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


This is the first of what will probably be three installments covering CSX's Eastern Kentucky Subdivision. Built and operated by the L&N as strictly a deadend branchline for the sole purpose of hauling coal, today's CSX utilizes these tracks as a mainline for trains bound to southern utility plants. Even-though coal is still the only tonnage these rails feel, traffic is higher than ever making this a top destination for the serious railfan. If you're in search of the newest CW4400AC locomotives, then look no further, this is the place to be for seeing them in action. I'll begin today's report with some recent news, then briefly examine the history behind construction of this coal branch. The yards at Patio and Ravenna will next be visited and we'll close with a look at the interesting history behind one of Kentucky's largest coal empires.


I finally got around to checking on the Bailey's Switch Tipple referred to in Volume 2A and I'm happy to report that this structure survives completely intact but idled. I will have to give new directions for finding this site as the road leading from the Cobra Tipple has become impassible in anything less than a 4-wheel drive. I attempted this route in my little VW and had to give up due to deep ruts from overweight coal-trucks. A much better way is to take 4-lane US25 from Corbin's shopping center area toward Pineville. After a few miles, you will pass through red lights at the intersection of KY830. Now watch the odometer closely and go exactly 8.7 miles to a unmarked road on the right just before the US25 15 mile marker. At about 8 miles, there will be a large concrete retaining wall on the left with a right turnoff on your side of the road. You will next pass a company which manufactures grave markers and head stones also on the left. The road we are looking for is the very next right. Turn onto the broken pavement, go a little less than a 1/4 mile, cross the concrete bridge over Lynn Camp Creek, then turn to the left on the gravel road. This road quickly makes a horseshoe turn to the right, however, we will want to continue straight. The twin storage tracks for the tipple will be right next to the road on your left and there is a white house & large blue garage on the right. A coal company gate blocks the main road, but you can turn left and cross the dual tracks to pass directly in front of the loader. The gentleman who lives in the white house asked me not to mention his name, however he was kind enough to give me a walking tour of the area and we even visited the old steam-era pusher station where there are still piles of cinders everywhere. A retired miner for nine months now, he told me that Gatliff Coal Company leases this site, which is still fully operational, from the E. Smith Fuels Company and we discussed how these larger companies are buying up or leasing the smaller loaders to eliminate their competition. A very enjoyable afternoon as I also caught two unit trains on the CV mainline hustling their loads toward Corbin.

Thanks to Joseph Costello for clearing up a question I had concerning the identity of the D.H. Blair referred to in the song "Which Side Are You On?" reprinted in Volume 2E. Instead of D.H, the initials should have been J.H. for John Henry Blair, Sheriff of Harlan County during the 1920's. I knew about the Sheriff, who's sadistic treatment of miners and their families during the coal wars is legendary, but thinking the song said D.H., I never made the connection. Sorry I didn't respond personally Joe, but I've lost your E-mail address! Also, thanks to Kevin Centers and David Clarke for reporting on the move of Shamrock Coal's old Oneida and Western, OWTX cabooses to Knoxville, TN yard. They moved through Corbin on train R549 on July 9th and I missed them. These had been stored for some time at Shamrock's Straight Creek Loadout facility in Harlan County and were discussed in Volume's 2B&C. David reports that the aging cabs are to receive fresh O&W paint by East Tennessee Railcar with one of them being moved to the owner's farm to serve as a playhouse for his grandchildern. Lucky kids! I'm glad to see at least one of these will be around in full colors for a little while longer.

If you're in the eastern part of the country, then you know just how hot it's been lately. I just watched the eleven o'clock news and they were reporting that Kentucky Utilities had broken all of their old records for power generation in a single day by producing 3.247 megawatts on July 13th. This surpasses the old record set during the deep freeze experienced two years ago by almost ten percent! I'm sure the southern utilities, such as Georgia Power, must really be burning the black stuff. If people keep the AC running we may be in for a traffic upswing as these plants begin replenishing the stockpiles for winter.


The Eastern Kentucky Subdivision of 1995 is a vastly different railroad than was originally built back at the turn of the century. In an attempt to get at the coal-rich lands in Perry County, the L&N purchased the small Richmond, Nicholasville, Irvine & Beattyville Railroad in 1909 and the nearly parallel Lexington & Eastern Railroad in 1910. The L&E RR, which had been formed from the Kentucky Union RR in 1894, reached as far south as Jackson while the terminus of the R,N,I&B or "Riney-B" RR was at the namesake town of Beattyville; both of which were on the banks of the Kentucky River. The L&N quickly began construction of the right-of-way into Perry County by following the North Fork of the Kentucky River from Jackson, reaching Hazard after completion of a long curving tunnel early in 1912. The end of that year saw the main trackage ultimately reaching as far east as McRoberts or today's Fleming-Neon area. Rails were also installed between Irvine and Jackson, thus linking the two lines.

