Pittston Minerals Group, the corporate mining parent of such coal companies as Pittston Mining, Eastern Coal Corporation and Virginia's old Clinchfield Coal, is feeling the pinch of a soft spot-market. Spot-market prices have bottomed out as a result of last years mild winter which both reduced demand by utilities and allowed favorable surface mining conditions all year which in-turn increased stockpiles at the mine sites. Pittston has announced that at least some mine closures will be unavoidable, including several operations acquired from Addington Resources in 1994. This will be of interest latter in today's report when we visit and discuss a site on the EK Sub now owned by Addington.
Kentucky Utilities is back in the news again (see Vol. 3A) after being sued by Amax Coal Co., which is a subsidiary of Colorado-based Cyprus Amax Coal Company. Amax has initiated arbitration proceedings to recover approximately $1.3 million they claim was incurred during a mining operation which supplied KU under a long-term contract during the 1980's. This represents the money spent on past reclamation work performed at a Perry County strip mine after the contract expired. Amax is also seeking to recover the ongoing cost of completing the project which could end up in the range of an additional $2 million dollars. The entire tract of land is still being managed by the coal company and is now called the Cyprus Amax Wildlife Management Area. KU has issued a recent press release which states that "Management intends to contest vigorously the claims for ongoing and final reclamation." Unlike the last KU court battle in which SouthEast Coal was forced into bankruptcy, Cyprus Amax is a 100 million ton per year company with the finiancial backing to go the distance with the judicial system.
In a related story, Cyprus Mountain Coal Corporation, which is now the operating identity of Amax Coal in Perry County, has laid off over 100 miners as a result of the low demand for compliance coals. Cyprus Mountain now controls three operations in Perry County, Lost Mountain Mining, Starfire Mining and Buckhorn Processing, which ship over CSX's EK Subdivision. The layoff has lowered the total workforce to 340 and means that Lost Mountain Mining's huge Harris Branch strip mine north of Hazard has been reduced to virtually no production. This complex had shipped 3.4 million tons over the Lott's Creek Branch last year and had been projecting a 1995 increase to over 4.3 million tons. These facilities will also be covered in Volume 3C.
Lastly, Wolf Creek Collieries Company, which is a division of Zeigler Coal Corporation, has also cut it's workforce by 219 hourly employees. This layoff affected only those miners working at the company's Wolf Creek No. 4 mine in Martin County and comes after 57 miners were permanently furloughed two weeks earlier. Wolf Creek had been discussed in Volume 2D as having the largest operating longwall unit in the country which mined coal from the "Alma" seam. These cutbacks are the result of a $12 million investment to remove the longwall unit and return the No. 4 mine to a continuous miner/continuous haulage system due to seam conditions. The new "Biggest Longwall in the Country Award" now goes to Mingo Logan Coal, a subsidiary of Kentucky's Ashland Coal Division of Ashland Oil. Mingo Logan is currently operating a 1,000 foot-wide by 13,000 foot-long panel in the 84 inch "Lower Cedar Grove" seam at their Mountaineer Mine located near Wharncliffe, WVa. This mine may not hold these honors long as a western coal company has just started seeking permits to open a 22,000 foot long panel later this year. More on that later. Wolf Creek's No. 4 mine is set to resume production by the end of August at which time some of the workforce will be recalled to supplement the 77 miners which have been installing the new equipment. The large prep plant, located on Norfork Southern's busy Wolf Creek Branch of the Pocahontas Division, was not affected and has continued to fulfill contract obligations with tonnage from other mines since the shutdown. We'll also be visiting this area in a future post that will probably be around Volume 6 or 7.
We now have three routes to get us over to Beattyville. You can: 1) Cross the tracks on KY399 and go 3.1 miles to an intersection with KY587. Turn left on KY587 and go 3.1 miles to an intersection with KY11, left onto KY11, then 2.2 miles to get to Beattyville and KY52 again. 2) Go back north on KY399 for 2.2 miles to an unmarked road to the right which will sometimes wind along the tracks for about 4.3 miles through the community of Belle Point and rejoin KY52 about a mile north of Beattyville. Warning: This road is narrow and rough! 3) Take KY399 all the way back to KY52, turn right, and enjoy a smooth 8 mile ride into downtown Beattyville. Note: This route highly recommended.
Taking the latter route will also treat you to a very old wooden trestle spanning Silver Creek which belonged to a spur of the original "Riney-B" RR. The trestle is located on your left about a 1/4 mile before KY52 passes under the EK mainline at Beattyville and well worth a look. After passing under the tracks, continue through downtown until you get to the red lights at an intersection with KY11. About the only other site of interest in Beattyville is a short siding which is used to store bad-order cars, cabooses or MOW equipment and is visible straight ahead through the light. Turn right onto KY11/KY52, cross the bridge over the Kentucky River then turn left at the light onto KY52 again. The South Fork of the Kentucky River branches off just out of sight of this intersection and snakes, naturally, to the south while KY52 will follow the river east with the tracks on the opposite bank. There is a 10,081 foot passing siding that starts just past Beattyville and often host trains waiting for a meet or a clear block to proceed, however the trees will keep these hidden from view most of the year.
