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


This is my second installment of a guide to Appalachian Coal Hauling railroads. Volume 2 will cover CSX's Cumberland Valley Subdivision from Corbin, Ky to the various branches around Harlan, Ky. This area is the very heart of what had been the L&N's coal empire, so, due to the shear number of branches and tipples this will be a multi-part report.


The history behind the CV Sub begins in April of 1886 when the Louisville and Nashville RR began surveying a route for a connection with the N&W in the modern day area of Norton, Va. The selected route took this new line Southeast from Corbin through Middlesboro, Ky and tunneled under Cumberland Gap to reach Virginia's Poor Valley at which point the line turned due East toward Prince's Flats. The new rail line reached the town of Middlesboro in 1889, continued to a small village called Intermont, Va. in 1890 where a hookup with the Atlantic and Ohio (Southern) was completed and then moved on toward Prince's Flats in April of 1891. L&N track crews renamed the junction at Intermont, Appalachia, and renamed Prince's Flats, Norton after ex L&N president Eckstein Norton. During the construction into Intermont, a tunnel was bored through a large rock fault on the North side of Stone Mountain. Bee Rock tunnel is a short 47' 7" long and still exist today. It's located just West of the NS's large Westmoreland Coal Co transloader yards at Appalachia.

Although this line did become a coal and iron ore hauler serving mines near Middlesboro and St. Charles, Va., the true mother lode lie on the North side of Pine and Cumberland Mts. The L&N began the trek into the Harlan County coalfields by taking control of the still under construction, Wasioto & Black Mountain RR, reaching Harlan in 1911. A large classification yard was built at Loyall in 1921, just a few miles north of Harlan to serve as a staging point for mine runs. Loyall consisted of a 17 track yard, 9 stall roundhouse with a 100' turntable that survived into the 1990's, and a large multi-track coaling tower. It was here that my Grandfather began his L&N career as a CV Engineer, moving from his position with the C&M RR (Cumberland & Manchester) at Manchester, Ky after the L&N acquired this line. Although I never had the pleasure to know him, I have a wonderful picture of him standing in front of a J class steam engine by the turntable at Loyall.

A back door shortcut for all this Harlan County coal was established in 1930 with the completion of the Martin's Fork Branch and a 6,244 foot tunnel through Cumberland Mountain. The plans were for this line to connect with L&N corporate partner CC&O, (Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio) however, the great depression evaporated financing for the line into Virginia. A unique connection was made with the "old CV main" through use of a switchback to reach the 109 foot higher mainline. This was originally intended to be a temporary arrangement until money became available to complete the line, but this enigma is still in use. Just imagine: 90 car loaded unit coal trains exit Hagans tunnel, are split into two parts through the use of three helper units on the rear, powered up the 1.25% grade to the CV mainline, reassembled, and then headend power and helpers pull and push 9000+ tons on up the Poor Valley. In the 1990's world of CSX, this event occurs many times a day in both directions, and I highly recommend railfanning this site if for no other reason than to hear the music of all that horsepower echoing off the mountains.

L&N trains used this arrangement to move coal to the Clinchfield, first through an Interstate RR interchange at Dorchester Junction, Va down their Guest River line, to Miller Yard. After poor service, rate disputes and law suits, trackage rights were obtained in 1973 with the N&W over it's Clinch Valley line to St. Paul, Va. This line features magnificent trestles and tunnels and is still in service for NS, unlike the Guest River line, which has been completely removed along with Miller Yard. As I describe below, CSX trains now move over the NS's Bull's Gap line to Frisco, Tn.

Later day expansions on the CV included double tracking the 68 mile mainline from Loyall to Corbin in 1926, the Clover Fork Branch to Glenbrook, Ky in 1947, the Scotia Branch to Oven Fork, Ky in 1960 and the Straight Creek Extension in Bell Co near Pineville in 1974.

To give some scope to the volume of coal transported out of this region, I'll quote 1990 data published by the Kentucky Coal Association. All of the coal mined in Harlan and Knox counties is moved by CSX, while the Bell county tonnage is shared with NS through the Cumberland Gap tunnel gateway.

