Cumberland Gap tunnel (the old one)

This is the last tunnel on the line coming out of Knoxville.  As I’ve mentioned before, the Knoxville Cumberland Gap Louisville railroad company blasted out this tunnel in 1888-1889, with a grade going up to the more or less center of the tunnel on both sides, so the cross-section of the mountain would reveal a tunnel that looks like an inverted “V”.  Smoke had a tendency to collect at the top and make breathing difficult for crews and passengers. Then, to add to the woes, the tunnel collapsed on July 4, 1894, and again in 1896.  Engineers didn’t like to go into the tunnel, so they’d push a string into the tunnel and have another locomotive pull it out from the other portal.  Passengers had to take a wagon ride through the gap.  This wasn’t a good situation.  When L&N gained control of the tunnel (KCGL had gone bust in 1892), they did a complete refurb ending in 1897, which is the date on this portal (this is mostly from “History of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad” by Maury Klein). It’s also the date that “Dracula” by Bram Stoker, was published.  When the tunnel was begun, the Buffalo Soldiers were active in the West, just 7 years after the gunfight at OK Corral.

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(I’m proud of this blog.  Someone came in and lifted a lot of the text above the picture.  The text ended up, with no credit, scrolled in purple (!) on another website.)
If you’d like to see a great video taken from a locomotive of a trip through this tunnel:
long and narrow

 

Here’s a closer look at the date on the lintel:

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The Oakman tunnels

In the late 1800s, the Powell’s Valley Railroad made ambitious plans to run a line from Knoxville to Cumberland Gap.  This was in the waning heyday of Middlesboro KY, just on the other side of the Gap (Middlesboro sits in a meteor crater, btw).  The L&N was already in Middlesboro and was looking to get through the Gap to extend their line southward.  When the Powell’s Valley Railroad became the Knoxville-Cumberland Gap-Louisville railroad, the L&N talked them into blasting a tunnel through the Gap.  On the way from Knoxville, though, the line had to cross the Clinch River at this location.  A tunnel was dug through the ridge and a bridge was built and all was well…until TVA began to construct Norris Dam, which was completed in 1936.  The Southern Railroad, which now owned the line,  realized that their trackage here was too close to the water line, so a new tunnel and a new bridge had to be constructed.  These two portals are at 36.363018, -83.550292. The new tunnel is about 330′ long.  There was an historic community called “Oakman” about a mile to the southwest of this tunnel.  It’s gone, but the tunnel isn’t.  That’s how it goes sometimes. We’ll take a look at the other side next.
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