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


This is the second part to my coverage of the ex-L&N's Cumberland Valley Subdivision. Part one brought us into the small town of Pineville, however, we passed up the old C&M Branch to Manchester back at Barbourville. Before I start, let me add a few stats that I overlooked in Volume 2a. In the section on coal production, I left out Clay county production that's also shipped over the CV on the C&M Branch. Clay County had 4 deep mines producing 211,473 tons and 24 surface mines producing 1,455,357 tons for a total of 1,666,830 tons. Add another 185 ninety car unit trains to the traffic rich CV main into Corbin. I also promised the name of the book that contains so much good information on the old L&N. It's titled, "The History of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad", written by Maury Klein and published in 1972 by The Macmillan Publishing Company. Also, I need to add a point of clarification to some of my terminology. I refer to coal loading facitilies as tipples, loaders, prep plants, flood loaders, etc. In days of old, tipples were so named because mine cars would exit a mine portal, be pushed or pulled to the top of a large wooden storage bin, and then tipped over, thus dumping their contents into the bin for later sorting, sizing, and loading into rail cars. Today, "tipple" is used to describe any size coal loading structure from small ramps to huge prepration plants. A "flood loader" is a term given to a specific type of loading structure which consist of a large capacity bin spanning the tracks. This bin has a several hundred ton capacity and the idea is to supply coal into the bin from a conveyor faster than it is dumped into rail cars. This allows a 90-120 car string of hoppers to be loaded in less than four hours without ever coming to a complete stop. The conveyor feeds coal from a large stockpile at a variable rate, and may be completely stopped for several minutes during the loading process while a bulldozer rearranges the stored coal. Railroads love this type of loader because crews can usually leave their home terminal, take a train to the mine, load, and return home all within the federal "hours of service" laws. Hope this helps all those who asked.


Today's C&M Branch was absorbed by the L&N back in 1921 from the coal hauling Cumberland and Manchester Railroad Company. In the past, this branch has moved an enormous tonnage of coal, however 1995 sees only 2-3 active loading points. Only one of these is capable of loading unit trains, with the others covered by mine runs out of Corbin. The C&M was also home to the infamous Shamrock Coal Company's, Oneida & Western unit train. Shamrock Coal owned eight, L&N specification SD40-2's, 140 bathtub hoppers and two UP CA-11 type cabooses all painted a light green color and lettered for the O&W. The orginal O&W, a shortline RR interchanging with the Southern RR's Rathole (CNO&TP) Division at Oneida, Tn, was abandoned sometime in the mid 1950's. Remains of the O&W, including several bridges, can still be found by hiking along the many trails of the Big South Fork Recreational Area near the Ky-Tn state line. Shamrock's president had lived in this area, and was a fan of the defunct line. In a 1979 rate dispute with the L&N over hauling his black diamonds to a South Carolina electric utility, he purchased his own trains and utilized L&N crews only to run them. When one has enough money to buy his own trains, one can paint and letter them any way he wants to! Just a few miles to the northeast of Manchester is another town call Oneida, Ky, but I'm sure this was never considered during the naming process. These train sets were loaded on the C&M, then traveled up the CV to Corbin, where they turned South down the KD to Altanta. The SCL then provided the track and crews into the Charleston area. Shamrock contracted with the L&N shops at Corbin for service and thus these green engines were frequently sighted at the fuel racks and enginehouse thru most of the 1980's. With the termination of Shamrock's operations at Manchester in 1987, the engines were sold to the British Columbia Railway and repainted. The hoppers and cabooses, luckily, can still be found in Appalachia. The hoppers, still painted green with big, black O&W lettering, now sport PRAX (Pacific Rail Leasing Corporation) reporting marks and were spotting in CSX's Danville, WVa yard and along the Coal River Subdivision last summer. The two cabooses, OTWX #9990 and #9999, still in full colors, are stored on a CV Subdivision siding. Keep reading my reports and I'll guide you right to these two very rare finds!!

