Skaggs Hole tunnel, reboot

When I first posted Skaggs Hole tunnel, I didn’t know how much I wasn’t seeing.  We had to be up in the Bartlick area anyway (my buddy had spotted some old mines on the topo and wanted to check them out…luckily, they were mostly intact and he got his pictures), so I took the chance to walk down and redo the tunnel.  First, some maps show it as “Skegg’s Hole” and some “Skaggs Hole”.  Let’s let the highway department decide the issue:









There now.  On to the tunnel.  This is the south face looking toward the bridge over the Russell Fork. The tunnel, 519′ long, centers at 37.256522, -82.327300.











Note the date on the lintel is 1931.  This is when the railroad made some significant improvements to this tunnel.  A culvert just behind where I’m standing has a set-in-concrete (seriously) date of 1913 and the bridge beyond also has a date set in the abutment concrete of 1913.  This is when the tunnel was cut out and jibes with Goforth’s date range for the Elkhorn City extension of the Clinchfield.  This is looking out of the north face of the tunnel to the bridge over the river.








Here’s the north portal, wide view, showing Skagg’s Hole, which I believe is a deep area in the river to the left at this bend. You can just see the river, about 30′ below.

#13 Reinhart tunnel

Here it is, Reinhart tunnel, 617′ long and with a 1924 refacing.  It’s just across a trestle over Hwy 63 from Perkins tunnel. It centers at  37.157979, -82.372536.  When I checked this tunnel out on Google Earth, I noticed that there’s an obvious track of the tunnel in the overburden.  That was the first time I’d noticed that, but it happens with nearly all tunnels, unless the overburden is quite thick.

#15 Squirrel Camp tunnel

Since I mentioned Squirrel Camp tunnel (668′), I’m posting it.  It’s close to Sykes Mill tunnel, anyway…near Clinchco on the McClure River.  1929 is the refurb date.  When we got to this tunnel, we realized that we didn’t know when the next train could be due…they were running at about a half hour apart, we thought.  We didn’t want to be inside the tunnel when a train came through, so my hiking buddy, ever the optimist, suggested we just circumvent the tunnel by going around it on the river side.  He even thought he saw a trail down there.  About a hundred feet in, we realized there wasn’t even a trail down there, but we decided to push ahead.  It was probably a little under a mile around to the other side, through dense undergrowth, bushes, small trees, large trees, damp glop and other lovely stuff.  I managed to crack the view screen on my camera ($100 to repair, fyi). But we made it and stood on the other side huffing and puffing and then it dawned on us that we hadn’t heard a train go through.  And didn’t see another the rest of our time there.

#10 Red Ridge Tunnel

16 miles south of Elkhorn City, 1,359′ from portal to portal.  The refurb date has eroded away on both sides.  We’re just south of Goff Tunnel, very near what turned out to be the now-lost town of Steinman.  We had accessed the tunnel down a semi-private one-lane road, which went past a couple of houses.  We pulled up to the railroad (CSX has access rights to the property, as we found out), got out and took some pix.  On our way out, we saw a stern looking man watching us from the side of the road, near one of the houses.  Judging this to be the property owner, we slowly stopped and Lee jumped out of the car with the topo map and began to explain what we were doing and pointing to the tunnel on the map.  The man, surprisingly, looked relieved.  “I thought y’all were hunting ginseng!”, he said.  After that, things went swimmingly, with the man telling Lee that his mom (the man’s, not Lee’s), who lived right next door, was a amateur historian of the area.  They proceeded on to the other house (I stayed in the car…this was Lee’s show and I wasn’t hearing any tunnel chatter) and had a ten-minute or so talk with the woman.  That’s how we came to know about Steinman and the cable car system that brought coal from across the valley to be dumped into a tipple there at the town and later dumped into coal trains heading south to feed the mighty industries of the blah blah blah. On to Sykes Mill Tunnel.

Up in Kentucky

This tunnel, on a CSX line from a large strip mine in Myra KY, is in Virgie KY.  I backed off to show the chimney above the tunnel.  The tunnel itself has been sprayed with quick-setting concrete and has rock bolt reinforcements all along its length.  The line goes from here to the big rail yard at Shelbiana.  Once, the line went south of Myra, but it’s just empty railbed now.  There were plenty of short trestles on this line…every blessed one of them made by American Bridge Company in 1911.  The company is still in business…and so are the trestles on the active line.  The trestles on the dead line that don’t go over the 2-lane highway have been removed, but the locals say that, even though the railroad has to carry insurance on the extant trestles, they’re just too expensive to move, since they’d have to somehow reroute the traffic when the crane comes in to haul out these hunks of tonnage.

#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.

#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.