Both of the these shortlines crossed and interchanged with the L&N's Cincinnati to Corbin trackage which had started life as the Cincinnati to Paris, "Licking & Lexington" back in 1851. This line later became the Kentucky Central before being acquired by the L&N during 1891 and developed as a second north-south artery paralleling the Louisville to Nashville mainline some 100 miles to the west. Ten years earlier, the L&N had purchased the "Louisville, Cincinnati & Lexington" which extended east from Louisville, crossed the Kentucky Central at Latonia and continued into Cincinnati over the Pennsylvania Railroad's Ohio River bridge. The Cincinnati to Corbin line became known as the Kentucky Division (KY for short) while the line from Louisville to Latonia became the LCL Subdivision, named after the L,C&L RR, and nicknamed the "Short Line". The trackage east of Latonia that crossed the Ohio River bridge, or the L&N Bridge after it's 1904 purchase, is now referred to as the Newport Branch and currently extends to a point just short of the bridge at an interchange with an ex-C&O line that follows the Ohio River west from the Ashland/Huntington area. The official designation of the KY was changed to the CC Subdivision (for Cincinnati/Corbin) during 1976 when it was merged with the Corbin Division, but you'll never hear anyone call it this. Crews are still called at Corbin and Cincinnati's Queensgate Yard for the "KY".

Yet another line of some importance was the 50-mile-long branch which ran northeast from the KY main at Paris to Maysville. This line never saw coal traffic until TransKentucky Transportation Incorporated (TTI) purchased it from the L&N and began shipping coal to a barge transloader on the Ohio River. TTI accomplished this with a rag-tag collection of ex-PC u-boats and road slugs until 1993 when CSX regained control. Most of TTI's engines have been sold off, with one u-boat/slug set going to a Tennessee coal company where they are now used to pull hoppers under the flood loader and still retain their blue and grey TTI paint. We'll venture into Tennessee in the future and see if we can still find these. Although the tracks in these two paragraphs are not part of the EK or even located in the Appalachian coalfields, they have played an important role as interchange points or gateways for EK Sub coal trains. We'll come back to the Newport and Paris-Maysville Branches during a discussion near the end of this report so I thought that I would introduce them now.

As coal began to flow northward on what was to become the EK Sub, the L&N quickly found the two lines to be poorly built and unsuitable for moving heavy tonnage trains out of the Kentucky River Valley. Work immediatly began on a new, 0.4% grade which would depart the downhill water-level route from Hazard at Irvine and cross the rolling hills of Central Kentucky for 25 miles to a connection with the 400-foot-higher KY near Winchester. Maintaining this steady grade required building three large trestles over Howard's Creek, Dry Fork & the Red River, in addition to construction of numerous small bridges and two tunnels which were all completed by 1916. Over the next 30 years, the southeastern end of the EK began to resemble it's southern cousin, the CV Sub, by extending spurs and branches up several valleys to service the numerous mines which prospered during the period.

On the northwestern end, the rails of the old L&E RR, which had originated near the state capital of Frankfort, were extended to a connection with the Louisville-Cincinnati (LCL Sub) mainline at HK Tower near Anchorage. The non-revenue producing parallel segments of shortline trackage east of the Cincinnati-Corbin mainline were eventually abandoned and the trackage removed in stages during the period from 1932-1947. The EK Sub thus ended up with tracks from Anchorage, just east of Louisville, through Frankfort and Lexington to a connection with the KY mainline about a mile north of Winchester at North Cabin. The KY's mainline (today's CC Sub) trackage was then used to access the wye at Patio, just south of Winchester, where the EK branched off toward the southeast to reach Hazard and the coalfields. Halfway between North Cabin and the Patio Wye, the tracks crossed the C&O's Lexington Branch, which ran from Ashland to Lexington, at a dual track diamond. This branch had been deemed redundant after the CSX merger and removed with only a short spur remaining from Ashland to service a steel mill west of town.

Yards were constructed along the EK Subdivision at Lexington, Winchester(Patio), Ravenna, Jackson, Crawford, Hazard, McRoberts and Dent. Lexington and Patio were used for switchers servicing local industries such as tobacco warehouses, distilleries, lumberyards and feed elevators. The yard at Ravenna was the largest and served as a holding area for "maintrackers" destined mainly for the 5-mile-long DeCoursey Yard south of Cincinnati. The remaining yards acted as mine run terminals to serve the numerous branchlines with the exception of Crawford. Located just a mile or so north of Hazard, these tracks were utilized for hopper storage or to absorb overflow during peak traffic periods.

Not much changed during the L&N era of the 50's, 60's and 70's as this deadend branchline moved enormous tonnage, mainly to customers in the north. Even the merger of the L&N into first the Family Lines and then the Seaboard System saw only the abandonment of several miles of track from Whitesburg down to McRoberts. The formation of CSX, however, changed the operation of the EK Sub forever. One of the branches south of Hazard, the Rockhouse Creek Branch, had been extended to the community of Deane to service BethEnergy's Hendrix Mine & Prep Plant at what the C&O had called Rapid Load. The C&O's E&BV Branch dropped down from their Big Sandy Subdivision's mainline near Allen and also serviced the same mine through a dual loadout system which kept the two competing railroads separate. After the merger of the Chessie and Seaboard Systems, CSX saw this as an easy way to move EK mined coal to southern utilities and installed a short connector track. This opened up a "backdoor" and gave the deadend branch mainline status, much as the CV Sub's CC&O connection through Hagan's tunnel opened up a new east to west corridor back in the 1930's.