All of the sites of interest on the C&M are located within a few miles of Manchester. Knowing this, you have two choices on how to get there. The first, as described in Volume 2a, requires that you turn left onto KY11 just past the wye tracks at Heidrick. KY11 is a very twisty, 2-lane road for the entire 22 mile trip to Manchester. It does, however, follow almost every inch of the C&M Branch up Collins Fork. I'll describe this route just so you can follow the tracks. A much faster and less sickening route is to get on the Daniel Boone Parkway from the Northern-most London, Ky exit off I75. Manchester is a short, (21 mile, high speed) ride away; but it will cost you about $0.40 in tolls.

Let's start by turning left onto KY11 just after crossing the second wye track over US25. There are several RR crossings on the way to Manchester and finding the first tipple requires that you keep a close count. Initially, the tracks will be on your left as you head up Little Richland Creek, crossing to the right after only 6/10 mile, back to the left within another 8/10 mile, and recrossing to the right after a mile and a half where they stay for a good twelve miles. The tracks will then pass to the left for a mile and a half and then back to the right. You need to pull off the road to your left on the gravel entrance at this last crossing. There will be a Sand Hill Coal Processing Co. sign and a gate blocking a road off to the left. Looking back down the tracks toward the South, you should see a medium size wooden tipple with more modern, steel coal storage bins. This is the old S&E Processing Co's Hardly Able Tipple which loaded on the 30 car capacity Fire King siding. This facility is now in the buisness of selling house coal for home heating, so drive on back to the office if the gate's open. The best view comes from carefully hiking back down the ROW, staying off the tracks. If you are not fond of walking the tracks, there is a gravel road just this side of the bridge that you crossed right before turning in here. This is a driveway to someone's house that sits way out of sight and has a gate that is often open. Pulling in here will provide a treeless view.

Continue North on KY11 just past the Clay county 6 mile marker. The tracks cross over Collins Fork and come within a few feet of the road as it curves uphill to the left. The road will be a good 40 feet above track level with a wide concrete shoulder littered with coal. There is a gravel road to the right as the road drops back down grade. Turning on this road is the site of the now removed Rocket Tipple. This had been owned by the Red Rocket Coal Company, sat at the mouth of Buzzard Creek and loaded on the now removed, 45 car Coaldale siding. Nothing is left now except for the scale house and lots of scrap from the loader.

Just about a 1/4 mile north of here, close to the 7 mile marker and at the very small community of Bluehole, is an abandoned loader that was owned by the Interstate Coal Company. The rusting Kentucky Gem Tipple had rapid loading capibilities and sits over a still in place 72 car capacity Joann siding. Turning right and crossing the small bridge just before passing this site, will take you over the tracks and in behind the tipple for a better view.

Continuing North on KY11 for less than a mile will bring you past the only still active flood-loading processing plant on the C&M Branch. The NER Tipple had been built and operated by Independence Coal Company to rapidly load unit trains on the 90 car capacity "Cargill" siding. This plant is now owned and operated by Irkle-Randies Corporation and is very hard to see except during the winter months due to foilage cover along the creek.

Staying on KY11 will bring you to an intersection. This road is a combination of US421 and KY80 to the right and US421, KY80 and KY11 to the left. I'm going to call it simply KY80 for a few sites to our right. Turn right on KY80 and proceed to the point at which the tracks cross the road at the town of Garrard. There should be a car wash on your right, before the tracks and a large wooden tipple just a few feet past the crossing. It is best to just park at the car wash and walk to the next two sites. The old wooden structure is owned by S&E Processing and is known only as the Garrard Tipple. The 7 car "Garrard" siding has not been used in many years and is now a driveway to someones trailer about a hundred feet past the tipple. The switch is gone but the track is still here, hidden under the dirt fill. This is a classic wooden tipple that may not be in place much longer due to rotting timbers.

Looking down the tracks to the South, past the wooden tipple and the trailer, you will see the steel loader and conveyors of another ex-Independence Coal Company facility. This site is the inactive Independence Tipple which loaded on the multi-track, 72 car capacity "Beth" siding. The best way to view the tipple, now owned by Smith Processing Company, is to walk the few hunded yards down the ROW, past the trailer. Once again, stay off the tracks. There is a large field bordering the ROW to the right that gives plenty of room.

