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


This is the third part to my coverage of the ex-L&N's Cumberland Valley Subdivision. Part one brought us from Corbin, down the mainline, into the small town of Pineville. Part two covered the old C&M Branch from Barbourville to Manchester. In part three we'll look at the Straight Creek Branches, the Yellow Creek Spur and the Harbell Branch out of Pineville. Before I start, let me add a few updates that I have learned since posting Volume 2b.

From Volume 2a, we know that the Pine Mountain East Branch has had all of it's trackage removed. An early May '95 visit to the Pineville area reveals that the ROW has now been covered with a layer of fresh gravel and automobile travel is available if so desired. The Dade Tipple is still in place and was last owned by the Delaware Powder Company. The older Taywood Tipple, however, has become a victim of progress and been removed. Nothing remains except for the numerous small concrete footings. The old switch engine has also been removed from it's storage spot and presumable scraped.

The tipple which is located on Ely's Branch remains in place and is worth the trip. There had actually been two tipples here at one time, with the smaller one falling victim to fire. To actually see the remaining one will require a short hike as the road has been blocked a few hundred feet before you get to it. The road off of US25E to this tipple is gravel, a point I omitted by mistake, but passable in any type car.

NOTE: You will start to notice that several place names will repeat from location to location and from branchline to branchline. One of these is a Stoney Fork Holler located on the Harbell Branch and Straight Creek Branch. This does not mean that this is the worlds longest valley, rather, these are unofficial names given to areas by residents who lived here. A second location is Rockhouse Branch located at the end of Stoney Fork Holler. In the next Volume we will also visit a Rockhouse Branch on the Puckett Creek Spur of the CV Sub. Neither of these should be confused with the ex-L&N's Rockhouse Creek Branch of the Eastern Kentucky Subdivision which we'll also visit in the near future! These old names die hard in the mountains. The same will also hold true even for towns, where the commonly used name is different from the local Post Office name. I will try to point these out when we come across them to limit confusion.


These branches consist of three separate sections of trackage all devoted to hauling coal. I'll take a closer look at each of them individually as they pass up the valleys on the North side of Pine Mountain.


The Straight Creek Branch is probably the shortest branch on the CV Subdivision. This branch departs the CV Main at milepost CV202.9 at what is referred to as the Pineville Wye. This wye allows crews to come off the branches and continue either to Corbin or Loyall Yards without having to runaround their trains. The branch is only 1.4 miles long and is used to hold trains coming off the right and left forks until the CV is able to accept them. As described below, the intersection of KY66 and KY221 is also the point where the Left Fork splits off and runs Northeast while the Right Fork is a continuation of the Straight Creek Branch and runs almost due East on it's trek up to the mines. All three of the branches are under direct train control (DTC) and therefore unsignaled. At this intersection are two bridges over the creeks and signs are visible indicating the Lusby DTC Block to the left and the Holden DTC Block to the right. If you have a scanner, the Jacksonville dispatcher will give trains on the CV main advanced-clearance for one of these, indicating which branch is the final destination.


Now let's jump back down to where we left off in Volume 2a, at Pineville. In 2a we were at the old Wallsend yard on the banks of the Cumberland River. Let's go back to KY66 where it had crossed the river and turn left. KY66 crosses Straight Creek within a 1/4 mile and continues up the valley to an intersection with KY221 about a mile later. KY221 will follow the twists and turns of Straight Creek all the way to it's headwaters in Harlan County while KY66 will turn North, cross a bridge and follow the Left Fork of Straight Creek almost into Clay County. For now, continue up the creek on KY221.

The first left past the junction with KY66 will take you over the creek and tracks to the location of the old Wessell Tipple. This was removed years ago along with the 15 car Wessell #1 siding. (Don't bother stopping)

Continue up KY221. About 5 miles from the KY66 junction, KY221 will cross to the left side of Straight Creek over a new concrete bridge. The road just on the far side of the bridge is KY2013. Turn left and take the first right onto KY1630. There is not a sign for KY1630 but you are only on 2013 for about a hundred feet. Half a mile up on the left is the site of the old Kettle Island Tipple. At one time, this was the end of the line for the Straight Creek Branch until it was extended into Harlan County in the 1970's. Kettle Island was a very busy loading point in the past but only the coal bins and some wooden structures exist today. These are completely hidden by foliage during the summer months. There is also a fully intact wooden trestle at the 2013\1630 junction that's worth a look.