CSX is plagued with operational problems and, as the CV has the Hagan's Switchback to deal with, southbound EK trains must first travel north on the E&BV Branch to the Big Sandy Sub, then run the engines around the entire hopper consist to get pointed south. The extra time is well worth the effort as this move shortens the trip down to the old Clinchfield by several hundred miles for coal mined in EK counties. In addition to the runaround move required for all southbound trains, northbound loaded trains leaving Hazard for Ravenna must deal with a 4-mile- long, 1.0% bump in an otherwise downgrade run to the yard at Ravenna. This stretch of track, which shortcuts a major loop in the Kentucky River just north of Jackson, is known as Elkatawa Hill and extends from the O&K Tunnel near Jackson to the crest located inside Chenowee Tunnel. A pusher station is located at the small Jackson Yard and usually consist of two SD40-2 or C44-8 engines. The pushers are attached to every northbound just short of O&K Tunnel and shove on the rear until half the train is balanced over the crest at Chenowee. By the way, O&K Tunnel takes it's name from a long-abandoned shortline which interchanged with the L&N at a switch near the southern portal. The Ohio & Kentucky Railroad extended as far north as the Licking River before being closed during 1933. Pictures of the O&K are rare and the only one I've seen is in UK's Special Collections Library of a derailment during the late 1920's that shows a small steamer on it's side. Today there is absolutely nothing left to be found of this small coal hauler. The L&N briefly played with remote controlled midtrain helpers or Remote Multiple Units (RMUs) on this grade during the period from 1968 to 1970 but gave up after several problems.

The L&N modified a total of four, Alco F2B's as slave power cars to receive commands from four EMD SDP35's equipped with radio transmitters. These train sets operated from the yard at Dent to Hazard, Ravenna, Winchester, and then north to terminate at DeCoursey, the huge classification and hump yard just south of Cincinnati. Two SD35's up front with two more near the middle with the power car would take 200 loaded hoppers from Dent to Jackson where the two helpers were added on the rear to shove the entire set over Elkatawa Hill intact. Once at Ravenna, an additional 50 cars were added for the trip to DeCoursey. The return trip usually saw 300 empties run all the way back to Dent where mine runs distributed the hoppers at local mines while the RMU's were serviced at Hazard. The RMU operations had been cursed with problems from the start, such as loss of control through tunnels, crew attitude and drawbar breakages. These long trains were run almost everyday until 1970 when Extra 1701 suffered a continuous series of drawbar failures that blocked the EK mainline for over 24 hours. Louisville became tired of the constant delays and issued orders which banned the RMU's from the entire system. The F2B power cars were stored at DeCoursey briefly before being scrapped shortly thereafter while the SDP35's returned to normal service where they survived into the CSX era. One had been used as a yard engine at Corbin until about 1992 when it disappeared; off to an unknown fate.

CSX also likes to use this hill as a testing site for new locomotives and ran extensive test with the new General Electric C44-8, CW4400AC and the EMD SD70 & SD60MAC prior to placing orders. A good friend was in the area during the SD60MAC test and watched a pair of AC motored units grind to a stall just short of Chenowee Tunnel. The pushers had followed the 90 car train from Jackson and were coupled on the rear to get the set moving again. The SD70 test had basically the same results. Three engines and a test car were placed on the lead of a standard 90 car coal train with only two units running until train speeds dropped so low that the third had to be placed on- line to make the summit. Not to take sides with GE or EMD, but the big GE's didn't fair any better on this grade and won CSX's purchasing contract through other attributes.

Another change that followed in the wake of the CSX merger was the reduction of the EK Sub mileage and the formation of the Old Road Subdivision. Today, everything from Winchester (Patio) down to the connection at Deane and all of the coal branches are still operated as and called the EK Sub. The line from HK Tower through Frankfort and Lexington to the CC Sub connection at North Cabin is now referred to as the Old Road Sub. Not to fear, the Old Road keeps very busy moving both Eastern and Western Kentucky mined coal in both directions as well as merchandise freights and locals which service Central Kentucky industries. The line also host a biweekly, CSX originated coal train using KUCX hoppers which interchanges with the Norfork Southern's CNO&TP (Rathole) Division at Lexington for movement a few miles south to Kentucky Utilities' Brown Generating Station.


Listed below are the major milepost and stations for the Eastern Kentucky Subdivision. Talking defect detector locations are shown and are helpful for tracking train movements if you own a scanner. These operate on the old L&N road channel 1 of 160.370 Mhz and give location, speed, length, number of axles and location again. Milepost prefixes of VB indicate the original EK trackage while WI refers to the low-grade line from Winchester. VG indicates the Rockhouse Creek Branch which is now used as the mainline. KC are the CC Subdivision milepost and stand for Kentucky Central which dates back prior to 1891. CMO are mile markers for the ex-C&O's E&BV Branch or CSX's E&BV Subdivision also referred to as the Big Sandy Extension. Major branches and yards are shown in bold while branches off of branches are shown in lower case.