Getting back in your car, cross the tracks on KY80 and take the second left. The first left will be KY1999 and will take you no where. The second left is an old, pothole filled road which will rise up a small hill and curve to the left. Just as you come to the top will be the scale house and office which were abandoned long ago. Hidden from the world about a 1/4 mile back is yet another old wooden tipple that is quickly falling into ruins. Smith Processing Company now has ownership of the land that the Old Liberty Tipple sits on. The tipple loaded cars on the three track Lee siding which claimed a 72 car capacity. These were most likely 50 ton cars from the looks of the available room here.

Go back to KY80 and turn left. Just 1/2 mile down the road past the entrance to the Independence Tipple, is a fairly good size (also inactive) prepration plant now owned and operated by Mountain Clay, Inc. as Plant #59. This is the old Leeco, Inc. "Leeco #59" prep plant. This is a non-rail facility which only washed and sized the coal before trucking it to a nearby rail loader.

Turn around and head back North toward Manchester on KY80. Go back over the tracks, pass the intersection with KY11, pass under the bridge which carries the Daniel Boone Parkway toward Hazard and enter the Manchester city limits. This road is now US421, KY80 and KY11 combined. You are now following Goose Creek which lies hidden to the right. There will be the new Paces Creek School on the right followed by a large empty field that was the site of the removed Derby Tipple. This large wooden tipple was operated by the Derby Coal Company and loaded on two tracks. The also removed yard could handle 72 cars and was called "Derby".

You will now come to yet another RR crossing. These are the tracks which branch off at the colorfully named Horse Creek Junction out of sight to the right. From here to the KY11 intersection has only been a mile. The road up the hill to the right before crossing the tracks will take you up, over and down to a very small coal loading operation run by Hazel Creek Energy and Lesco Processing Company. You can seldom find anyone around and may have to hike back if you want to see anything. Nothing really there but a truck dump, crusher and piles of coal. Front-end loaders are used to fill one or two cars at a time on a short siding that I don't know the name of???? The road to the left just before the crossing is the entrance to the Shamrock Coal Company's old operations which we'll visit in a few minutes. Cross the tracks and continue up a slight hill to an intersection, making note of KY3480 on your right at the bottom of the hill. At the top of the hill, there should be a Wendy's on the right and a Chevron gas station on the left. KY80 turns left here and US421 & KY11 goes off to the right. Turn right and proceed on a new 4-lane section of road until it closes back down to 3-lanes, about a mile. There will be a sign for KY2438 and a good size concrete bridge over Goose Creek which turns to the right. Turn right, cross the bridge and take the very first right on the other side of the creek. This road, KY2432, will follow the tracks back to a wye which leads up to the Interstate Coal Company's large prepration plant. These tracks, which run back under the bridge, go nowhere and are used only as a switching lead for the prep plant. Watch for a small fenced-in area, about 12' x 12', and then a dirt road to the right. This road will be used in a few minutes. You can turn left at the wye and go up the hill to pass by the currently idled prep plant. This looks like private property due to a large gate spanning the road, but it is always half way open and there are homes back up in the valley. Stay in your car while close to the plant and no one will bother you. The road will turn to gravel and pass right beside the large flood loader which sits over the 90 car capacity Levi siding. Go back down to the wye. Back to the left, just out of sight, on the banks of Goose Creek is an active loading site which you can get to by traveling down the dirt "MUD" road that we saw on the way in. This is the Lewis Coal Company's Lewis Tipple which is serviced by the 50 car, Lewisdale siding. Typically, this facility fills CSX company hoppers that are picked up by GP40-2 and slugs twice per week.

Directly across the tracks from the Lewis Tipple and up on the side of the hill is the site of a recently removed wooden tipple. The Claymont Tipple, operated by Co-Clay Inc had loaded on the 37 car "Claymont" siding until just a few years ago. It was always unusual to see modern locomotives pulling hoppers under this old structure, which remained active to the very end. Go back across the bridge to US421/KY11 and turn left, the way you came. Several hundred yards to the left will be a sign for KY3480 and "Old US421". This road comes out by the crossing where I mentioned 3480 before. Turn here and go to the "Smith's Wholesale Auto Parts" store with a big "CarQuest" sign. Turn left and go back behind the store for a good view of the old Claymont site and the truck dump for the Lewis tipple.

