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W&H MAIN YARDS: Guide to Appalachian Coal Hauling Railroads


This is my first installment of a railfans guide to the Appalachian railroads. I have been exploring this area since my youth and have been just about everywhere there is to go. Several people have requested directions or information on various regions so I have decided to write about all of them as time allows. The railroads covered will be CSX, NS and to some extent Conrail. The focus will be Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, all of West Virginia and West Pa. A lot of my information comes from talking with people I meet on my excursions into the coalfields. If I can not confirm information, I will state so. If you know differently or have anything to add, please, please let me know. Roads in this region have been getting better over the years, even so, many are still not paved or are one lane and pothole filled at best. You may want to think twice about bringing the family car to some areas. My personal vehicle of choice is a full sized Chevy Blazer. Also be warned, coal companies are very serious when they say No Trespassing and will frown on you entering even their driveways. Always stop and ask permission at the guard shacks before taking photographs, or they may come chase you down to see why you are intent at pointing a camera at them. During the past ten years, only the Mingo- Logan Coal Co in WVA has denied me access, claiming insurance liabilities. So to get started, let's call this Volume #1, The Coal Run Subdivision of CSX (ex Chessie, ex C&O).

The Coal Run Subdivision (CR Sub) is a 30.4 mile long branch that leaves the Big Sandy Subdivision at milepost CMG100.0 near the town of Coal Run, Ky. in Pike County. The CR Sub is the newest in Eastern Kentucky having been completed in July, 1979 with the opening of the new Miller Creek tunnel. This line ties into an older C&O branchline close to Meta, Ky which connected with the Big Sandy Sub further south at Levisa Junction, milepost CMG116.1. This old C&O branch had been placed in service around 1966 and reached into the coal rich John's Creek area. I think this is what happened. The line from Levisa Junction to Meta was abandoned and track from Raccoon, Ky to Levisa Jct. removed with the opening of Fishtrap Lake. The line had featured a tight horse-shoe curve about a mile or so from Levisa that would have been an operational nightmare for today's 90 car unit trains. The lake however, did not cover the roadbed and the curve would have been cheap to straighten out so I'm not sure why the Chessie System decided to tunnel into John's Creek from the North?? The track from Meta to Raccoon is now referred to as the Winns Industrial track and departs the CR Sub at milepost CMP15.0. There is also a short, 0.5 mile, stub track left at Levisa Jct. that includes a bridge over the Levisa Fork of the Big Sandy River. This track runs east to the Clark Elkhorn Coal Co. at Slones Branch Station and remains in service. More on that later in my Big Sandy report. Just for the record, here are the stations and milepost for the CR Sub only.

CMP31.1    Simers                  ------- End of Track
CMP27.0    Gabriel                    |
CMP24.5    Kilowatt                   |
CMP21.0    Sawmill                    |
CMP18.0    C&R                        |
CMP15.0    Winns Industrial Track     |>---------
CMP11.6    Coal Run Siding  6,900 ft  |>
CMP9.5     Scotts Branch              |
CMP8.5     Omni                       |
CMP5.0     Ramsey                     |
CMP2.0     MP2.0                      |
CMP0.5     Coal Run                   |
CMP0.0     Coal Run Junction       ------- Big Sandy Sub
The distance between MP CMP11.6 and CMP15.0 is really 2.7 mi.


Topographical maps for this area are Broadbottom, Meta, Belfry, Lick Creek, and Millard. These are available from the U.S. Geological Survey in Reston, Va and are highly recommended.

To get there, take US23 north from Pikeville, Ky (from here on all towns are in Pike County, Ky) to Coal Run. Turn right on KY 3227 just before the rail bridge over the highway. There is a small public road to the right just North of the bridge which will take you up by the yard and yard office for pictures. The tracks will follow Stonecoal Creek for several miles. Traveling down 3227 you will see two medium size coal loaders within sight of US23.

The first is the former Prater Creek Processing Co. tipple now owned by Costain Coal Co. which loads on two tracks with an 86 car capacity. CSX calls this Prater Creek #1, Costain now refers to it as the Stonecoal Tipple. The second almost identical loader is the Coal Mac Inc, Coal Tipple #2 which also loads on two tracks with a combined 72 car capacity. CSX calls this Coal Mac #2. Both of these active loaders receive coal by truck and have crushers and screens, however, the Costain plant also has a large stacking tube for ground storage.

