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


This is the fourth of five installments for my coverage of the ex-L&N's Cumberland Valley Subdivision. In this report, we'll follow the mainline from Pineville, down the Cumberland River, to Loyall Yard. I'll then guide you up the Poor Fork to Cumberland and explore the two branchlines which radiate from here and service the mines. One of these branches ventures as far east as to be located in Leslie County, unfortunately the mine at the end of the line has been shutdown. The next installment will close out the Volume 2 series and will cover the branches south of Loyall, a visit to Hagan's switchback and a run up to Big Stone Gap, Virginia.

First let me add a couple of additions to Volume 2C that I omitted or have learned since posting it. The Interstate Coal Company's flood loader on the Right Fork of Straight Creek Branch is known as the "Hamilton Loadout" and unit trains to and from this location are called Hamilton Loads and Hamilton Mtys over the scanner. The "Alamo" flood loader located on the Left Fork is owned by Andalax, Inc. and is also part of their Little Creek Division. I have also heard that the L&N may not have actually been the first RR to utilize the unit train concept. It appears that the Southern began running an all-aluminum-hopper unit train during the winter of 1958-59 from High Level, near Parrish, AL to the Yellowleaf power generating station near Wilsonville, AL. Now I don't claim to be a history "expert", but I have always been told, both by old L&Ners and through books, that the L&N has claim to this fame. Anyone else out there have date information on the L&N's operations? I know I'm going to try and dig up the the purchase data for U.S. Steel's 100 ton hoppers and pick a few brains.

Several other people have written back concerning certain mining terms that I mentioned in Volume 2C. I apologize; growing up in this area, one assumes that everyone knows the terminology by heart. Two of these terms were "Longwall Mining" and "Panels", so let me give everyone a short course in coal mining before we explore the Harlan County branchlines.


Assuming that everyone knows what coal is and how it was formed, I'll describe how it's removed from the ground for transportation by our beloved railroads to market. The area that we are discussing supports all types of mining methods to some extent. There are two general types of mining: Surface and Deep Mining. The first and most controversial due to the above ground area that must be disturbed is surface (strip) mining, which is then broken down into five sub-types; Area, Open-Pit, Mountain Top Removal, Contour, and Auger Mining. Deep mines, on the other hand, have three sub-types; Drift, Slope and Shaft. All three deep mine types use two basic methods for mining the coal; Room & Pillar Mining and Longwall Mining. The mine types pretty much explain themselves, however, if you have questions just ask. The basic deep mining methods are explained below:

Room & Pillar mining is the most common form of underground mining and is accomplished by removing coal from large sections of the seam called "rooms". These mines are opened by first driving long tunnels into the seam and then cross connecting them. The sections of coal that are left behind to support the roof are called "pillars". The sides of each pillar and the walls of the mine are known as the "ribs". An overhead view of the seam would thus look somewhat like a checker board with the dark squares representing the pillars. This is a generalization as the actual size of the rooms & pillars are based on complex load calculations and are almost never truly square. Depending on the roof and mine floor conditions, some areas of the seam may even be deemed unsuitable for safe extraction and left behind. This method of mining uses a machine known as a "Continuous Miner" to grind the coal from the walls of the mine. This device has a large, rotating head with carbide teeth that is used to bite into the seam. The cutting head is mounted on arms that allows it to be raised and lowered to remove the entire thickness of the seam. There are machines available to mine seams from 24 inches up to 20 feet thick. The mined coal is allowed to fall to the floor where mechanical arms scoop it onto a transfer conveyor for movement to mine shuttle cars or belting to the surface. The area of the mine which is being worked is known as a "Section" and can include one large room or several pillars during retreat mining. A Kentucky mining company has been given credit for being the first to operate two continuous miners simultaneously in the same section, this is now refered to as a "Supersection". The rooms must then have roof bolts inserted to help reduce the risk of a cave-in. The roofbolting process requires that holes be bored up through several layers of rock and anchor bolts secured in place. These bolts work just like the drywall bolts used to hang pictures on your wall at home. All mines using R&P are said to be "on development" until this process reaches the end of the seam or property. The mine is then fully "developed". After the seam is developed, "Retreat Mining" is practiced to recover additional coal from the remaining pillars. This is a method of removing entire or partial pillars starting at the rear of the mine and retreating toward the portal. Geological conditions will govern which and how many pillars may be recovered. As you could imagine, this is extremely dangerous and is the source of many mining fatalities due to the tendency of the roof to collapse. Harlan County is also plagued with a serious condition known as bumps. A "bump" will occur when the high geologic stresses present in the mountains build and are concentrated on the remaining pillars until they explode, throwing coal and roof material in all directions. These are often preceded by a low rumbling or groaning sound known to send miners running for the surface. In any case, no matter how strong the roof, large quantities of coal are left behind in the pillars and thus rendered unrecoverable. The average recovery of coal from R&P mining runs in the low 60% range. In addition, the roof bolting process takes time which increases production related cost to these deep mines. In recent years a new method has become more acceptable in Appalachia, this is "Longwall Mining".