Continue the way you were going on KY3480, turning right at the intersection with US421/KY80/KY11 and go to the intersection with the Wendy's and Chevron again. This time turn left and follow KY80 which will pass the Daniel Boone Parkway interchange. This is where you would enter Manchester if you were coming in from London. After passing the interchange you will see, to your left, the structures of the ex-Shamrock Coal Company loadouts. These are now owned by Ikerd-Brandy Co. and were the loading point for the "Green Train" discussed at the beginning. The structure to the left consisting of a truck dump, stacking tube, and flood loader is the Redbird tipple. The structure to the right consisting of a truck dump and loader is the Greenleaf tipple. Coal was trucked to these loaders from a large cleaning plant located several miles Northeast of here, near the mines. You can't see it from here, but the Greenleaf Tipple sits by a multi- track yard while the Redbird Tipple spans a single track which is about 10 feet below yard level. The yard here could hold up to 150 cars and was collectivly refered to as, what else, "Redbird\Greenleaf".

Also at this location, up to two years ago, was a very large wooden tipple which sat right on the banks of Horse Creek. The small office building just off the road here was the scale house for The New Big Creek Mining Co's, T.N.B.C.M. Tipple. Coal was trucked to a dump beside the scale house, then a wood framed conveyor moved the coal across the creek to the tipple and filled hoppers on the 40 car capacity Finley siding. This used to be a great location to watch the train action.

Continue on KY80 and take the first left past the tipples. The road will cross over Horse Creek and the tracks. You can pull off the road after crossing the tracks and hike back to the old tipples, local kids play and ride ATV's here all the time. The yards are completely out of service but stay off the main. It may look rusted, but CSX still services a scrap metal yard and coal loader just up the creek from here.

Follow the first road to the right after crossing the tracks. The road, which is one lane and twisty, will really just bear to the right. Keep going until you pass the Lilly Grove Baptist Church. To the right is the truck dump for the Old M&M Tipple. This is a small loader that had been upgraded late in it's life with a steel stacking tube for ground storage. The road will curve down and cross the tracks such that you get a good view of the rusting loader and the small, 8 car Halsted siding. Stay on this road until it intersects with KY80 again, just a few hundred feet.

Left on KY80 for less than a mile will bring you to another RR crossing. The scrap metal dealer on the left is a customer of CSX. Turn right on the road before the crossing. The large pile of wood and rusted metal on the left about an 1/8 mile up this road is all that's left of the Acme Energy Tipple. Acme Energy International closed the tipple and let it stand until residents demanded that it be removed because of a safety hazard to the neighborhood kids. The 28 car Becky Ann siding is still in place under all the overgrowth.

Get back to KY80 and turn right. There is yet another RR crossing just ahead. Again turn right at the RR crossing sign and proceed up Paw Paw Branch. On your left will be the site of the old Kentucky Mountain Tipple. Kentucky Mountain Coal Company still uses this site to process and store coal, however, the actual tipple has been removed. Hoppers can be filled by a front-end loader on the 35 car capacity North Ridge siding, but I have never seen more than 2 cars at a time placed here.

Continue up Paw Paw Branch a short way until you see the tall wooden tipple. This is the very old, New White Coal Company's New White Tipple. The 10 car Gault siding is long gone. The tipple almost looks like an old steam era coaling tower, except this one has a more modern truck dump and crusher attached to it. Before you actually get to the tipple there is a unique three track, three foot tall bridge over Paw Paw Creek. The left track served this tipple while the other two ran up the hollar to the right and served the long removed RBS Tipple. These tracks were called "Lincoln" and could hold only 17 cars. There is nothing left of the RBS Tipple but lots of mine waste and old wooden timbers.

And that's it for the C&M Branch. For those of you with topographical maps, we have covered Heidrick, Fount, Barcreek, Ogle, Manchester and Hima. If you have never been into the coalfields, this is an excellent place to start due to it's easy access, history and large concentration of old tipples. You'll find just about any type here from old wooden loaders to a large, modern prep plant. Enjoy!!

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