KC 97.2    Patio
WI 208.1   Strick
WI 209.0   Waller
WI 210.7   Rakers--Defect Detector
WI 219.5   Signaled Slide Detector
WI 222.1   Sloan
WI 227.2   Calla---Defect Detector
WI 232.5   Irvine
VB 144.3   Ravenna        CLASSIFICATION YARD
VB 144.1   Wagers
VB 150.1   Pryse--Weigh In Motion Scales
VB 153.7   Old Landing--Defect Detector
VB 158.1   Evelyn
VB 170.3   Heidelberg
VB 178.1   Beattyville
VB 179.1   St. Helens--Defect Detector
VB 187.3   Athol
VB 191.7   Yeadon
           ELKATAWA HILL
VB 195.6   Gentry--Defect Detector
VB 199.2   Jackson--YARD & Pusher Station
VB 210.5   Copland
VB 216.3   Wolfcoal--Defect Detector
VB 224.8   Perritt
VB 227.2   Krypton
VB 230.3   Grimes
VB 234.3   Rose
VB 237.1   Typo
VB 239.2   Crawford Yard  YARD
VB 240.4   Combs
VB 241.5   LOTTS CREEK BRANCH-Jake's Branch-Danger Fork Branch
VB 242.0   North Hazard   YARD
VB 243.2   Bluegrass---DAVIDSON SPUR
VB 247.3   Edjouet
VB 248.7   Jeff----CARRS FORK BRANCH-Montgomery Creek Br-Knott Br
VB 260.0   Dent-YARD----LEATHERWOOD BR-Leatherwood Creek Spur
                        ROCKHOUSE CREEK BRANCH
VG 275.3   Swanee
VG 280.0   Pats Wye----CAMP BRANCH
VG 285.2   Deane
VG 285.9   Democrat
CMO 42.1   Rapid Load


The Kentucky coalfields are divided into four groups for reporting purposes by the KY Department of Mines & Minerals and consist of the Cumberland Valley, Kentucky River, Big Sandy and the Western Kentucky Districts. CSX maintains first class track in all four, however, tonnage is shared with other railroads, mainly Norfork Southern, in all but the Kentucky River District(KRD). The EK Sub has trackage running through seven counties beginning with Clark and including Estill, Lee, Breathitt, Perry, Knott and Letcher. The KRD includes the counties listed above in addition to Owsley, Wolfe and Morgan which must use trucks to move coal to the EK loaders. Clark County is not included since it is outside the western limit of the Appalachian coal formation. These nine counties sit on estimated original reserves of 18 billion tons of which only 1.2 billion have been mined, or rendered unrecoverable by modern mining technology, during the last 200 years. There are 44 individually named seams which support the area's 462 producing mines, 189 being underground and 278 being surface operations. These seams range in thickness from the 120 inch "Skyline" seam in Breathitt to the 12 inch "Unnamed" seam in Owsley County. No kidding, this seam really is named "Unnamed". The first record of coal production in this area was 20 tons of surface mined coal from Lee county in 1790 and it took almost 100 years for mining to move into Perry county, today's largest KRD producer, where 349 tons were mined in 1889. During 1994, CSX transported 37.1 million tons of coal from the area which had been loaded from one of the region's 29 active rail loading sites. This accounts for an average of over 11 unit trains filled and transported every single day of the year. Of this volume, 26.5 million tons were produced by 25 companies with annual outputs which exceeded half a million tons, leaving the 10.6 million ton balance divided among some 100 smaller companies. A few of these colorfully named, small operations are Knott County's Blazing Saddles Coal, Perry County's Pick & Shovel Coal Company and Owsley County's Hard Dollar Coal Corporation. The KRD had four companies producing over 2 million tons per year with the largest being Blue Diamond Coal at 2.26 million, closely followed by Star Fire Mining, Lost Mountain Mining and Golden Oak Mining which shipped approximately 2.1 million tons each. With over 16 billion tons of proven, low-sulfur coal reserves remaining in the ground, this section of railroad will be busy for many years to come.


Just like a trip to the Cumberland Valley Sub should start with the Corbin Terminal, a visit to the EK should begin at Patio Yard in Winchester. This small yard has served to varying degrees of operational importance during the last few years, however, one can still find interesting equipment and other items here from time to time. Engine's needed for the EK often hitch a ride on a northbound out of the Corbin Terminal and wait at the yard for an empty unit train to continue down to Ravenna or Hazard. Patio is also home to a local switcher crew which often uses older, 4-axle engines sporting CSX predecessor paint schemes. Unfortunately, these are getting rarer as the veteran diesels are repainted, sold off or retired. CSX's switch to the new GE CW44-8's on most unit trains system-wide occasionally brings a pusher unit into the yard from the nearby grade.

Prior to 1991, most coal trains utilized four or more SD40-2 or C30-7's which gave southbounds extra power to climb the CC Subdivision's 11 mile, 1.1% grade from the Kentucky River Bridge at Ford to Fort Estill known as Richmond Hill. There is also a 10 mile, 1.0% northbound grade from the Kentucky River back up to Patio that can require a helper on heavier coal trains. CSX has found that replacing these four older engines with only two of the Dash 8's provides substantial fuel savings and ample horsepower to traverse most of the system with the exception of five area's in or near Eastern Kentucky. These pusher districts are the EK's Elkatawa Hill, the CC's Richmond Hill(two hills, one pusher), the CC's Crooked Hill, the KD's Duff Mountain Grade (actually in Tennessee) and the CV's Hagan's Switchback. CSX maintains yet another pusher in Kentucky just south of Louisville on Muldraugh Hill, however, that's considered to be outside of Appalachia and will not be covered in these reports. Richmond had been home base for the Richmond Pusher, which is normally a single Dash 8, until a crew shelter was constructed at Ford to better position the unit for shoves in either direction.