Longwall mining attacks the section of coal to be mined in a different manner. The continuous miner is used to section off or isolate a "panel" of coal which can be of any size. The tunnels which now run the length of the panel must be roof bolted as these will serve as the haulage routes and ventilation paths for the panel. A typical panel, such as those at Arch Mineral's Lynch #37 mine in Harlan County, runs 600 feet wide by 4,000- 6,000 feet long in the 96-132 inch thick "Harlan" seam. Wolf Creek Collieries in Martin County, Kentucky has the largest panels in the U.S. which measure 1000 feet wide by 10,000-15,000 feet long in the 55 inch thick "Alma" coal seam. The longwall units consist of a rotary shearing head, a "plow" and a haulage track which spans the entire width of the panel. The shearing head travels back/forth and up/down across the width of the panel ripping off up to 40 inch bites. This cutting depth is known as a longwall's "web" and varies from 24 up to the 40 inch max. The coal then falls to the floor where the plow pushes the material onto the haulage track for movement to a shuttle car or belt. The most important part of this system are the many large hydraulic shields or "chocks" which jack the roof up in the area close to the "working face" of the shearer. The working face defined as the point at which coal is being actively mined. These shields will advance on their own by walking toward the coal face as the shearer works into the seam. The roof behind the shields is allowed to collapse thus relieving the built up stresses. Workers are always protected by the shields and thus mark up impressive safety records in these mines. Productivity is also greatly increased by both removing most of the coal from the seam at a high rate and eliminating the time required for roof bolting at the working face of the mine. Once again, let's look at the statistics for Arch's #37 mine. The longwall unit uses 124 shields which weigh 20 tons and can support 780 tons of roof material each. They operate from the roof of the 10 foot thick Harlan seam down to 60 inches and collapse down to 48 inches for movement. The shearer is a radio remote-controlled dual-head unit with a 550-hp motor and twin 40-hp traction motors for movement along the coal face. This allows the unit to travel the width of the panel at a max rate of 60 feet per minute while mining as much as 110 feet into the seam per day. The last time I talked with an employee, he stated that they were averaging about 14,000 tons per day with some peak days of 26,000+ tons. In fact, after acquiring this mine from U.S. Steel and installation of the longwall unit in 1988, Arch removed as much coal in 2 1/2 years as had been mined by conventional R&P method from 1972-1988.

There is an additional method, called "Shortwall Mining", that is practiced to some extent in Appalachian deep mines. This method uses the longwall chocks with a continuous miner during the retreat process to support the roof while recovering the pillars. Local mines have had limited success due to a nasty tendency for the roof to collapse as the chocks are being moved. This results in extended periods of downtime as the buried chocks are dug out and repaired. Often times the roof will start to slowly compress the chocks, which are designed to yield if the maximum load is exceeded, until they bottom out or "go on the solid". This also requires additional time to extract the devices. We'll take a closer look at a mine using the shortwall method when we visit Martin County, KY.