Just around the corner from here is another medium size active loader operated by Black Diamond Coal Processing, Inc. Coal is also trucked into this operation to be crushed and loaded into railcars on a single 20 car capacity siding called Stonecoal. Continuing on 3227 you will see on your left a Costain mine located up a short hollar, no road names here. This mine trucks it's coal to one of the rail loaders and is very active. About 2 miles on 3227, the tracks curve left on a high bridge over Clevingers Branch, turn off 3227 and pass under the bridge on Miller Creek Road, no signs. This road will take you over the hill that the CR Sub tunnels through. Be warned, this road is one lane and paved only to the crest of the hill. At the crest, the road is a combination of dirt and gravel which drops back down to track level again through several hairpin curves. The road then splits, take either one, they both parallel the tracks down to the now closed Costain Miller Creek Mine No. 1 and rejoin again. There is a small yard here that has been taken out of service. Two years ago, there was a conveyor coming up from the mine to a large stacking tube. The coal was then loaded into trucks by a front-end loader. Today, there is only a large air blower, covered sloping mine entrance and electrical gear. This mine may link to the previously mentioned one back on KY3227. There obviously used to be some type of rail loader here. If anyone knows or has a picture please let me know. The area directly behind this old facility is now being strip mined by Red Cedar Mining Co., if you have never witnessed the scale of a mountain top removal project, take a look.

Following the gravel road about 1 mile you will pass onto broken pavement and then pass the Ratliff Coal Sales Inc. mines and prep plant on the left. The road is much lower than the tracks here and passes over conveyors from the mines such that you can look back into the entrances on your right. Very low seam coal here as indicated by the two foot high openings. This is a larger operation than the three previous loaders, stretching about a 1/8 mile and loading on a single, 72 car capacity siding high up on the hill. This siding is referred to as Miller Creek.

The road gets much better now and winds down to a junction with KY194. Turn right on KY194 to parallel both the tracks and John's Creek and keep going. Stay on this road but..... at the junction with KY3227, you can turn right, go across the bridge and tracks then turn left to parallel the tracks on a dirt road about a 1/2 mile to the old abandoned Omni Tipple that was once owned by The Alma Land Co, and more recently by the Eclipse Coal Co. The 25 car capacity, Omni siding here has been removed but the area is open for photographs. This can also be seen and photographed from KY194, albeit at a distance.

Back on KY194, almost within sight of this loader is the Scotts Branch mines and a very large prep plant complete with a raw coal silo. The clean coal is conveyored across KY194 to a flood loader. CSX calls this 120 car capacity siding Scotts Branch. There is a blue company switch engine with Scotts Branch painted on it, parked under the flood loader. The entire complex is idle and has been for at least two years. It was owned and operated by MC Mining as Mine #1, however there is now a Pentagram Mining, Mine #2 sign up. I talked with the guard two years ago and he said that they were only keeping the mine up (ventilation) and not doing any actual mining. This could change at any time with the upswing in the coal industry.

Once again, following KY194 for about 3/4 of a mile, there will be a Nu-Kitt Coal Co. sign on your right. Looking through the trees, one could see the Nu-Kitt Tipple over the 30 car capacity Jewell siding, however, this loader and siding have been removed during the past year as I photographed it only last April. It had been similar to the Black Diamond Plant back at Coal Run Junction.

Stay on KY194 until it merges with US119, turn right on US119 and go about 2 1/2 miles to the intersection with KY1441 at Zebulon. On the way, there is an old deep mine entrance up on the side of the hill, a rusty coal chute runs all the way down to track level. This has been out of service for many years and no one I've talk to can remember who operated it. Turn left on KY1441 and follow this road to view two prep plants. This is the old C&O branch now known as Winns Industrial Track.

About a mile down KY1441 you will see the Coal Preparation Inc. prep plant. This plant can load hoppers through two different loaders at either end of the facility and has two large non-concrete storage silos. Situated on the side of a hill, I believe the coal comes from a deep mine on the property as well as being truck delivered. This plant has been shipping in VAPX hoppers (Virginia Power) on the 86 car capacity Coon siding.

About 3/4 of a mile on down KY1441 is a smaller operation, the Primary Energies Corporation's P.E. Tipple at Raccoon. The loader for this plant looks as if it is inside a garage or what a rotary car dumper would look like. Only one like it that I have ever seen. The Primary #1 siding, really the end of the tracks, will accommodate 25 cars.

If you stay on this road you will wind up at Levisa Jct. but instead.... turn around and get back on US119, right from KY1441. Follow it past the intersection where you first got on it from KY194, 119 and 194 are the same road for about 1 mile. There is an old loader that is now mostly gone except for the truck dump minus it's roof off to the right. Look carefully or you will miss it. This was the Quadrangle Tipple which belonged to Quadrangle Resources and more recently to Bluegrass Elkhorn Coal Co. The 26 car capacity Deskins siding has also been removed. KY194 will split from US119 off to the right and crosses over Bent Branch.

Turn right and follow KY194. The first operation you come upon will be the McCoy Elkhorn Coal Corp.'s Bevins Branch prep plant. This plant has seen some recent additions following it's takeover from Ingram Coal Co. such as an expanded prep plant and a new coat of dark brown paint. There is a company switch engine with it's own storage house that's also new. A long string of CSX bathtub hoppers were being loaded on a Sunday at the 86 car capacity Ingram siding.

About a 1/2 mile from here, off in the distance to the right, is a McCoy Elkhorn deep mine. The entrances to the Williams Branch Mines #1 and #2 are visible (through a zoom lens) along with the surface machinery. This mine ships by truck even-though it sits next to the tracks.