Directly above the northern switch which connects the EK's wye to the CC Sub is a single-lane, wooden truss bridge that gives excellent views of the entire yard complex from it's north end. Unfortunately, as of last month, this bridge has been closed to automobile traffic and I'm unsure as to it's future. You can still park and walk across the structure and this serves my purpose very well! There is just something about standing over the tracks as a long autorack train passes beneath your feet at full speed. The CC host several of these autoracks in addition to the flood of coal traffic and the occasional grain or slop freight so one does not have to wait very long for action. Signals are visible in both directions and if they are lit, something is coming fast. There is another bridge, this one a modern concrete structure, which crosses the CC mainline and the south wye switch on the opposite end of the yard. This is also a good spot for photographs, but watch out for cars speeding along this section of road.

Up until about 1993, there had also been an interlocking tower located inside the wye tracks just to the south of the wooden bridge that served as both an office and shelter for the local crews. I'm sure some wise corporate employee thought that a nice trailer would be more comfortable and the tower was destroyed without warning. This destruction-without-warning had happened before in Winchester when the small depot, located adjacent to the old L&N-C&O diamond, was torn down by CSX a few year prior to the tower. Several local preservationist and towns people went crazy over this unannounced act.

To get to Patio, take I-64 east from Lexington to the second Winchester exit. Just before the exit, you will pass under two railroad bridges. The first being the single track Old Road Sub and the second, a double tracked CC Sub. Head south into Winchester from the exit for about a mile, crossing over a set of industrial tracks serving a concrete plant and then passing what used to be the C&O's Lexington Branch overpass. The steel bridge has been removed, but the retaining walls and footers are still present. The first red light past this removed bridge will be an intersection with KY89. Turn left and go to the second red light which will be past the Diary Queen but before a bridge over the RR tracks. This is Highland Street. Turn right and pass through a light and several stop signs until you come to an intersection with Hickman Street. Left on Hickman will quickly wind you back past the wooden truss bridge which is very hard to miss. The old diamond with the C&O branch was located just north of here. To get there, turn left onto Highland from KY89 and drive down to the brick-paved street where the tracks are easily found. This is a good spot to photograph trains running north off the EK and the signals are also visible from the RR crossing.


Several items of interest between Patio and the yard at Ravenna are the three magnificent trestles mentioned above. Since the low-grade line traverses rolling farmland, it is almost impossible to chase a train. If you see one departing Patio, the best thing to do is pick a trestle, get there as quickly as possible and set up for the run-by. You can then usually make it to Ravenna before it arrives. From Winchester, take KY89 southeast toward Irvine.

The first trestle is the Dry Fork Viaduct, located about six railroad miles south of Patio. To get here, take KY89 for about 5.3 miles from the RR bridge in Winchester to the community of Ruckerville. Turn right onto Old Ruckerville Road. This road makes a loop toward the north and will take you back out to KY89 about 2 miles from Winchester. There will therefore be two signs for Old Ruckerville Road, one about 2 miles from Winchester and one about 5.3 miles, just make sure you take the second one. If you cross a bridge on KY89 with a DRY FORK sign, you have gone too far. After turning off KY89 follow the road, which will curve back northward for about a mile to a tight hairpin curve that drops down a steep hill. At the bottom of the hill is a white house on the left and a very hard-to-see road also to the left. Turn here, go about a mile, and you will end up directly under the Dry Fork Viaduct. The road is very roughly paved with lots of potholes but the trip is well worth it. This is a hangout for local kids and one was recently killed while trying to walk across the bridge on a dare when a southbound suddenly appeared, running down-grade at track speed. The engineer saw the child standing midway across and risked his own life by making an emergency application of the brakes while on the spindly trestle. The girl attempted to run, but it was too late and she thrown the 200+ feet to her death as several others watched. Please stay off these bridges and don't wind up like this! Back at the KY89 intersection, there is a road which looks as if it would parallel Dry Fork. This is a newly paved section which quickly ends in the creek but continues on the other side. If you are brave and have a 4-wheel drive this is a nice shortcut to the trestle. The first tunnel on the EK is located about a mile north of the Dry Fork Viaduct and is totally inaccessible by auto, get ready to hike if you wish to see it.

The next trestle is the 1,440-foot-long, 225-foot-high Howard's Creek Viaduct located three railroad miles from Dry Fork. To see this site, get back to KY89 and turn right toward Ravenna, cross the highway bridge over Dry Fork, then go 1/2 mile to an intersection with KY974.(a.k.a. White-Conkwright Road) Turn right onto KY974, after 1/3 of a mile is an intersection with Agawam Road which goes straight. Keep right, following KY974 for an additional 4.2 miles to a intersection with Upper Howard Creek Road at the bottom of the hill. The Viaduct will be visible in the distance to your left. You may want to take a breather after the last 3 mile roller-coaster ride: this road is paved but follows the contours of the local terrain exactly. You have also unknowingly pass directly over the second tunnel during the trip. Straight on Agawam Road would have gotten you closer to it at track level, however be prepared for a hike to actually see it. Turning left onto the gravel, Upper Howard Creek Road, will take you over to the bridge. The road turns to dirt about a 1/4 mile from the base and if it has been raining recently, don't try this in the family car!