All of these methods have been greatly simplified due to space but you can get the feel for what is required to operate an underground mine. In competition with the great Powder River Basin in Wyoming on cost alone, Appalachian coal could not stand a chance. Appalachian mines usually produce about 2.6 tons per miner per hour while the large strip mines in the west produce close to 12 tons per miner per hour. The properties that keep Appalachian coal in the running with PRB coal is it's energy content of 13,000+ BTU/lb verses the PRB's average of 8,500 BTU/lb and the relatively short transportation haul to southern U.S. utility plants. In the future I will try to "briefly" add a few mining terms to each post but these reports are mainly focused on the railroads. Enough said, let's explore Harlan County.


From the original Volume 2a report, we know that today's CV Subdivision mainline turns east at Pineville and follows the Cumberland River up to Loyall Yard near Harlan. On the way there are 5 points of interest, 1 abandoned branchline and 1 active branchline. US119 will also closely follow the river the entire way which makes getting to the sites very easy. From Pineville, take US25E south to the first traffic light outside the floodwalls and turn left. This is US119 which actually starts at this point and runs through Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and on up into Pennsylvania. Some railfans I know call this road the Gateway to the Coalfields. You will need to drive for a little more than 10 miles to get to our first site. On the way, between the 4 and 5 mile markers, will be an old L&N caboose #6458 stored in excellent condition sitting in someone's front yard on your left. After you have gone 10 miles start looking for KY2012 to your right. This road is paved but has been badly broken up from the passage of numerous coal trucks, be careful, some of the potholes can swallow your car. Go about a mile and a half on this road which will first climb over the hill and then drop steeply down past several old deep mine sites to first a crossroads and then a bridge over the Cumberland River. Stop in the middle of the bridge and look to the right. The flood loader off in the distance belongs to the Cyprus Cumberland Coal Company and sits over the 72 car, "Whipple" siding. This is the best view of the loader you can get short of hiking down the tracks, but you can get closer to the prep plant. Continue across the bridge and turn right on the dirt road that crosses Tom's Fork on a very small concrete bridge and then climbs up the hill to your right. If you stay on this road you'll pass by the ex-Brownies Creek Collieries' Whipple Prep Plant. This smaller plant is located about a hundred feet higher than the river on Board Tree Holler and was capable of cleaning 270 tons per hour. Cyprus Cumberland has idled this heavy media plant in favor of using a smaller stoker plant at Balkan that we'll get to next.

Go back down the hill, cross the small bridge (not the one over the river) and turn right. The entrance to Cyprus Cumberland's Balkan Operations is now right in front of you. You'll have to get permission to continue. Located out of sight is a small non-rail prep plant that trucks it's prepared coal to other loadouts. The coal is currently coming from up on the ridge to your left known as Chestnut Flats. On the way back out, look at the hillside to your right and you can see the remains of the railroad ROW that served mines at Balkan years ago. Strip mining has leveled all the houses and old tipples here and thus Balkan is just a name on a map. Cross back over the river and turn right at the crossroads instead of going up the hill the way you came in. This is the old KY2012 and will get you back to US119 on a much better road. You could have come in this way except that there are no signs for it on 119.

Turn right on US119 and go about 2 1/2 miles until you see a sign for KY72 at Blackmont. Blackmont is one of the towns I talked about at the end of Volume 2C that has two names. The post office here goes by Hulen. The Puckett Creek Branch leaves the CV mainline here and runs to the southeast for 9 miles, closely following KY72 all the way. I'll come back to this Branch in a few minutes, for now continue on US119. From here it's about 2 miles to the Harlan County line. Watch your odometer closely after passing the county line and continue just over a mile further. There should be some houses on your right and then an unmarked road which leads to a large bridge over the river. Turn here and cross both the river and the tracks to enter the community of Molus. Turn right on the first paved one- lane road to the right and follow it for a few hundred feet. Situated on the far side of a fenced farm is the old Molus Tipple sitting on the banks of Sally Williams Branch. The 30 car, "Sanborn" spur has been removed, but the tipple, which served deep mines at the head of Saylor Creek on Reynolds Mountain, is still standing. This is private property and the tipple sits inside the fenced area, it looks like these people have even used this large structure as a storage shelter for farm tractors in the past.