Get back to KY221 and continue toward Harlan County. On the way will be a high RR bridge crossing Stoney Fork Holler. The tracks are now on your left and about 40 feet higher than the roadway. Ten miles up from KY66 will be a large flood loader sitting across the tracks to your left. This is the Straight Creek Mining Company's Straight Creek Tipple which is served by the 72 car Viall siding and is very active. In a late 1990 move to divest all of their coal assets, Millers Cove Energy, a subsidiary of Millers Cove Resources of Canada and in limited partnership with the Straight Creek Mining Company, agreed to sale 85 million tons of low-sulfur coal reserves and a processing plant to Arch Mineral of St. Louis. This loadout however, still operates under the SC Mining Co. name. The importance of this transaction and Arch Mineral's operations will be discussed in the next installment. Turn left just past the tipple and drive to the tracks at the top of the hill for a better look.

Keep going up KY221 and you will pass into Harlan County. In a few minutes you will see another flood loader painted bright yellow also up on the hill to the left. There will be a coal truck storage and service area to the right. Turn left just before passing the loader and drive up the hill. The flood loader in front of you belongs to the Interstate Coal Company and is a fairly new replacement for the older loader that originally stood in it's place. If you can, look at the dumps and conveyors up the hill and you'll see that they are much older and slightly rusted.

Now look behind you to see another, much smaller and abandoned loader. This was the Kentucky Harlan Coal Company's KHC Tipple which loaded on the 37 car "Blanton" siding. The loader is almost invisible from the road, especially during the summer, and the only way to see it is to pull up the hill to track level. Returning to KY221 and turning left just past the flood loader will take you up to the opposite side of the Interstate's tipple for a different view.

Get back on KY221 and drive until you pass the next coal loading site. You really can't miss this one and it's at the end of the line. The facility is the Shamrock Coal Company's Straight Creek Loadout and includes truck dumps, processing equipment and massive ground storage situated on the right side of KY221. A very large covered conveyor crosses over the road and feeds an 8,000 ton capacity, concrete flood loading silo on the left. This silo can fill hoppers at a rate of 7,200 tons per hour. Turn left just past the silo and drive up to track level. Directly in front of you is the silo with it's run-around tracks and behind you is yet another tipple. This tipple is almost identical to the old Shamrock Greenleaf Tipple back in Manchester and was used extensively while the silo was being constructed. After completion of the silo, Shamrock claimed that this loader was to be used for filling low volume orders up to 1,600 tons. This smaller tipple is no longer in service but has been very well maintained.

The most important find will be sitting on the siding in front of the smaller tipple. Here are the two old O&W cabooses, OTWX #9990 and OTWX #9999 that I discussed at the beginning of Volume 2b.

The structures that you see are just a small part of Shamrock's Clover Division, which is now owned by Sun Coal Company and operated under the Shamrock name. What you don't see are the three full size preparation plants that clean all of this coal. The plants are named for the creeks that they are located on: Greasy Creek, Gabes Creek, and Beech Fork. The clean coal is then trucked to the Straight Creek Loadout. One of these plants has recently been idled while the mine that supplies Beech Fork is now mining with a longwall unit for increased production. The longwall unit operates up to 1000 feet underground in the 96 inch-thick Hazard #4 coal seam and runs panels that are 720 feet wide and from 5,000- 10,000 feet long. The installation, which cost Shamrock in excess of $30 million back in 1991, included construction of the Beech Fork plant and a large portal exhaust fan. Prior to the expansion, Shamrock had been producing a combined three million tons per year with over 800,000 tons coming from the Beech Fork mine. After the upgrade, the Beech Fork facility's output alone more than tripled to 2.8 - 3 million tons. Today, this all adds up to over 5 million tons per year shipped under long-term contracts to the Jacksonville (FL) Electric Authority, Georgia Power and South Carolina Electric and Gas, in addition to 50,000 tons per month exported to Italy and whatever can be sold on the spot market. That's over 555 unit trains per year loaded at this one location! Not bad for being located just a few miles from the Western limit of the Appalachian coalfields.