Continue on KY52 for about 4.2 miles until you cross over the tracks on a new concrete bridge. To your left is the point at which the North Fork and Middle Fork come together to form the Kentucky River and the tracks will have just crossed the Kentucky to begin following the Middle Fork. This community is known as St. Helens(a.k.a. Three Forks) and is not only the site of one active and one removed coal loader but is also where the old Lexington & Eastern RR had joined the river for the run to Jackson. Past the coal loader is a bridge over the Middle Fork and if you turn left on the next road you will actually be riding on the old roadbed. The RR bridge is gone, however, KY11 north out of Beattyville also uses the abandoned roadbed to climb out of the Kentucky River Valley past such areas as Rock of Ages, Holy, Hell Creek and Hell For Certain Creek. Life must have been hard here during the turn of the century. Now let's get back to the coal loader.
The remaining loader which is visible to your right is the ex- St. Helens Processing Company's, St. Helens Tipple which is currently being worked by Sturgeon Mining Company. This is a smaller operation compared to what lies ahead, however, there are truck-dumps, crushers, screens, storage stockpiles and a twin- track loader. One of the two "St. Helens" siding tracks has been removed, which allows trucks to be loaded with processed coal as well as hoppers on the remaining 20 car capacity track. Hoppers are shuffled to and from this tipple by the Elkatawa Hill Helpers which will stay on the rear of a loaded unit train for the 17 mile trip from Jackson when needed. The road which leads back to the operation, Dunigan Branch Road, is public so feel free to drive back for a better look. Be careful, trains run through here at full track speed and the crossing is not signaled. There is also a small, but very busy, sawmill just to the right which has loaded log-trucks pulling in and out constantly.
What's missing here is the recently removed Erico Processing Company's Ace Tipple which had been located on the opposite side of the tracks and about two hundred feet east of the St. Helens Tipple. A faded "Erico" sign marks the old location of this nearly mirror-image operation that had closed it's doors many years back. The still in place, 20 car siding was referred to as "Degen" and is now used for servicing a large propane storage tank.
Continuing on KY52, the tracks will follow the road on the opposite side of the Middle Fork for about 2.5 miles until they take a shortcut through Tyler Tunnel. As KY52 turns northward, look for the first "paved/mostly gravel" road to the right. This should be M. Cann Road and will wind back over the hill for about a mile until it crosses the tracks. Take a right onto Long Branch Road just after the crossing and follow the tracks back to where they start to curve away from the road. You'll have to get out & walk over toward the right-of-way to see the single-track portal of the tunnel which is hidden by the approach embankment. Get back to KY52 and go about 3.1 miles, passing through America (a.k.a. Monica), until you see the new railroad bridge crossing the road at Tallega. To your right is a long, wooden trestle which brings the EK mainline across the Middle Fork to this new span. The concrete and steel structure was installed about two years ago as CSX went through a period of upgrades on the EK which included replacing several of the older, L&N-era overpasses. During construction, a bypass bridge or elevated "shoo-fly" was built to keep the coal moving. I made several trips here for the sole purpose of photographing SD40-2's as they slowed down to a snails-pace to traverse the treacherous elevated trackwork. This was the one time you could not have paid me to go for a train ride! It was exciting, and probably very dangerous, to stand directly below the tracks as the loaded trains threaded their way around this temporary obstacle.
Continuing on KY52 after passing under the bridge you should quickly look to the left just as the road rises up to track level. The wide area with a fresh layer of gravel marks the spot of the also recently removed RBS Coal Company's Tallega Tipple. The Tallega Tipple had been another very small operation that consisted of a truck-dump and simple conveyor used to load hoppers. The scale house & wooden office had pretty much fallen down on their own and the conveyor's frame-work stood rusting and abandoned for many years. This area is now used as a parking lot for several large coal trucks owned by people who live nearby. The 20 car capacity, "Tallega" siding and switch are still in use, but I have yet to find anything stored on these tracks since the tipple's removal.
As we continue toward Jackson, the tracks will have departed the Middle Fork's gentle water-level grade and started the 1.0% climb up the western slope of Elkatawa Hill. By cutting cross- country, the RR shaves about 10 miles off the meandering North Fork while tunneling through several ridges. The first tunnel, Mud Tunnel, to be encountered is just a mile from the Tallega Tipple site and will actually pass directly under KY52 which makes it very easy to locate. From Mud Tunnel, the tracks will now begin to follow Upper Twin Creek on the right side of KY52 as we pass into Breathitt County and enter the community of Oakdale. We will have traveled about 3.5 miles from the tunnel when the rails pass back to the left side of the road at Oakdale. From the crossing, it's exactly 1.7 miles to Chenowee Tunnel and the crest of Elkatawa Hill. The western portal can be found by looking to the left, as the road begins to climb above track level, for a nice white house. This house sits directly over the carved rock entrance to the tunnel and must rumble and vibrate like crazy as engines struggle under maximum load to best the hill. This is a great place to pull off the road and look down on the portal as the northbounds roll by and then stop so that the helpers may cut-off on the opposite side of the ridge. The sound echoing out of the tunnel made by two or three diesels moving at about 5 mph in Run 8 is unbelievable and should not be missed. Let me again recommend the Pentrex video tape, "Eastern Kentucky Coal", which devoted a good ten minutes to the pusher operation and includes footage of both portals and an attempt to capture the exhaust music on tape. This video also has scenes from several other locations on the EK Sub including three, now- removed tipples, so I'll be referring to it from time to time as a reference. Buy this tape!