HARLAN CO. 131 underground mines produced 13,224,107 tons
                            39 surface mines produced 1,114,809 tons
BELL CO.           28 underground mines produced 2,756,152 tons
                            38 surface mines produced 1,727,478 tons
KNOX CO.        68 underground mines produced 582,242 tons
                            30 surface mines produced 564,886 tons
For a grand total of 19,969,674 tons or 199,696 loaded 100 ton hoppers. This does not include tonnage from the mine at Scotia, which is located just into Leslie County. In 1990 this large mine was in full production and most likely added 1-2 million+ tons to this total. This all represents at least 2,218 ninety car unit coal trains rolling out of these counties per year. Well worth a visit! With the upswing in demand for this very low sulfur coal, 1995 is set to break all old production records.

The "old CV" from the South portal of the Cumberland Gap tunnel to Smiley, Va (just West of the southern portal of Hagans Tunnel) was abandoned in 1987 and has now been completely removed, making the line down from Pineville, Ky a branchline. Norfork Southern has a line from West Knoxville, Tn up to the South portal of the Cumberland Gap tunnel with trackage rights through to Middlesboro and services most of the mines here. The rails in Kentucky are still owned by CSX and CSX hoppers are frequently spotted on sidings so we'll cover this area as part of the CV, which it is. CSX has also abandoned the line from Big Stone Gap, Va to Norton. A new bridge was built at BSG to link up with the NS Bull's Gap line. CSX trains now use trackage rights to reach the ex Clinchfield at Frisco, Tn. The line from BSG to Norton, including Bee Rock tunnel, has been sold to a group of coal operators from the area. Nothing has been done with this line to date and it lies dormant and rusting.


In the milepost list below, the lines around M'boro can be confusing. Todays CV turns east at Pineville with a change in milepost prefixes from CV to WM. The Harbell branch is really whats left of the old CV main down to Cumberland Gap and thus has milepost prefixes of CV also. At the yard in M'boro, the old M'boro Railroad branches off to the West with milepost prefixes of MR. At MR219.1, the branch splits into two spurs, Gravity and Stoney Fork which then run up the valleys.

Also below in the milepost list are the Straight Creek Branches. The main branch, Straight Creek, with a prefix of SC, departs the CV main at CV202.9 and runs East for 1.7 miles. The Right Fork of Straight Creek Branch continues East from SC204.6 to the end of the line in Harlan County retaining the SC prefix all the way. The Left Fork of Straight Creek Branch, prefix SF, departs the main branch also at SC204.6 and runs Northeast for several miles.

The Poor Fork Branch is the third branch with branches. The PF Branch departs the CV mainline at Baxter (site of a must see old interlocking tower) and continues East while the CV main curves Southeast for several miles before plunging through Hagans tunnel into Virginia. Milepost prefixes for the Poor Fork Branch are WC. This line ended at the huge US Steel complex in Lynch, Ky until 1960 when the line was extended on Eastward to Scotia in Letcher County.

After the mines at Lynch closed, a new complex was constructed at Cumberland, just a mile or so West of Lynch. The Clover Lick Spur runs due South for about 1.5 miles and services this newer deep mine.

I'm not sure of the current ownership status of the branch around St. Charles, which left the CV mainline at milepost CV259.9. Originally built and serviced by L&N, Pennington Branch ran up through a divide (called Pennington Gap) in Stone Mountain to a connection with the Southern RR at Pocket Va. This Southern line followed the North Fork of the Powell River down to the Interstate RR lines. I'll cover the mines and trackage here in a report on the Interstate RR later.

All of this historical data is available from your public library in books on railroadings' early years. I can't recall the book name, (I'll print it in the future) but one goes into detail on cost, land purchasing agreements and court proceedings. I will mention Ron Flanary's excellent book "The Louisville and Nashville in the Appalachians" as a source for more detailed history of these lines. The Pentrex video tape "Eastern Kentucky Coal" also has a very good segment on the Hagan's switchback as they follow a coal train through this obstacle.