The Left Fork of Straight Creek Branch departs the Straight Creek Branch at milepost SC204.6 and follows KY66 and the Left Fork for it's entire length. Approximately 3 miles from the KY221 intersection will be a road to your left. This will be just past the community of Arjay. This road follows the Left Fork of Caney Creek to an area known as Blanche. Years ago, there was a spur that ran up to a tipple which loaded on a two track siding. Today, you will only find a few houses and no sign of the spur or tipple. Back where this road crossed the tracks had also been a switch leading into the 15 car Wint Siding. This siding and it's loader are also a part of history. Don't waste your time stopping here, I only offer this for information purposes.

A bit over two and a half miles from Arjay, past the community of Rella, will be a very large preparation plant on your left. This older plant was built by the Little Creek Coal Company, called the Little Creek Tipple, loaded hoppers by flood loader on the 90 car Little Creek Siding and sits at the entrance to, you guessed it, Little Creek. This plant has been idle and falling into ruin for years. The metal siding on the main plant structure had been stripped away and the conveyors had belt material hanging from then. This was all before last November. On one of my frequent trips to this area, I noticed what looked like a pallet of new yellow- painted rollers and a large crane parked here. I also heard what sounded like the long-silent exhaust fan which ventilated the deep mine. Curious, but fearing that the plant was to be dismantled, I returned in April only to find it in full operation. It seems that Andalex Resources, Inc. has reopened the mine, invested a small fortune in upgrades and now operates this plant as their Little Creek Division.

Less than a mile on up KY66 from here is the Titan Tipple. The first structure you will see is the loader sitting across the 60 car capacity Spencer Siding and two stacking tubes used for ground storage cut into the hill almost level with the top of the loader. The conveyor feeding these tubes will disappear over the hill. Continue up KY66 and the conveyor will reappear and connect to a wide truck dump. This facility was built by the Burning Star Coal Company on the site of a much older tipple. The old truck dump is all that's left of this tipple and remains just to the far side of the newer one. Look close or you'll miss it; I was here several times before I noticed it sitting back there. The Titan Tipple, currently idle, but in relatively good condition, is now owned by New Horizons Land Management and covered by their Crockett Collieries Division. The public bridge over the creek will get you in for a closer look.

Once again, less than a mile up KY66 will bring you past a very old beige-painted wooden tipple. This is probably the best preserved relic in Eastern Kentucky. The Nugym Tipple loaded on four tracks with a 40 car capacity. The switch to the Nugym siding has been removed but all four loading tracks are still in place. The conveyors which drop from the bottom of this structure were actually lowered down into the hopper cars during the loading process. A plant employee would sometimes even crawl into the rail cars while loading as a quality check for slate or to hand-arrange the larger size chunks of coal. A good book that contains numerous b&w photos of this process is Tom Dixon's, "Appalachian Coal Mines and Railroads". The dirt road to the left, just before passing this tipple, will cross the tracks and allow you to drive right up to it. There is a private residence on the hill to the left of the structure and they own this land so be sure to ask permission if they are home. You also can get a good view from KY66.

From here to the end of the tracks is just about two miles and we still have four sites to visit! After KY66 crosses the tracks at Field and rounds a curve, all four will be in sight. The first point of interest is a very small loader on your right. This was only a truck dump and a conveyor which is now falling down. The dump is still standing, but the rest of the loader is a pile of twisted steel lying beside the road.

About a hundred feet from here is a large yellow and green painted flood loader. This particular one is actually a dual chute loader for increased speed and also sits on the right side of the road. A covered conveyor moves the coal from the stockpile on your left. Another unusual feature of this site is the square concrete stacking tube; most that I have seen are round. This facility used to be owned and operated by Sandy Fork Mining Company and is still often referred to as the Sandy Fork Tipple. CSX calls this plant, "Alamo", after the 80 car siding. This loader is active, however, current ownership is in question as there are no signs on the property. I "think" Andalex is now in control.

Just beyond the Sandy Fork Tipple is a small loader that is also inactive. A rusting conveyor crosses the road from the rail car loading chutes and terminates at a wooden coal bin. The concrete lined opening to a deep mine is clearly visible just behind this wooden storage bin. Sorry, but I do not know who owned or operated either one of these smaller loaders. This location is Crockett, Ky and I have heard of the old Crockett Tipple which is of no relation to the final site on this branch. The siding, which serves all three of these, is actually named "Alamo\Crockett" by CSX, so I'm sure one of the two inactive sites is the Crockett Tipple.