Get back to US119 and turn right. After about 2 1/2 miles will be a sign for KY2007 and the community of Coldiron. Turn right on KY2007, cross the bridge and then follow this road as it winds up Jesse's Branch to the right. You should be able to see the small loader spanning the 40 car, "Blanton" siding. Keep to the right and you will pass the processing facilities for the Kentucky Harlan Coal Company which has seen several recent upgrades. This tipple does not load many hoppers, but it does stay active, having shipped about 80,000 tons each of the last few years.

Get back to US119 and turn right. Once again go about 2 1/2 miles until you see a sign for KY219 and the town of Wallins Creek. The Wallins Creek Branch left the CV main here and extended to the southeast for a little over 4 miles to the community of Twila, serving several loaders on the way. All trackage and tipples have been removed in the last few years with the 24 car capacity "Callihan" siding at South Wallins being the last one to load hopper cars before the L&N suspended service on this line. There is no reason to visit this area unless you are feeling adventurous. Past Twila at the end of KY219 is a dirt road that winds up the mountain to a deep mine on Potato Hill Ridge that's worth a look, but watch out for descending coal trucks.

From Wallins Creek, it's about 3 1/2 miles on US119 to the community of Wilhoit. Once again, Wilhoit is a two named town sometimes referred to as Dayhoit after the post office here. Look for the town signs and a large bridge over the river. An active prep plant is visible from the bridge just to the left. Follow the road, which is county road CR5308B, to the south, cross the tracks and pass by the two track loader and processing plant which belongs to Shamrock Fuels, Inc. (No relation to the Shamrock Coal Company from the Straight Creek Branch.) CSX services this plant with the 21 car "Wilhoit" siding. **One side point** You may want to remain in your car since this is one of the most contaminated areas in Eastern Kentucky. A company that specialized in mine services such as shuttle car batteries, motor rewinding and power transformer rebuilding had been located here and dumped untold gallons of PCB contaminated oil on their property over the years. This highly carcinogenic material remains in the soil and is seeping into the river. This site has now been targeted for a government superfund cleanup, but probably too late for the local residence.

Get back to US119, turn right and go just about 1 mile until you see a sign for Loyall and a road to the right. The road's hard to see so stay alert! Turn here and follow this road past a cemetery and a residential area until you get to a steel truss bridge over the river. Turn left on the far side of the bridge and go through town. CSX's Loyall Yard should be visible directly in front of you as you pass the traffic light. When the road comes to a Tee, turn right and parallel the yard for it's entire length. At the far end of the yard is a small office building, past this, the yard tracks narrow down to 3 and the river presses the road up against them. Keep going until you see the old interlocking tower on your left at Baxter. Turn left on the road just past the tower, cross the tracks and take another left, KY413, to parallel the tracks on the other side back the way you came. This road crosses a hill then drops back down to track level and gets very narrow. To your left are the tracks just inches away and to your right is a high cliff that my father claims he slipped down when he was 15 trying to wave at my grandfather who was passing by on a mine run. I don't know if I believe this or not, you can take a look for yourself. This spot can get pretty interesting if you're in a car while a train is passing by here. Keep going, this really is a heavily traveled road that leads to several private homes just ahead, and you will be blessed with an excellent view of the engine facilities and, a little further on, the old roundhouse.

The road you were on before you turned left at the tower will continue to an intersection with US421. Turning right will take us south toward the town of Harlan and turning left will take us north to an intersection with US119. We'll travel both directions shortly. But first let's go back and cover the branchline we passed up.


The Pucketts Creek Spur leaves the CV mainline's No.1 track at milepost WB222.9 near the community of Blackmont as discussed before. From US119, cross the Cumberland River on KY72 and follow this road for it's entire length. Three miles from US119 at the community of Insull is the site of a now removed spur and tipple. Look for the church on your left and a gravel road to the right. If you turn off KY72 onto this road, then cross a wooden bridge, you should be able to see the old RR bridge that crossed Pucketts Creek on your left. This is all that's left to indicate that anything was ever here as the whole area is currently being strip mined by Energy Producer Associates, Inc. of Cincinnati. Three more miles from here, just past the town of Pathfork, is the site of the currently idle JBD Industrial Fuel's tipple. This tipple has been operated by both the Corona Coal Company and the Debra Lynn Coal Company in the past. The actual loader that sits over the 35 car capacity, "Piedmont" siding is the remains of an old 3-track tipple. A newer, portable coal washer now sits next to it and handled the incoming raw coal from nearby mines in the "Low Splint" and "Mason" coal seams.

