tunnel taken from the 300′ or so trestle that takes the CSX over the Clinch River on to Townes tunnel.
This is the Elkhorn City portal of the Martin tunnel on the CSX…29.87 miles from Elkhorn City. The tunnel, at 37.041013, -82.308243, is 387′ long and, as you can see takes a turn to the right before opening out very near a community called Wakenva. The story is that this town was established by a coal company that had interests in West Virginia, Kentucky and Virginia. I don’t know how you get “West Virginia” from “Wa”, but that’s just me. The date over the portal is 1920.
This is the Hagan tunnel southern portal about 10 miles west of Pennington Gap at 36.706559, -83.288597 in Lee County VA. The tunnel, over 6,000′ long, runs from Hagan through Cumberland Mountain to Chevrolet KY, originally as part of L&N’s Cumberland Division. The tunnel was constructed in the late 1920s. There is also a single reference to another tunnel here at Hagan breaching the mountain higher up in a private or community effort back around the turn of the 20th century. It was used by wagons for commerce between the states (we couldn’t find it).
This place is also interesting in that there are the two wyes (I was corrected on this…it’s a switchback) near this portal. The CSX train comes over the top of the tunnel entrance going in a westerly direction, moves off to the first switchback, then backs down to the other one, which allows it to head into the tunnel going more or less northward. All very complicated and a headache, I’ve read, for CSX, but since this is a lightly used, low speed line, they feel the cost of clearing all this up would not be profitable. It takes about an hour for the train we observed to make the complete transition. This was (I’m guessing) a 90-car unit. At that length, it was completely in the tunnel before it came out the other side (math – coal car: about 50′ or so and the two engines about 75′ each…making the train about .8 mile in length).
Well, here we are at Buffalo tunnel, 26 miles south of Elkhorn City. The tunnel bores 352′ through a ridge where the railroad, which has been heading in generally easterly direction for a few miles, kinks sharply (for a railroad) to the south. We’re by the McClure river, a bit north of Nora, in Dickenson County. Decimal coordinates: 37.080040, -82.351309.
Finished up in 1916, this is Caney Fork tunnel, right at McClure VA, in Dickenson County. It’s 412′ long, with a curve. Coordinates are 37.102793, -82.377871. Clean little tunnel..some exterior erosion, though. Figures, after nearly 100 years.
This is Pettit tunnel, just south of Clinchco and Squirrel Camp tunnel (so named, it’s said, because squirrel was about all the tunneling crew had to eat while they worked there). It sports a 1928 dating. Nice, sensible tunnel, 379′ long at 37.133940, -82.369548, just off Highway 63 (revisited). This was one of those “Well, here it is. Take a picture. Okay, what’s next?”. Next is Caney Fork tunnel, that’s what. Squirrel’s actually pretty good, btw. Mom used to make a killer fried squirrel with gravy.
This is Short Branch tunnel, just south of Reinhart. It’s located by the McClure River (I think that Short Branch is a creek somewhere in the area) and is 913′ long at 37.152285, -82.372719. The reface date on the portal is 1930. This is looking toward Elkhorn City and that’s me heading up to take a look into the tunnel. On the way across the creek by an old, low concrete bridge, we saw an amazing group of butterflies on the shore. The picture is titled “Butterfly Airport”. Butterflies, I found out later, have an affinity for dung heaps. I feel differently now about butterflies.
Here we are near Clinchport in Dickenson County, looking toward Elkhorn City (we’re about 11 miles now from that storied site). This is Sykes Mill tunnel, 752′ long, through a rock spur that runs down to the Clinch McClure River. This is convenient tunnel to photograph, since it’s practically sitting in your lap when you pull off 63 onto a side road that crossed the tracks. Not like Squirrel Camp, and I’ll tell you why later (it’s #15).
And thank you to Rodney Adkins, who corrected the error on the name of the river. He also added that this tunnel is near Clinchco.
This is the longest tunnel on the old CC&O. That little white dot in the lower middle of the tunnel is 7,854′ away. The other portal is actually refurbished, but I like this portal. It resembles the original facing that the Southern used on some of its tunnels…they’re usually dated about 1908 or so. Since this is another line, it may be more recent. This tunnel is just south of Trammel in Dickenson County, approximately 33 miles south of Elkhorn City. There is another Sandy Ridge tunnel, on the N&S, just 6+ miles to the northeast of this one. It also goes from Dickenson into Russell County.