Next you will pass the now huge New Ridge Mining Co. prep plant. This plant stretches around a large curve in the road. The first part, painted dark brown, is the original Ridgeway Coals' Goff Plant. Follow the conveyor around the curve and over the hill and you will see last years' yellow painted addition. A very large cleaning plant, rotary crusher and four stacking tubes, two of which are about 80 feet high. These make it look like an entire mountain of coal rising up next to the road. The refuse conveyor crosses the road and ends up on the hill directly in front of you, where the slate or "gob" can be seen filling the valley, forming yet another mountain. This facility utilizes a flood loader to fill unit trains on the Goff siding.

On down KY194 about a mile, the tracks will cross to the left hand side of the road just before you get to the Utility Coal Co. prep plant. This is a full size prep plant with enclosed hardware, truck dumps, stacking tube, and a flood loader painted in a bright blue color. Good photo location due to lack of trees. Although not loading on Sunday, there was a large stockpile of coal and an idling dark blue switch engine. The engine looks like an old SW1000 and is clearly visible parked at the end of the 87 car capacity Kilowatt siding. The tracks pass back to the right side of 194 here.

Continue on KY194 until you come to Kimper, KY194 cuts off to the right and KY632 proceeds straight ahead. There will be a gas station on the right and the old Mullins & Sons Coal Co, Margotta Tipple on the left. This loader is coming down so you better hurry if you want a picture. It was just a truck dump, short conveyor and a loading chute filling hoppers on the 10 car Margotta siding.

Stay straight and follow the tracks now to the left on KY632, just before the tracks pass back over the road to the right is the site of the now removed Canada Coal Co. Rowe Tipple. This had been a smaller operation loading hoppers on the 20 car capacity Canada #2 siding.

On down KY632, but within sight of this crossing is the Jesse Branch Coal Co. prep plant on your right. This is also a larger facility with a truck dump wide enough for 4 semi's at a time. Coal is stored on the ground and then conveyored over to a dual track, unit train capacity loader. In another post, this is where I saw the new CSX paint scheme on bathtub hoppers. Grey with yellow stripes on top and bottom and yellow outlined lettering numbered in the 89xxxx series. An employee at the plant said that they loaded 12, 80 car unit trains during March for shipment up to a barge transloader at Ashland. This facility used to also be operated by the Canada Coal Co. and the siding is aptly named Canada #1. Mr. Canada was a legend in Pike Co., treating his employees with respect and paying higher than normal wages. He was also known to throw his coal money around on life's luxuries and didn't give a second thought to driving the family Cadillac right up to the mines. The Canada Coal Co went out of business for good after Mrs. Canada became fed up with her husband's wild lifestyle and allegedly pumped a few slugs into him. Just a shot of Pike Co. history, now back to the railroad. :-)

Keep going on KY632, the large fenced field on the right is the site of the now (within the last year) removed Ridgeway Coals', John's Creek Elkhorn Tipple. This facility loaded on twin tracks with a capacity of 45 cars. CSX called this siding "Gabriel".

Within sight of this area is the original, yet still active, Jesse Branch Coal Co loader. This is a smaller facility with piles of coal making photography difficult at best. The coal is conveyored across John's Creek to a single track loader spanning the unit train capacity Lakin #1 siding. Current ownership is hard to determine due to signs from Jesse Branch, McCoy Elkhorn, Big Lump Coal, and Sunny Ridge Mining all being posted at the entrance.

Continue on KY632 until you come to an intersection with KY1758 and a McCoy Elkhorn Coal Co. sign. This is a public road so turn right and travel about a mile to the end of the line. On the way, there is a mostly removed loadout on your right. Not much to see. I don't know who owned this and have been meaning to stop and ask at a nearby store. If anyone knows, please fill me in.

The Coal Run Sub definitely saves the best for last. At the end of the line is the massive McCoy Elkhorn Francis M. Burke Prep Plant and mines at Simers. This facility is easily 3/4 of a mile long from the mines, past the huge cleaning plant and quadruple concrete storage silos to the truck dumps and ground storage piles down finally to the flood loader. This is all in plain view from the public road. Morning puts this plant in the best light so get there early. I also find Sunday the best day due to much reduced coal truck traffic. This siding can accommodate unit trains, of course, and is named Burke by CSX.

Going back down to KY632 and turning right will take you by another McCoy deep mine at Pritchett Fork, shipping by truck back to the prep plant. Mine entrances can be clearly seen but they have been planting evergreen trees to hide behind and enhance the community image.

Well that's it for CSX's Coal Run Subdivision. As you can see, this sub is a big money maker for CSX and is well worth a trip. Sorry that this post is so long, but I would not want anyone getting lost in the wilds of Pike Co. The information contained here is all as accurate as possible, however companies change names overnight and the smaller loaders are being removed at an alarming rate. If you find this helpful, interesting or know of any history behind this line and it's coal companies let me know and I'll continue with other CSX and NS guides.

On to Part 2a
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