From here, it's less than 2 miles to the entrance of the R.B. Coal Company's, Pathfork Prep Plant at Alva. You can't see much from the gate, so you will have to ask permission to get back to the plant. This is a rather unique plant that dates back to the late 1950's and is worth a look. Instead of footing the bill to demolish this plant and replace it, the coal company simply started adding new additions onto the old structure over the years. So on one side you have a modern looking facility, but drive to the opposite side and you would think this place is abandoned. Recent additions have also included a large, modern flood loader to compliment the older, smaller one. The smaller one also being part of a past upgrade. These are both active and are fed from twin ground storage stockpiles located just above them. Hoppers were originally filled on four tracks that passed under the plant itself, however these are not used anymore. The two loaders are served by CSX on the 90 car capacity, "Sarah/Alva" siding. Just in front of the plant is the portal and surface support structures for a deep mine that runs back up Beartree Branch to your right. Coal is also trucked to the plant from deep and strip mines on Puckett Ridge, Chunklick Spur and Rockhouse Branch. The last published data that I could find is from 1991 when this company operated three mines which produced a combined 379,263 tons. In March of 1995, a plant employee told me that most of the processed coal is sold on the spot market and more recently to TVA at a rate of one, 80 car unit train per week. Now lets go back to Baxter where several additional branches originate.


The Poor Fork Branch departs the CV mainline, milepost WB240.2, at the Baxter interlocking tower through a spring switch. It then proceeds to follow the Poor Fork of the Cumberland River to the east as it heads toward the Arch Mineral owned mines in the Lynch area. The Poor Fork (river) drains the valley formed by Pine Mountain to the north and Black Mountain to the south and provides a down grade trip for loaded trains departing the mines. Once again we are lucky in that US119 follows the rails all the way to Benham on a very wide and mostly straight 2-lane highway with a 55 mph speed limit. When I first started coming to this region, it could take you as long as 1 1/2 hours, if you got stuck behind coal trucks, to travel the 22.1 miles between Harlan and Benham on KY413 and KY522. (old 119) This road still exist on the north side of the tracks and will be used on a few side trips shortly. About 3 1/2 miles from Baxter, the Poor Fork Branch shortcuts the river and tunnels through a large southward protrusion of Pine Mountain. The tunnel can be seen by getting over on KY522 at the town of Rosspoint. After crossing the tracks, take the first road to the right and parallel both 522 and the tracks down to the tunnel. This road will then cross the tracks right in front of the west tunnel portal.

Get back on US119 and continue east for about 3 miles. At the community of Rhea is an old loader that served the 43 car capacity, "Rhea" siding and was operated by Rhea Coal Sales. The Rhea Tipple and siding have been abandoned and loader now sits in the middle of a sawmill's log storage area. Look for the small sawmill and then to the west to find it. The last time I came by here, logs had been piled up against the tipple such that it was leaning severely to one side.

About 5 miles from Rhea is the community of Nolansburg, which is also known by the post office name of Splint. There had been a small tipple located here, known as the Old Nolansburg Tipple, that has now been removed. This old tipple shared the 44 car capacity, "Nolansburg" siding with the Harlan County Steam & Stoker Coal Company's loader. From US119, you will know when you get here from the rusting covered conveyor which crosses over the highway and the Poor Fork River to feed this loader. To the right, located out of sight on Black Mountain, is a 350 ton per hour prep plant that feeds the clean coal stockpile that you can see. If you want a closer look at the loader, get back over to KY522 at Nolansburg and turn right. The road will pass within a few feet of the site.