The last tipple on the branch is the Crockett Collieries of Kentucky, coal processing plant. This very large facility consist of an on-site coal washing plant, lots of ground storage for both raw and clean coal and a flood loader. The siding here, which is really the end of the tracks, is the 90 car Wen-Lar Siding. The wash plant, called the #1 Prep Plant, is feed from three local mines; Mine #8, The Soladay Mine and Burnett No.1.

Keeping track of the company's name is getting to be a headache as it's changed several times in the past few year This prep plant and another one located close to Harlan started out as Bow Valley Coal Resources. Bow Valley was then reorganized as Great Western Resources, Inc. of Houston, TX and operated as Great Western Coal. The Great Western name was then dragged through a nasty court battle after the South Carolina Public Service Authority, known as Santee Cooper, filed suit in federal court in November 1990. Santee Cooper charged Great Western's President with bribing the utility's vice president into signing higher-than-market price coal contracts during the 1970's. Great Western's President stepped down and Santee Cooper's vice president was mysteriously killed in a hunting accident, three days before he was to stand trial. Despite his death, a federal grand jury continued to investigate coal buying practices for several months without further indictments being handed down. Instead of paying Great Western, the utility deposited coal payments totaling some $40 million with the court, placing the coal company in serious financial trouble and resulting in wide-scale (several hundred miners) layoffs during 1991. By mid-April of that year Great Western had filed for Chapter 11 re-organization with the Texas courts. Then, in 1992, an environmental disaster dumped millions of gallons of coal refuse from a slurry pond into the Cumberland River which flowed black for days. This waste eventually found it's way into, and remains settled to the bottom of, Lake Cumberland. Great Western was thus once again in the news by being fined and placed under an unprecedented court order to film an environmental conservation commercial to be aired on national television. In an effort to distance themselves from this bad press, "Great Western Resources" was changed to "New Horizons Land Management, Inc." and several operating divisions formed. This plant and the Titan Tipple now fall under the Crockett Collieries of Kentucky Division. Most of the workforce has since been recalled and the prep plants are once again running at close to full capacity.


The Yellow Creek Spur is a 7 mile long coal branch which leaves the CV Main close to milepost WB211 at a spot called Ponza. The tracks follow Yellow Creek to the South for a little over 5 miles, then run due East following Cranes Creek. Years ago, the Mountain Drive Coal Company operated their Roaring Fork Tipple, 35 car lengths from the very end of the line. After signing a long-term contract with Georgia Power, a much larger facility was constructed near the community of Colmar about a mile and a half from the Roaring Fork Tipple. This new plant loaded raw, strip-mined coal on a 90 car capacity siding called "Amru" by the L&N. As discussed before, Amru, as the plant came to be known, was one of the first suppliers in the U.S. to ship coal by dedicated unit trains directly to a customer. Georgia Power's JacMac Electric Generating Facility in this case. Amru also had one of the first true flood loaders capable of filling 90, 100 ton hoppers in just under four hours. Today, the plant sits idle, but in good condition, with a guard present at all times.

To get here from Pineville, take US25E south past the US119 intersection. About 5 miles from the US119 junction, at the community of Meldrum, will be a sign for KY188. Turn left and follow 188 as it twist and turns for about 2 miles. You will then come to a tee in the road. KY188 turns left and KY988 turns right. Go left and stay on KY188 until you pass the Clear Fork Church and come to another intersection. KY516 continues straight while KY188 turns right. Turn right and Amru will be less than a half mile on your left. With this being the only loader on line, the Yellow Creek Spur doesn't see any trains these days.