Here are the stations and milepost for the Cumberland Valley Subdivision. Branches, spurs and milepost prefixes are in capital letters.

CV172.0   Corbin Terminal
CV175.0   Siler
CV179.9   Arkle
CV185.1   Baileys
CV186.8   Heidrick ------ C&M BRANCH CQ208.0-EOL
CV189.9   Barbourville
CV198.7   --------------- PINE MT. EAST SPUR *
CV202.9   Pineville ----- STRAIGHT CREEK BRANCH SC203.1-204.6
                                         LEFT FORK OF S.C. SF204.6-EOL
                                        RIGHT FORK OF S.C. SC204.6-EOL
CV205.7   Harbell ------- HARBELL BRANCH CV205.7-219.5
                                         CV216.9 MIDDLESBORO RAILROAD BRANCH
                                         MR219.1 GRAVITY SPUR
                                        MS219.1 STONEY FORK SPUR

WB???.?   --------------- YELLOW CREEK SPUR WE213.6-EOL
WB211.8   Varilla
WB221.8   Felder
WB222.9   --------------- PUCKETT CREEK SPUR
WB224.5   Blackmont
WB236.0   Wilhoit
WB240.0   Loyall
WB240.2   Baxter -------- POOR FORK BRANCH WC246.7-EOL
                                          WC262.3 SCOTIA BRANCH
                                          WC269.9 CLOVER LICK SPUR
WM242.1   Harlan Jct. --- CLOVER FORK BRANCH WH242.1-EOL
WM243.0   Dressen  ------ CATON CREEK SPUR
WM248.5   --------------- MERNA SPUR
WM248.6   Glidden
WM249.7   --------------- LICK-CRUMMIES CREEK SPUR
WM250.5   Popeville
WM253.8   Flagler
WM258.4   Smiley
WM243.6   Hagans (Switchback)
CV248.5   Hubbard Springs
CV259.9   --------------- PENNINGTON BRANCH
CV260.1   Pennington
CV276.2   Big Stone Gap
CV277.3   End of Mainline
*The Pine Mountain East Spur was removed in 1994.

Confused yet??


Topographical maps to cover the entire CV Sub are as follows: Corbin, Rockholds, Barbourville, Heidrick, Fount, Hima, Ogle, Manchester, Barcreek, Artemus, Kayjay, Fork Ridge, Middlesboro South, Middlesboro North, Pineville, Beverly, Balkan, Varilla, Helton, Wallens Creek, Ewing (VA), Bledsoe, Harlan, Rose Hill (VA), Nolansburg, Evarts, Hubbard Springs (VA), Louellen, Pennington Gap (VA), Benhur (VA), Roxana, Benham, Keokee (VA), Whitesburg, Applachia (VA), Big Stone Gap (VA), Norton (VA). I know this is a lot of maps but it is a large subdivision. Follow my directions to the letter and you can do with out them, but I do recommend them. With that said, lets go exploring!


Any good outing to CV territory should start with a trip to the Corbin yards. This is a very busy terminal located at the intersection of three CSX subdivisions, the CV, CC, and KD. If you read my post usually titled CSX@CORBIN, you will see the volume of traffic these lines get and the large number of engines present. The terminal consist of three 17- 18 track? yards, the East, West and The Steel Yard for Arch Mineral's prep plant, a covered two track fueling/sanding facility long enough for at least 4 engines, a heavy repair shop, a two track running inspection house, yard tower, yard offices, and storage space for many engines.