Going back to US119, keep traveling east for 2 1/4 miles until you pass the town of Totz. Looking to your left should be a large, older prep plant with multiple tracks passing under it and conveyors radiating in different directions. US119 will be higher than the track level here so you will have a birds-eye view from the road's wide shoulder. A long refuse conveyor extends up to the highway and is used to fill trucks with slate for transportation to the waste disposal areas. Conveyors also tunnel under the highway and move the raw coal from mines on Black Mountain to the plant for cleaning. This facility is owned and operated by the Harlan-Cumberland Coal Company and is served by CSX's 50 car, "Totz" siding. The Totz Prep Plant, originally owned by Harlan Central Coal Company, may be older, but it still ships coal in CSX company hoppers at a rate of over 500,000 tons per year. You can get closer by going back to Totz and getting on KY522. The plant sits next to a neighborhood and county road CR5007B will get you right next to it.

Go back to US119 and travel east for 1 1/2 miles. This plant has been completely removed during the past year, but the wide flat area to your left just before passing the community of Dione was the location of the NRG Tipple. Sitting here had been a medium sized, modern prep plant with a long conveyor stretching across the river to feed the loader on the 72 car, "NRG" siding. This plant may not be here, but it is located elsewhere in Harlan County. Pay attention. This plant was built and originally owned by Harlan-Cumberland Coal Company. Knoxville, TN based, Balmont Corporation, took over operations moving the H-CC Co. to the Totz operations as mentioned above. In early 1993, Great Western Coal began expanding their Kentucky holdings and purchased this plant, 6,000 acres of coal leases and Balmont's two facilities located at Liggitt on CSX's Catron Creek Spur. Contracts for coal that had been shipped from the Liggitt plant raw or prepared by outside contractors, now required cleaner characteristics. Instead of investing in a new plant, the under- utilized NRG tipple was dismantled and moved the 20 some miles across the county. From the discussion concerning Great Western in Volume 2C, we know that Great Western is now New Horizons Land Management. New Horizons currently operates the relocated NRG Tipple as part of it's Harlan Fuels Division.

Continuing east on US119 for about 4 1/2 miles will take you pass a wide yard to your left. If you pass under a RR bridge you have gone too far. This yard, which sometimes serves as hopper storage, was the site of two recently removed tipples. The first was a very small, truck dump-to-conveyor operation owned by the Clearbrook Coal Company and called the Clearbrook Loader. The 17 car siding at the west end of the yard was called "Hurricane Gap". Sitting in the center of the yard on the north side, had been the large wooden Chad Tipple which loaded on the multi-track "Chad" siding. Coal was truck delivered and dumped into the tipple from the road at the top of the hill. You can still see evidence of where this had been located.

Continue on US119, pass under the RR bridge and enter the town of Cumberland. Just ahead to the right will be KY160 that will take us up Looney Creek to the old U.S. Steel operations at Lynch. When you turn right onto KY160, make a note of the first road to your right which will lead through town. This road will get us over to the Cloverlick Branch in a few minutes. For now, stay on KY160 as it passes by Cumberland, Clutts, Benham and finally enters Lynch after about 4 miles. For future reference, KY160 continues from Lynch and crosses Black Mountain in a typical winding fashion for 17 miles to enter Appalachia, VA. In the past, there had been tipples located at both Cumberland and Benham, however, as you will see, these have been removed. You can tell when you get to Lynch because you'll be surrounded by the old mining complex.

These facilities are now being restored and preserved as a tourist attraction and all of the structures have large informational signs and short historical stories posted by them. Park your car and walk around awhile. The massive twin portals to the Lynch mines are on the left side of the road and you can walk up and look back into them. A covered conveyor extends from the left portal and crosses the road to feed a large concrete storage silo. On the opposite side of the valley is yet another concrete storage silo, this one rectangular-shaped and fed from a 3/4 mile long, underground conveyor. At the other end of this conveyor is 2 1/2 miles of narrow-gauge, above-ground, mine trackage which passes through 2 tunnels on it's journey back to the mine entrance at the head of Gap Branch. Be prepared to hike if you wish to see this, all roads have been closed. This entire complex was built in the 1920's by International Harvester Company and was then sold to U.S. Steel Corporation. The mines were worked at Lynch until the late 1960's when a new mine was opened on Cloverlick Branch just over the Benham Spur of Black Mountain to the east. These mines are where the (or some of the) very first unit trains were loaded and used by the L&N to transport coal, first to the Corbin Prep Plant and then to steel mills at Gary, IN. (See my comments at the beginning of this post) As I'll discuss in the next section, Arch Mineral acquired this facility in 1986 and maintained it through early 1991 as their 100 car Lynch #1 loadout. An old, blue Alco switch engine, lettered for the Winefrede Mine was kept here to shuffle the cars under the loader but has since been stored at the Corbin Plant's coal dumper. Trackage is still in place and CSX considers this facility to be idled, not abandoned.