As described in Volume 2a, the Harbell Branch is all that's left of the original Cumberland Valley Mainline past Pineville. This is not a dead-end branchline however, as the Norfork Southern's line from Knoxville interchanges with CSX just on the South side of the Cumberland Gap tunnel with trackage rights into the Middlesboro area. Mostly NS trains are seen on this branch but CSX is ever present. The tracks down from Pineville depart the Cumberland River at Harbell, then turn South to follow Patterson Branch for about a mile before ducking into a tunnel and emerging on the banks of Cannon Creek over a high wooden trestle. They then parallel US25E on the left side from Ferndale until they plunge thru another tunnel and pass under the highway to gain access to Yellow Creek. They will then follow within sight of US25E from Meldrum until they curve to the right at the Middlesboro Shopping Center and enter the small yard just to the South.

If you would like to see the trestle, turn left off US25E at Ferndale onto KY1534. This road will pass under the bridge within a mile. Turning left on the other side of the trestle will take you up a dirt road to the first tunnel. The second tunnel can be seen from US25E, on your left, right before the tracks pass under you.

Coming into Middlesboro on US25E, turn right on KY441 before passing the shopping center. Stay on 441 until you cross the tracks and come to an intersection with KY2079. Turn left and 2079 will parallel the West side of the Middlesboro yard for it's entire length. About half-way down the yard will be the ex-D&N Processing Company tipple. Four Rivers Coal Company now uses this site to load hoppers on the 24 car Middlesboro #4 siding. Four Rivers has built a high wall around the tipple to improve the area's image, (this is almost downtown) but you can still see around the open ends fairly well.

Take the first left you come to and cross the tracks. Left again will parallel the East side of the yard and allow you to see the next two loaders. The first is an old inactive wooden tipple that had been operated by the RBS Coal Company. This tipple loaded on the 15 car Middlesboro #2 siding.

Close to the North end of the yard will be the Pinnacle Coal Company's Pinnacle Tipple. This is a smaller, more modern loader that is currently inactive. When working, it loads on the 18 car capacity Middlesboro #5 siding. There has also been both a Middlesboro #1 and #3 sidings in the past, however these tipples are long gone. Benle Coal Company had used #1, but I don't know about #3.

Get back on KY2079 and continue South to an intersection with KY74 and turn right. This is Main Street Middlesboro. (NOTE: KY186, which we'll need in a few minutes, parallels Main Street two blocks to the South and is called Winchester Ave. through the residential areas.) We will stay on KY74 for a while so pass through all the downtown red lights and then follow it as it climbs up Stoney Fork Hollow. The Stoney Fork Spur tracks will soon meet with the road as they branch off at Stoney Fork Junction. About 3 miles up 74 will be the Ralston Bell Tipple which was operated by Luttrell Mining Co. This tipple is inactive and partly removed, however the 18 car "Arbor" siding is still in place serving a large ANFO storage bin. ANFO is a blasting agent used in strip mining and is transported to these storage bins in the form of ammonium nitrate prill by covered hopper cars. The hoppers are bottom dumped and the material stored in the bins by a vertical conveyor. There is also a loading area where the ammonium nitrate is transferred to trucks for movement to the mine site. Here it is mixed with fuel oil to form ANFO and used very effectively to blast rock. In this area, these covered hoppers are just about the only other rail car you will see besides coal hoppers and carry either the ammonium nitrate or powdered limestone used to cover the walls of deep mines to lessen the risk of a coal dust explosion.

Less than 1/2 mile from here are a set of twin loaders sitting on opposite sides of the tracks from each other. The first one is the Pioneer Tipple which was operated by Pioneer Fuel Sales and loads on the 21 car Pioneer Siding. This tipple is located on the South side of the Spur. On the North side of the Spur is the Bell County Tipple operated by the Bell County Coal Corporation. This tipple loads on the 15 car "Pioneer #2" siding. I don't think that this tipple is currently active since Bell County Coal has a large prep plant just up the road from here. The old Pioneer Tipple is definitely active and is now run by Kinney Branch Mining Co. Kinney Branch also has an old GP7 parked here which is used for pulling cars past the coal chute. This engine is painted a bright green color with "Kinney Branch Mining" on the long hood. The name "George" and the number "6" are painted just under the engineer's window.