Corbin is also home to the huge Arch of Kentucky (ex US STEEL) coal prep plant located parallel to the East yard and visible from almost anywhere in town. This plant was constructed in 1954 to wash coal mined at Lynch on the Poor Fork Branch, 90 miles away. As built, the raw coal was dumped, washed and reloaded with very little stockpiling capability. Sometime in the seventies, three raw coal concrete silos, two clean coal concrete silos and two flood loaders were added. I can remember looking out our kitchen window and seeing them work on the silos in the morning while I ate breakfast. As a bit of history, this setup was the first recorded use of the unit train concept. Prior to this, all coal was billed as single car shipments. L&N bought several sets of bright orange 100 ton hoppers and placed them in dedicated service between Lynch, Corbin and the US Steel complexes in Gary, IN. True unit train shipments from mine to customers also began on the CV in the 1960's with dedicated 84 car service from mines at Merna and Amru to Georgia Power's JacMac Generating Station. After being bought by Arch Mineral and the formation of CSX, bitter rate disputes over charges for hauling the slate to Corbin prompted Arch to begin construction of a prep plant at the mine site in Cumberland. This was officially to "better serve the coal spot market" through the Hagans tunnel connection to Carolina utility plants. The Corbin plant was idled during the summer of 1994 rounding out 40 years of service.

To get to Corbin, take I-75 to about the Kentucky 26 mile marker. Corbin has two exits and both will get you to the yards. From the Southern exit, (this ways' the easiest) turn East toward town and don't turn again until you hit railroad, it will be several miles. The large fueling facility will be directly in front of you. Turning left at this light will take you into town, follow the main flow of traffic thru all the downtown red lights, then make a 90 degree right turn to pass under the CC Subdivision tracks. Turning right just before the underpass will take you down by the old depot and great photos from public land. Turning right at the top of the hill after the underpass will take you back into the yards. Follow the Corbin Terminal signs, about 3000 feet. Now, when you get to the tracks, (yes, this is the CV) turn right and pass under the Highline to gain access to the offices where you need to ask permission before continuing. This Highline allows trains access to the East yard without blocking the CV main. To get to Arch's prep plant, turn left and cross the tracks, about a mile back is a gate which may or may not be locked. If it's locked, take your pictures here. If it's open, there is an office just ahead where you can stop. This plant really is huge, rivaled in physical size only by Consol prep plants in Northern West Virgina or anthracite breakers in PA.


The best place to start your adventure is at the intersection where you turned into the Corbin yards. You should have turned right at this light before, either go straight through the light if you are exiting the yard or turn left if you are coming up from the underpass. At the next light turn right onto Masters Street (KY312) and cross the bridge over Lynn Camp Creek. By the way, when the L&N first reached this area back in the 1800's, this town was known as Lynn Camp and was renamed Corbin by RR crews. Continue on Masters Street for several miles, this is a very straight road, turning right onto KY1232 just as the road is curving up the hill to the left. If you go straight, there is a shopping center, fast food restraunts and an intersection with the 4 lane US25 which will quickly take you to Pineville and Middlesboro if you chose to bypass the first few railroad sites. Continue on KY1232 for several miles out of sight of the tracks. The tracks will meet back with the road just as you pass under a new highway bridge. (FYI: This bridge is a new bypass around Corbin that is under construction. When completed, it will cross the South end of the yards and tie into the road that you first came into Corbin on, the Cumberland Falls Highway.) You will pass the Corbin Country Club and golf course on you left and enter the community of Siler. Now this is hard to find! The third road to your right past the golf course, it's located between two concrete auto shops with a lot of junk cars and parts sitting about, will take you back across the CV main. It's just a few hundred feet and to your left is a small, active coal loader. This is Vivco Resources Co's Siler Tipple which loads on the 21 car capacity Siler siding. They don't do much, but there are always hoppers waiting to be loaded.

Go back out to KY1232, turn right and continue on to Grays and an intersection with KY233. Grays is the sight of the weigh in motion scales on the No. 1 main which contributed to the downfall of the Corbin prep plant. Right on KY223 will take you past a small concrete plant that's closed. This was also the site of the 10 car Steff siding which serviced the now gone Hinkle Contracting Tipple.

Continue on KY233 for about a mile and you will pass the Cobra Coal Co. tipple. Until recently, this loader had been owned by Cumberland Processing Co. and is now an on-again-off -again operation. When loading, they use the 41 car capacity Cobra siding. You can turn right just before passing the tipple on Bertha Hollow Road and look down the tracks at the crossing for a better view. This road is wedged between the buildings of a large sawmill, but don't worry, it's a public road. The road is marked by a sign with a coiled snake.