The Clover Lick Spur departs the Poor Fork Branch at the Chad Yard and climbs up and over US119 just before the town of Cumberland. This spur runs about 3 miles up Cloverlick Branch to service two high capacity loadouts. From US119, turn right onto KY160 then take the very first right. This road passes through downtown Cumberland and crosses the tracks at an intersection. Go straight through the intersection, cross a bridge over Looney Creek and then take the second left. This narrow road will wind through a residential area, cross the creek again and make a 90 degree turn to the left. It will then pass by the Appalachian Regional College and parallel the RR tracks up to the mines.

From here you should be able to see the 12,000 ton capacity flood-loading silo which the tracks will pass under. This entire complex extends at least a mile from the silo, which is called the "Lynch #2 Loadout" up to the new Cave Branch Prep Plant and flood loader which is called the "Lynch #3 Loadout". About midway between these are the offices, parking lots and service buildings. Pulling into the parking lot, you can see a blue SW1500 lettered for Arch of Kentucky and one of the several portals for the Lynch #37 mine which extends for miles to the north and south at a depth of up to 2,200 feet.

St. Louis based, Arch Mineral, a joint venture between Ashland Oil and the Hunt family of Texas, is made up of several operating divisions. The mines in Harlan County are part of the, Arch of Kentucky Division, and are the oldest of Arch's Appalachia holdings. Other operations throughout this region include: Arch on the North Fork in Breathitt County, KY, The Cumberland River Coal Company in Letcher County, Arch of West Virginia, located near Logan, WV, and The Catenary Coal Company, with mines in Logan County & the Kanawha River Valley of WV. (The Catenary name being taken from the shape of the famous St. Louis Arch.)

Arch of Kentucky was formed from the 1984 acquisition of the U.S. Steel properties in Cumberland and Corbin, the 1986 purchase of Navistar International's Benham operations and a late 1989 purchase of USX's Lynch Division operations. From it's 1984 formation, three mines produced all of the coal that was processed at Corbin and Cave Branch: High Splint Mine #1, High Splint #2 and Lynch #37. Mine #37 had it's own loadout, the concrete Lynch #2 silo, that shipped raw coal exclusively to the Corbin plant. High Splint #1 coal was trucked to the Cave Branch Plant, processed, then loaded from the Lynch #3 siding for shipment to steam generation plants. High Splint #2 coal was trucked to the Lynch #1 loadout for shipment to Corbin where it was blended with the #37 coal to produce high quality metallurgical and compliance coals for the steel industry. In an effort to reduce excessive rail transportation and handling, a $5 million expansion of the Cave Branch Plant was started in 1990 to add a fine-coal cleaning circuit to the then 3-year-old, computer-controlled plant. Total capacity was also increased from 500 tons per hour to more than 750 tph. After this project had been completed, the 1,500 tph, 40 year old Corbin Plant was idled. The two smaller mines have since played out and their production replaced with output from several new mines operating in the "Owl" coal seam. Arch is still looking to increase it's coal reserves in Kentucky, with recent additions being the 85 million ton reserves of the Straight Creek Mining Company and Millers Cove Resources. More than 70% of 1995's projected 7.5 million tons of production will still come from the #37 mine. Most of the combined tonnage will then be shipped under long-term contacts to U.S. Steel (USX), Kentucky Utilities and Santee Cooper with the remaining volume sold on the spot market and to both TVA and Duke Power.