The third and most spectacular trestle is the 2,200-foot-long, 233-foot-high Red River Viaduct which ranked as the tallest structure on the ex-L&N and is located about 5 miles south of Howard's Creek. To get there, go back to KY89 and turn right toward Ravenna once again. Exactly six road miles from here is the community of Mina and an intersection with KY1028. Turn left on KY1028, (a.k.a Epperson Road) which twist down-hill to finally cross the Red River. If you cross a bridge over the tracks on KY89, you have gone too far. Within a half mile, the long structure will be clearly visible from 1028 off to the right. Early morning is the best time to make use of the sun's direct lighting, although late afternoon can make for some excellent backlit photographs. Getting back to KY89 and turning left will get you to a highway truss bridge over the Red River and the Clark County line after 1.7 miles. Looking back to the left while on the bridge will give a great view of the entire viaduct from a distance.

To back up just a moment, about halfway between the KY974 and KY1028 intersections on KY89 is the entrance to a East Kentucky Power Co-Op Generating Station. This plant is still under construction, so gaining access is almost impossible. The entrance is at the point where KY89 widens briefly to three lanes with the gate being on your right. This plant started out to be a coal-fired facility and CSX constructed a loop track to supply the coal dumper, however, East Kentucky Power recently announced a design change to gas turbine generation, tapping the nearby 24" Columbia Gas transmission pipeline. A very odd move in my opinion since this is so close to the coalfields.

From the Red River there is not much to see until we get close to Irvine. The EK tracks will pass back under KY89 about 4.5 miles from the Red River just before the community of Hargett and an intersection with KY82. As you pass the Hargett High School, check out the three old L&N cabooses being used as concession stands for the football field on your right. From the KY82 intersection, stay on KY89 and go 4.5 miles to an intersection with KY1840. Watch closely for the sign as the road cuts sharply uphill and was originally the entrance for the South-East Coal Company. Turn right onto KY1840 and drive up the hill to the Estill County Industrial Park. The terrain will quickly begin to resemble a wasteland and that's exactly what this is. You are now on top of years' worth of mine refuse and waste water settling basins from the nearby prep plant. Before filling for bankruptcy in 1990, South-East donated this land to Estill County for the encouragement of economic development by attracting manufacturing plants to locate in the area. To date, only one plant has been built here and it's located just to your left. Turning up into the paved parking lot, driving to the far righthand corner and looking over the embankment will give you a bird's eye view of the large preparation plant, rotary car dumper, several ground storage stockpiles, a flood loader and even a small airplane runway of what was South-East Coal Company's Central Preparation Plant Complex. South-East did not operate mines in Estill County, therefore this plant was designed to only receive and process raw coal from several out-lying operations just like the old US Steel setup between Lynch and the Corbin Prep Plant on the CV Subdivision. CSX serves this facility on the 90 car "Calla" siding which passes beneath the flood loader. Calla being short for Calloway's Crossing, the area's actual name. There is also additional trackage here used by the coal company to store their private hoppers and service the car dumper. Today, this entire complex is owned and operated by Kentucky Processing so I'll take a moment to examine just what happened to the state's largest & oldest family-owned coal company at the end of this report.

Go back to KY89 and turn right again. From here it is exactly two miles to downtown Irvine. Entering Irvine, keep going straight until you come to several sets of red-lights. The first intersection should be with KY2461 and the second with KY52. These have got to be the longest lights in the world and they are always red, especially when you are trying to catch a train entering the nearby yard. Take a left onto KY52 and drive into Ravenna. Once again, if you cross a bridge over the Kentucky River you've gone too far. Irvine and Ravenna are actually just one large town today, so you will never truly move from town to town. Just behind the supermarket on the right is the north end of Ravenna Yard and it extends for 2 miles with KY52 following directly beside it all the way. Some of the old trackage from yesteryear is still present, parallel to 52 and running through the parking lots of the local businesses prior to the super- market. You can get some really great morning pictures here without stepping foot near railroad property. Midway down the yard on your right is a park with both an old caboose and a passenger car on display. As you continue down KY52 you will soon come to a flashing yellow light at the intersection of KY1571. 52 turns left here and 1571 continues straight before curving to the right and passing under the EK through a one-lane automobile tunnel. Stay on 1571 and be careful at the tunnel. Just as you emerge on the south side will be a turnoff to the right with a road number of KY1645. Turn onto 1645 and follow this road for about a mile, passing through two 90 degree curves and by a golf course on the left, until you get to a large building on the right. This is a boat manufacturer and the entrance to the Ravenna Yards is the next road to your right. Of course, one should stop and ask permission before continuing any further. The aging two-story Ravenna depot is still in use and located directly in front of the entrance. To the right are open-air fuel and sanding facilities along with about 500,000 gallons of storage tanks. Directly beside the fuel racks is a 4- track car repair building which was newly constructed about 1992- 1993 to service the hopper fleet. You can usually see a scale test car parked here which is used to calibrate the nearby weigh- in-motion scales at Pryse. Engines are constantly in and out for fuel, however, there are no repair facilities here so you will normally only find 2-6 units present at any one time. Sadly, the South-East Coal engines, which could easily be photographed here, are gone forever. More on that later.

Get back to KY1645 and turn right. Near the north end of the yard is a wooden foot bridge which allows access to the before mentioned supermarket without the danger of passing trains. This is a great spot to set up for an elevated shot of the entire yard or of trains entering and leaving from the north. KY1645 will itself cross over the tracks on a new bridge and tie back into KY52 within sight of the foot-bridge forming a large paved loop around the yards.

