Lines and lines of empty hoppers parked in Southwest Virginia. This is looking more or less southward into Dante Yard. We were moving from Scott County into Dickenson County and back and saw a lot of these idle units. Anecdotal reports indicate that they’ve been there for a considerable time (several weeks or so). We were seeing both CSX and N&S (and some old Southern and Norfolk & Western units, too).
We were coming down Lone Mountain Road in Claiborne County TN when this caught my eye. The lower track is an active N&S line, the upper track is very old steel and long disused. As I was taking this picture, a man approached and wanted to know what I was doing. I told him I was interested in this old jib crane (called a derrick by the railroad) and asked him if he knew anything about it. He tended to be a bit confrontational until I explained that I was from Kingsport and that I had an interest in old railroad equipment and trackage. He loosened up a bit and told me he owned the land here, but the jib crane still belonged to the railroad. He said, “this old track was put down in 1878 to load granite and marble from a quarry up the tracks.” We chatted for a bit more and I moved off, since it turned out that his wife and daughter were a little further down the track (for some reason) and he had gotten suspicious when he saw me exit my car and come in that direction with something in my hand (my camera). Did I mention he was carrying?
I was rather amazed at the date, so I made an audio note of it and we moved on, looking for Lone Mountain elementary school, which was right in this neighborhood. However, we encountered Dan Beeler, who told us the school had burned down eight years before. He did confirm the dating of the railroad, though, and said the foundation of the old depot was still there, behind the still existing old store that had been a post office for Lone Mountain. He also informed us that Lone Mountain was quite a hub of activity in the day, with trains stopping to load pulpwood, minerals, livestock and the like. Here’s what the foundation of the old station looks like today:
This is looking west. The track here ends just a little bit beyond the end of the foundation…there’s a cross-rail block there. The steel in this track varies from a 1901 Scranton to a 1903 Carnegie.
So, I had a puzzle. Dan Beeler told us the granite and marble (Tennessee marble, not “real” marble) came from a quarry in Springdale, about 4 miles to the east. I carefully checked Google Earth to find any remnants of a railbed in that direction and couldn’t find any…then, it suddenly all clicked. I’d been in the area before documenting the three tunnels on the old Knoxville, Cumberland Gap and Louisville Railroad. The old stories handed down to the gentlemen we talked to were giving a date a decade or so too early. This was the old K, CG & L line and probably came through here about 1888. This was the company that managed to totally screw up the first digging of the tunnel at Cumberland Gap. They also managed to off a number of important Knoxville personages on their very first run when the locomotive went off a trestle at Flat Gap. This railroad company was as short on luck as it was on money.
My feeling is that the railroad came through and built the spur to the jib crane and down to the station. The quarrymen (not the Beatles) and others would haul the product by wagon down to the railroad where it would be loaded onto freight cars for a trip to Morristown, Knoxville, or, eventually, to Middlesboro. Everyone was hot for Middlesboro in that time, since quality iron had been discovered in the area. Flash in the pan, as it turned out.
If anyone has more information on this or wants to tell me I’m all mouth and no trousers, please make a comment.
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.
I thought I’d posted pix from this wye up in Rift WVA at 37.281159, -81.665041. There are three trestles here: a through truss, a pony truss and a pony plate. All take the line over the Clinch River. The first picture is the through truss and the second shows the humor of the rail guys. It’s hard to read the far junction sign, but it reads “‘Omega”.
Kent Junction is centered at 36.921466, -82.728876, northeast of Appalachia. I don’t know why I like it so much…it’s just sort of a tidy triangle of trackage (heh, alliteration) out in the country. It was originally laid down by the Interstate Railroad as part of its trackage to Cane Patch and to Dorchester. You can get a good look at it on Google Earth. That N&S loco isn’t going anywhere. It was just sitting there, hissing occasionally. This was in February, 2012.