KY233 will cross the tracks just past the Cobra tipple, after about a 1/4 mile, take the first left, go up and cross the tracks again, then parallel the tracks for several miles, crossing back to the right side of the tracks after about a mile, and again back to the left side at Emanuel, the road is rough but paved. After about 4 1/2 miles from the Cobra tipple, you will intersect the 4 lane US25. We'll turn South and head toward Barbourville. (Pronounced Barvul in this area) But first, just before departing the tracks to gain access to US25, there is a gravel road straight ahead. This leads to the E. Smith Fuels Co's Baileys Switch Tipple loading on the 20 car capacity Baileys siding. I've not been by here in quite some time so I don't know if this is still in place or not, but take a look. Another bit of historical information: Baileys Switch is so named from the pusher station that existed here during the steam era. The mostly down grade CV from Loyall yard was interrupted by a 5 mile, 0.65% grade which started at Baileys and ran up to Arkle. This bump was known as Emanuel Hill, named after the town you passed about a mile back. Modern locomotives barely notice this old operational headache.

After getting up on US25 and traveling for a few miles, you will cross over two sets of tracks at Heidrick. These are both legs of the wye that leads to the C&M Branch. The next road to the left, KY11, will follow these tracks up to the Manchester area. There are many loaders in this area, but I'm going to wait until the next installement of the Guides to cover these.

Continue on to Barbourville and look for the Walmart and shopping center on your left, (several lights) just past Walmart, at a red light, KY225 will turn right. Turn and follow this road for about 3/4 mile to an intersection. KY225 turns hard left, almost back on itself. Follow KY225, until you pass over an industrial siding, then look to the right to see the Richland Coal Co's Barbourville Tipple. This is a rather large structure with the 72 car capacity, Mintons siding tracks passing directly under the prep plant. If you ask, the guard will let you drive down to track level since they are not currently processing or loading coal. There is also an older, inactive prep plant beside the main washer that has not been used in years. Lots of wooden structures here if you like searching for relics from the past. I heard that this plant had been purchased from Richland Coal recently but I can't confirm that right now. I'll try to find out for sure and post it in another report.

Continue on KY225 for about 2 miles to the intersection with KY930. 930 will go straight and 225 turns right and crosses the tracks over a high bridge. Cross the bridge, but look to the right while you're over the tracks. There should be the smaller Nally and Hamiliton Enterprises, Loulynn Tipple. This is a small, inactive and rusting structure that sits at the old switch to the now removed branch down to Kayjay, Ky. I don't know exactly when the branch was removed, but it's been gone for at least 20 years. My mother lived in Warren, which is close to Kayjay, until she was 13 and tells me she remembers having to walk across an icy RR bridge to get to school. She can't remember what the tipple looked like, however, her brother can remember walking back into the mine, so it must have been at least a six foot coal seam. Anyway, take the first road to the right after you get off the bridge and you can get down to track level and see the old 40 car capacity Loulynn siding.

Now go back over the bridge and turn right onto KY930. After 1 mile, you will see a conveyor crossing over the road. This marks the ex-Interstate Coal Co's, Bituminous Tipple. This facility has a truck dump located high on the hill, a conveyor to a large stacking tube, and a modern flood loader on the opposite side of the road. Although the Interstate Coal Co is still in business elsewhere in the state, Gatliff Coal Co has taken over this operation and renamed it the Ada Tipple, after the 72 car capacity Ada siding. The dirt road to the right after you pass under the conveyor will give you access to track level and a good view of the flood loader. This is also a good place to catch trains as they round the curve and pass by the loader. There is an old concrete structure just beyond the dirt road that overhangs the embankment slightly and is the remains of the orginal Ada tipple.