Now go back down to the tunnel underpass at the south end and take KY1571 as it parallels the mainline tracks and the Kentucky River. About 3.2 miles with bring you to a RR crossing at Miller's Creek and it's another 1.6 to an intersection with KY1398. The EK tracks will have been out of sight since just after the crossing. Turn right on KY1398 and go about half a mile to view the weigh-in-motion scales at Pryse. Continuing on KY1398 about a mile and a half will get us to Texola and a very large abandoned oil terminal located between the road and the tracks. KY1398 will continue to follow the tracks for about another 1.2 miles until it uneventfully deadends. From here to Beattyville, the mainline is accessible only at various points which require excessive time to get to and there is really nothing of interest to see. I suggest going back to the intersection with KY1571, turn or keep toward the right getting back on 1571 and then linking back up with KY52 after 0.8 miles at Mt. Sinai. Turning right on KY52, it's a boring 15.4 miles to Beattyville and the EK trackage. I had planned on getting as far as Hazard in this installment, but I think we'll wait until next time due to the several hard to find sites that will require extra space to describe. Let's discuss the South-East Coal Company and then I'll conclude with a listing of the topographical maps for this area.


South-East Coal Company began life in 1945 as a small operation owned and operated by Harry LeViers Sr. in the mountains of Letcher and Knott Counties. Being the son of a son of a miner, he operated his company knowing what it was like to spend all day underground in the damp darkness and vowed to treat his employees as equals. The original tipple was located on a branch which extended from the yard at McRoberts up Sandlick Creek to the community of Bellcraft. As the demand for coal grew during the fifties and sixties, so did South East and their number of employees. A second 60 car tipple was constructed at Polly on the L&N's Camp Branch and, with the opening of the Premium Mine, yet a third at Hot Spot on the L&N's Whitesburg Branch.

In order to pursue larger and more lucrative contracts, a prep plant was constructed at Calla in 1959 to improve the overall marketability of the mined coal. To supply this plant, two modern, high capacity loadouts were later built at Swanee near Isom on the Rockhouse Creek Branch and at Tolson on the Whitesburg Branch. The Tolson Loader shipped raw coal from the new Linefork Mine while the Swanee Loader handled coal from several smaller deep and surface mines in Knott County. The Linefork Mine grew to consistently average 696,961 tpy from the 34-inch-thick "Hazard #4" coal seam while the nearby Mine #404 later started adding 257,918 tpy from the same seam and also shipped from the Tolson Loadout. The two largest mines producing coal loaded at Swanee were Mine #400 at 419,659 tpy and Mine #411 at 269,595 tpy both also operating in the "Hazard #4" seam which averaged 40-inches-thick under the Knott County mountains.

A year after winning a long-term contract to supply coal to Kentucky Utilities in 1978, South-East purchased six, remotored GP20's from the Union Pacific, several sets of 100 ton hoppers and painted them all a light green color with SECX reporting marks. These train sets were used to move the raw coal from the Tolson and Swanee Loadouts to the Calla Prep Plant. On occasion, the units moved loaded hoppers of clean coal up the EK to Latonia then turned east to run over the Newport Branch to Oglebay Norton's Licking River Terminal Company, a 2,600 tph barge transloader about a mile away on the east bank of the Licking River. After this site closed, hoppers were moved along the same route but stopped at a small yard in Paris where they were handed off to TTI for transfer to Maysville and Transco Coal Company's 1,400 tph Transcontinental Terminal on the Kentucky bank of the Ohio River. Heavy repair and maintenance work for these engines was contracted out to the L&N and thus the light green engines were also frequent visitors to Corbin's engine facilities where they were often seen in the company of Shamrock Coal's green O&W SD40-2's. During the eighties, three new GP38-2's for road power and a SW1500 to be used for handling cars at the Tolson Loadout were purchased. These engines, the entire hopper fleet and the GP20's were later repainted a drab black, much to my personal dissatisfaction. South-East also owned a tank car that it used to haul diesel fuel to the remote mine sites. Times were good and the LeViers family took good care of each employee making this "the" company to work for. Then the trouble began.

At the time the 12.5 year contract to supply Kentucky Utilities (KU) was signed in 1978, prices and demand for low- sulfur compliance coals were on the rise with no end in sight. With the combination of OPEC lowering oil prices and the US recession of 1981 and 1982, energy markets for coal produced electricity began to quickly level off and then fall. The coal boom was once again headed toward hard times. KU started to notice that the same quality coal could be purchased at $10.00 to $20.00 a ton cheaper than their contract and requested an adjustment. South-East refused the request and the legal battle began in late 1984. Since that time, KU had been depositing what they contended was excess charges with the courts until over $100 million was at stake by 1992. KU had won a settlement at the Circuit Court level in 1990 prompting South-East to file for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in October and an appeal of the ruling. The Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled in favor of South- East in early 1991 stating that KU was taking a normal business risk when they signed the 1978 contract. KU then appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court which ruled back in the utilities' favor on June 4, 1992. South-East asked the Supreme Court to reconsider the decision on the basis that the court violated the Kentucky Constitution when the Chief Justice excused himself and was replaced by a Frankfort attorney with ties to KU. Because this attorney ultimately authored the opinion, South-East felt that he may have influenced the outcome. The coal company contended that they were denied due process since only the governor is empowered to appoint a special justice to the Kentucky Supreme Court. In late August of 1992, the Court refused to reconsider the decision and South-East attempted to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. This appeal was denied forcing the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to place South-East up for sale. By this time, all of the motive power had been sold and the only operating mine was at Linefork which employed about 370 hourly workers.