The Scotia branch leaves the Poor Fork Branch at the town of Cumberland and extends to the northeast for 14 1/2 miles to reach the Ovenfork Mine and Prep Plant in Letcher County. You can take US119 all the way there but the road becomes narrow and winding a few miles from Cumberland. Follow US119 for 9 miles past the Letcher county line and look for a Cumberland River Coal Company sign to the right. The mine was closed in 1992 and a December 1994 trip revealed that 90% of the prep plant structures have been removed. The only things left are several conveyors and two large concrete settling basins. This was the only facility on the Scotia Branch so this line's future looks dim for now.

Even-though it's gone, lets take a look back at the mine's history. This mine was opened in 1960 as the Scotia Mine by the Blue Diamond Coal Company and operated under the Scotia Coal Company name to produce the high quality, "Royal Scot" brand of metallurgical coal, mainly for export, from the "Imboden" coal seam. From the beginning, this mine was known to be very "gassy", releasing above normal levels of highly explosive methane gas and requiring excessive ventilation procedures. Blue Diamond was fined several times by federal mining inspectors for what seemed to be minor ventilation violations. Then at 1:15 p.m. on March 9th, 1976, every miner's worst fears were realized when the mine exploded with 150 men inside. By that evening, all but 15 men had escaped or been rescued while the mine continued to expel huge volumes of smoke and poison gases. Three days latter, on March 12th, 3 federal inspectors and 9 volunteer miners reentered the mine to begin looking for the missing men. While attempting to reenforce a section of roof, the mine exploded a second time, burning all 11 to death. Months passed before the mine was deemed safe and a second rescue attempted. The 11 man, would-be-rescue team, was found 3 1/2 miles into the mine and the last 15 men recovered over 5 miles back. These 15 were found to have survived the initial explosion and died from the smoke and gasses. This remains the worst mining disaster in the United States since the enactment of the 1969 Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, itself resulting from the Mannington, WV disaster at Consol's #8 facility which claimed 78 lives. In the wake of the Scotia explosion, using the usual 20/20 hindsight, congress passed additional legislation called the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 to fill loopholes in the 1969 Act. The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) was formed to administer the provisions of the Act and given power to levy stiffer fines and close operations which fail to provide safe working conditions. Time will tell how effective these measures are, however, coal mining continues to be the most dangerous occupation in the U.S. I could dedicate an entire post to documenting mine and RR related deaths at sites we are visiting so keep in mind that we enjoy observing what countless men have given their lives for and show some respect.

After federal investigators failed to pinpoint an exact cause or place blame, the mine was reopened and a longwall miner installed to boost productivity and output. However, the mine next ran into a bad roof problem that kept output from reaching the full potential of longwalling. By early 1990, yearly production was averaging only 835,713 tons. Blue Diamond quickly started mounting up debts until they were forced to place all assets up for sale and file for bankruptcy protection. Arch Mineral saw this as a good way to quickly increase coal reserves in the area and paid $30 million for the mine and prep plant and assumed $10 million of Blue Diamond's debt during September of 1990. The mine was renamed "Ovenfork" and the KYVA Coal Company formed as an Arch subsidiary to operate the mine under the Cumberland River Coal Company name. Arch Mineral made every effort to operate at a profit, drawing on it's experience with the Lynch #37 mine, however the persistent roof problems finally forced the closure in February, 1992 of a mine that extended all the way into Virginia. 293 hourly and 100 salaried employees were laid off, with Arch promising to recall as many as possible when they start developing mines on the reserve in coal seams other than the Imboden. Presently, with the huge prep plant dismantled, it doesn't look like this may happen in the near future.

In case you're curious, Blue Diamond was reorganized and continues to operate a massive facility just over Pine Mountain in Perry County. We'll visit the site when I post the CSX Eastern Kentucky Subdivision Guide in a few weeks. The next installment will finish the Volume 2 series on the Cumberland Valley Subdivision and discuss a few coal preparation terms, such that you have some idea just exactly what's inside those box-like buildings we've been seeing. Volume 2D has covered the following topographic maps: Middlesboro North, Varilla, Balkan, Wallins Creek, Ewing(VA), Bledsoe, Harlan, Nolansburg, Louellen, Benham, Roxana and Whitesburg. Enjoy!!

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