Just around the corner from here you will see two very large concrete silos located high on the hillside to your right. Continuing on, KY74 will curve uphill to the left and cross over a short tunnel. Located about 15 feet from the road and only 10 feet from the tunnel's portal sits a flood loader belonging to the Bell County Coal Corporation. This loader serves the 90 car capacity "Burley" siding. Past the flood loader to your right is the main preparation plant which not only feeds clean coal up to the twin silos but also conveyors coal to a large ground storage stockpile located behind the plant. What you will not be able to see clearly are the tracks which run up Hignite Creek behind the washer. These tracks are the 90 car capacity "Hignite" siding which serve a conventional loader fed from the ground stockpile. This plant is therefore capable of loading two, 90 car unit trains simultaneously. Where 74 passes beside the flood loader will give you a close-up, birds-eye view of the flood loading process should you catch a train here.

Today, these two sidings are the end of the Stoney Creek Spur. Years ago the tracks continued up the hollow to two additional tipples. If you continue up KY74 you will pass an abandoned prep plant on your left. This plant was constructed by the New Hignite Coal Company to process coal from the mines on Martins Branch. Appolo Fuels purchased this plant late in it's life and called it Prep Plant #2. Although it sits beside the old roadbed, this plant was never served by rail and trucked it's coal down to other rail loaders.

The next valley to your left is the watershed of Coal Creek and had been the location of the first older tipple which is long gone.

As KY74 starts to climb uphill at a good grade, look at the mountainside to your right. In the winter you can make out the site of the other tipple and several deep mine openings. Due to it's location, the tracks had to pass through a switchback to gain the altitude needed to serve this operation. The bottom switch had been located back at the community of Capito. Trains headed West up Stoney Creek had to be backed through this switch and were shoved upgrade as the tracks curved to the North up Rockhouse Branch. After pointing almost due South, the trains would pull forward through the second switch and continue back around to the West to parallel the 100 foot lower Spur. The 3 track tipple was located at a place called Garmeada which served mines on the Cole Spur of Log Mountain.

Head back toward Middlesboro on KY74 until you pass the Ralston Bell Tipple we saw on the way in. The first good road to your right will take you over to KY186. Turn right on KY186 and head up Mingo Hollow following the Gravity Spur on your left. You should immediatly notice a very large prep plant sitting high on the side of Mingo Mountain. This recently upgraded plant belongs to Appolo Fuels, Inc. The bright yellow wash plant and truck dumps on the hill have all been added in the last five years while the twin metal stacking tubes and flood loader have been around for some time. The siding here is actually a small five-track yard referred to as Gravity Yard.

Within sight of the Appolo Tipple is the much smaller, inactive Norcoal Tipple. This site is owned by Norcoal of Kentucky, Inc and is served by a 22 car capacity siding called "Paramount".

The active trackage up Bennetts Fork ends here, however, tracks are still in place all the way to the KY-TN state line at Motch. Motch is the site of White Oak Coal Corporation's old White Oak Tipple. This larger, steel fabricated tipple is still standing and is just one step newer than a wooden tipple, what I call a second generation tipple. There is also a large office building here with several dogs tied up outside indicating that someone still works or lives here. Tracks use to continue three miles into Tennessee, serving mines on Bryson Mountain near Mauring and a tipple located up Cabin Hollow about a mile North of Mauring. These are also long gone and the old roadbed is even hard to find in some places.


The Chenoa Branch left the CV Main at Wasioto, which is at the intersection of US25E and US119 back by Pineville. From here it followed Clear Creek to the Southwest for several miles, down to the community of Olcott (Chenoa). A tipple was located to the East of here, on Major Branch near Davisburg. These tracks have been removed and nothing survives to be seen. You can get there by turning right onto KY190 from US25E at the entrance to Pine Mountain State Resort Park.

And that's it for the Bell County branchlines of the CV. There are in fact, two additional sites that are actually in Bell County. Due to space and the fact that they are located off US119 on the way to Harlan, I'll go over these in the next installment. You can realistically visit each of these sights and spend some time snooping around in a single summer's day. One thing I'm sure you'll be quick to notice is the lack of signs for the towns that I mention. In fact, many of these "towns" will turn out to be just two or three houses by the side of the road. Most of these were company coal mining settlements and the houses were removed when the mines closed, fell down over the years due to poor construction, or, as we'll see in the next installment, became victim of strip mining.

The following topo maps cover this area: Pineville, Beverly, Helton, Balkan, Wallens Creek, Kayjay, Middlesboro North, Middlesboro South and Fork Ridge. Enjoy!

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