This was not the end of the LeViers family fight for the survival of South-East. Harry's (this is now Harry Jr.) two sons, Donald and Stephen, secured financing and formed a new corporation called DLX which bid on the Linefork Mine and Calla Prep Plant. On January 7, 1993, federal judge Joe Lee approved the sale of the properties to DLX for $5.75 million edging out Lexington based, Golden Oak Mining's bid of $4.35 million and placing a fifth generation of LeViers in the mining business. The court also approved the sale of a long-term coal contract with AEP to a South-East subsidiary called Newco, which is a joint venture of DLX and Amax Coal Industries' subsidiary Cannelton Coal of West Virginia.

As if this were not enough, the saga continued into 1994. The large Linefork Mine had experienced several problems with bad roof over the years which caused operating cost to be higher than normal. Under DLX, these problems continued and resulted in several cave-ins and injuries not to mention negitive profits. In an attempt to move the active mining from the weak roof area, DLX applied to the state for permits to mine under Lilley Cornett Woods, one of only two publicly owned old-growth forest remaining in Eastern Kentucky. Eastern Kentucky University, located in Richmond, quickly protested, claiming that any mining activity under the forest could potentially damage the water table and cause irreversible harm to the old trees. Kentucky's Department for Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement thus denied DLX's request based on the inability to prove that mining would not harm the 550-acre wooded area. Within days, DLX had issued WARN notices to the 200 remaining workers at Linefork and proceeded to close the mine during June. This brought the once great South- East empire to an end and resulted in all assets being sold to Kentucky Processing Corporation.

I know for a fact that the Swanee Loadout is back in operation shipping raw coal to the prep plant at Calla. The Tolson Loadout may or may not be back in operation and I'm planning a trip which will take me by here late next month. The other three tipples had been removed long before the legal problems began but I'll still tell you how to get to the old locations. The tank car described above is stored at the Calla plant and still wears the black with red/yellow strip paint of South-East. Old SECX hoppers can also still be found, however coal was being shipped during June in SPSX (Progress Rail Services Corporation) hoppers. As for Kentucky Processing, I'm still working on finding out the details of this transaction and just who is now in control of the company. You'll know as soon as I do. Now, IMHO, the entire legal mess was a bunch of BS and South-East got the short end of this deal. A contract is a contract and I truly wish I had been called for jury duty on this case. Anyone else agree with me?


Topographical maps covering the entire Eastern Kentucky Subdivision are as follows: Winchester, Hedges, Palmer, Panola, Irvine, Cobhill, Heidelberg, Beattyville, Tallega, Jackson, Quicksand, Canoe, Haddix, Buckhorn, Krypton, Hazard North, Hazard South, Carrie, Vicco, Tilford, Leatherwood, Blackey, Roxanna, Whitesburg, Mayking and Jenkins West. Maps covering only the area discussed in this report are Winchester, Hedges, Palmer, Panola and Irvine. The EK Subdivision traverses some of the best scenery in the state and never fails to provide plenty of Class 1 railroad action year-round. The section covered in this report can even be visited during the summer months without too much distraction from the thick foliage which covers the hills and mountains. This will not hold true for the southern end where the best views come only after the leaves have fallen during the Fall and Winter. The next installment will get us into Hazard where we'll visit the yard and then explore as many branchlines as possible.


Before leaving you, let me take a moment to thank Ron Flanary, Dennis Mize, Bill Grady and everyone else at the L&N Historical Society for their unlimited knowledge of these old rails.

Special thanks must go out to my father, Robert "Bigdog" Vaughn Sr., who recently read my last post and wondered, out-loud and repeatedly, why he wasn't in it. Dad started work in Loyall for the L&N as a crew caller at the tender age of sixteen, following closely in the footsteps of his father who was then a CV fireman, and put in over 43 years; taking a break only to obtain a BA degree from the University of Kentucky and serve in WWII. During 1943, my Grandfather had become a CV engineer, relocating the family to Corbin where he worked mine runs up the C&M Branch and pushers on Emanuel Hill. As I've stated in previous reports, I never got to meet my Grandfather; he passed away before I was born, having served the L&N for 35 years.

Dad's long career included such jobs as clerk, Corbin's Yardmaster and a 10 year stint as Terminal Trainmaster during the turbulent coal-boom years of the sixties and seventies which kept him away from home most of the time. I would therefore jump at the chance to accompany him to work and can remember sitting in his car with the headlights illuminating a derailed GP30 at 4:00am, a trip south to Rockholds to help him oversee the cleanup of a burning autorack crash in the seventies and countless visits to the engine terminal where he would sometimes get me short rides in a switch engine. He still resides in Corbin and now must put up with my endless questions, although somehow I really don't think he minds. I, on the other hand, deviated from a railroad career. Even-though I'm now an engineer, the only thing I get to pilot are electrons down copper wires instead of locomotives down the rails. Thanks again for the memories dad!

On to Volume 3b
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Coal Tower
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W&H Herlad
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