Continue on KY930, the road will part company with the tracks at Himyar and meet with US25 about a mile later. Get back on US25 and head South toward Pineville. A mile or so from the intersection, the tracks will pass under the 4 lane. Look to the left for the inactive Nally and Hamiliton Enterprises' Hammer Coal Tipple at Flat Lick, Ky. This operation loaded coal on the 22 car capacity Flat Lick siding. This loader is completely abandoned, so feel free to get out for a closer look, but do be very careful.

To get to our next spot, you need to be back on US25. Look for the second road to the left past the Hammer Tipple and turn on it. This will be no more than 1/2 a mile. If it crosses the tracks within a few hundred feet, you are on the wrong road, go to the next one. The proper road should follow along the right side of the tracks around a large curve for 3/4 of a mile before crossing over them. Turn hard right after crossing the tracks and go several hundred feet to a tee in the road. Turn left to go up Elys Branch. You should see the Ely Fuels Co's Ely Fuels Tipple. This tipple is served by the 25 car capacity Southland siding. This is another tipple that I have not visited for some time so it may not be there. I'll check next time I go through here and let everyone know.

Go back out and get on US25 again. Now we have a small problem. US25 is under construction from here to Pineville, which is very good, since it will make getting around faster. However, we need to be on old US25 where it passes by the Kentucky Utilities power plant at Fourmile, just inside Bell County. Today, you still have to travel this 2 lane stretch of road to get to Pineville. When the new bridges over the Cumberland River are opened, I really don't yet know how the roads will be redirected. I'll have to print a revision when the works complete. Today, turn right on the road just past the power plant. The tracks and RR bridge over the river were removed in 1994, but the tipples are still standing! These tracks left the CV mainline at milepost CV198.7 and were refered to as the Pine Mountain East Spur. If you cross a bridge on US25, you have gone too far. Follow this road a short distance and you can see where it had crossed the tracks. A road branches off to the left (see next paragraph) but stay right until you come to the building with a Delaware Powder Company sign. The old 30 car, Ruby siding tipple is just behind the building. I have no idea who owned this, fill me in if you have any knowledge.

Now, go back and turn right on that previously mentioned road. It will intersect KY92. Turn right on KY92, then right on the very next road. This will put you right beside the Taywood Tipple which loaded coal on twin 12 car capacity tracks collectivly refered to as Dade siding. This is a much larger tipple than Ruby and has had all of it's siding removed giving you a good view of what was inside these old monsters. On your left should be an old 25 ton switch engine rusting away into history. I don't know who owned or operated this one either, sorry. Getting back to KY92 and turning left will return you to soon-to-be-old US25. Today, you can turn right to get to Pineville, in the future, get back on the 4 lane US25 and proceed to Pineville.

Pineville has spent a small fortune on a new flood wall to protect the city from the way-to-often swollen Cumberland River. Pineville has been washed away several times since I can remember and this flood wall is a god send. After you pass through the flood wall gates for the first time, start looking for KY66 signs. It should be the second red light past the hospital which you passed on your right. Turn left onto KY66 and go back through the flood walls and cross the bridge over the river. Turn left on the road just past the bridge but before the RR crossing. This should be KY2015 and will take you down about a mile to the old Wallsend yard. There are usually bad order cars and somtimes an old Chessie or new CSX caboose or two stored here. Often worth a look. The Wallsend yard was used during several periods in the past as a mine run terminal and had been refered to as "Worlds End" by train crews. This was probably due to everything East of Pineville being deep valleys which were uninhabited for the most part except at the numerous coal camps. Getting around this area was accomplished by train or a combination of horses and footpower.

This seems like a good place to take a break. I warned you at the beginning that the CV was a big subdivision and we really haven't gotten up any of the coal branches yet! If you are using the Topo maps to keep up, we have covered the following quadrangles: Corbin, Rockholds, Barbourville, Heidrick, Artemus, and Pineville. The next post will cover the C&M Branch that we passed up back at Barbourville, both Straight Creek Branches, the Harbell Branch down to Middlesboro and several locations on the way to Harlan. Once again, E-Mail me with any comments at RDV2@AOL.COM.

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