We were faced with a dilemma. We knew we didn’t want to cross the trestle coming out of Oakman tunnel over Norris Lake because it is a bare-bones trestle, with no provision for any foot traffic. Although the line is, for all intents and purposes, dead, we were still leery of being on a rather exposed stretch of tracks. So, we walked back to our vehicle and drove around to Lone Mountain marina and hiked in to Sycamore tunnel from there. This north portal is at 36.378498, -83.562599. The tunnel, which has a bend, is around 740′ long. The south portal looks much like this one and, after 260′ or so, heads out over another narrow trestle.
These are the trestles coming out of both Oakman tunnels at the northwestern portals. On the left are the remnants of the original trestle over the Clinch River. It was abandoned and later disassembled and hauled away by elves or something. The sturdy bridge to the right, probably circa 1936 or so, carries the line from the newer tunnel. We’ll hit Sycamore tunnel next, then the soggy Greer tunnel, near New Tazewell.
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.