From Chenowee Tunnel, both the tracks and KY52 will follow Lindon Fork Creek as they drop downgrade for 3.5 miles passing by the communities of Yeadon, Gentry (Original location of the pusher station before it was moved to Jackson) and Elkatawa. There are large, steel-deck RR bridges over Hurricane Branch, Lindon Branch and Colts Creek which provide excellent photo opportunities. You will next come to an intersection with KY30 at the bottom of the hill. Turning left onto KY30 will take you over a bridge crossing Lindon Fork and place you right beside a very large flood-loader belonging to Arch Mineral. Since this is one of my favorite coal companies, let's take a closer look at this site then skip back to the railroad.
The first order of business was to get shipping cost in line which had skyrocketed under Falcon Coal management. Local trucking firms had formed what they referred to as the Breathitt County Truckers Association(BCTA) which contracted on a cost plus basis resulting in some truly unheard-of rates. Arch canceled all contracts and advertised for bids on a purchase agreement basis allowing other independent operators a chance to pick up some much-needed work. In the end, the BCTA came in as the low bidders and retained their right to haul coal while dropping Arch's transportation cost by over 50%.
Next, Arch had to negotiate a new contract with the existing labor force which was represented by the UMWA. Historically, this is much easier said than done as both sides usually bring over 30 representatives to the bargaining table and spend days arguing over the smallest detail. The company stated from the beginning that things had to move fast and smoothly or they would simply shut down, take their coal contracts, and get out of Breathitt County permanently. A total of five representatives from each side traveled to the neutral setting of Lexington and hammered out a unique agreement which gave Arch the right to renegotiate new terms with the workers based on the conditions of any new business contracts. If an agreement could not be reached in 90 days, the company had the right to create a new workforce with the same benefits and pay as the old one. This gave the workers incentive to help the company become more productive and thus prosper or bite the dust together.
The last order of business was to streamline operations and the physical plant. This move ultimately resulted in the closing of all the loaders in Breathitt County with the exception of the Elkatawa Loadout. This site now consist of a wide unloading area at the top of the hill where a short conveyor moves the raw coal into a ten-story processing facility also located high on the hillside. Twin, movable conveyors allow the processed coal to be stored in a man-made valley directly behind the well-kept, yellow and blue flood-loader. This loader stands over the 100 car plus "Elkatawa" siding and is located only about 20 feet from the shoulder of KY30. You can easily sit in your car and watch hoppers being flood-loaded while waiting on northbound trains out of Hazard to do battle with Elkatawa Hill.
Over a period of just one year, seven of the ten original mines were closed leaving only the South Fork, Press Howard and Spicewood Mines in production. These operations consist of 38,000 acres of coal reserves in a 56 square-mile area with 4,500 surface acres permitted and actively being mined by mountain top removal, contour and augur methods. Falcon had mined through seven of the existing high quality seams leaving Arch operating in the 36-inch, "Sub 5" seam. The only remaining reserves are located in the 4.1 foot-thick "Haddix" seam some 200 feet below the Sub 5. This seam represents 60-million-tons of recoverable reserves, however it is of a lower quality and must be mined with a reject ratio reaching close to 50%. These factors make it unsuitable for the metallurgical industry and therefore useful only for steam plants which greatly reduces it's marketability.
Just as the former SouthEast Coal became involved in a dispute with Eastern Kentucky University over mining under Lilly Cornett Woods, Arch locked horns with the University of Kentucky over mining a section of leased land located in Robinson Forest. Robinson Forest is a 15,000 acre, environmentally sensitive research reserve operated by UK and located in the lower southeast corner of Breathitt County. UK maintained that any mining in the Forest would result in acid mine drainage and runoff which would jeopardize several long-term projects and damage the ecosystem. The South Fork Mine had mined all the way up to the boundary of Robinson Forest at a hilltop known as University Ridge and Arch needed the 3.1 million tons of easy-to- mine coal under their 350 leased acres inside the reserve. The legal battle became very heated with Arch demanding either mining rights or compensation for what rightfully belonged to them. They even came up with a plan to capture all runoff and divert it back onto their own property while offering $1.5 million in grants to be used to monitor the mining activity. Of course the University would not give in which forced Arch to file suit and lay off 250 employees until the smoke cleared and a judgment was reached. Unlike SouthEast's successor DLX, in the end Arch won and now most of the black diamonds you will see in the stockpiles have come from under Robinson Forest.
One final observation, a late July trip by the Elkatawa Tipple reveals that the Cumberland River Coal Company name has been added above the Arch on the North Fork sign at the entrance. If you'll remember, Cumberland River's only operating mine had been the ill fated Scotia Mine discussed in Volume 2D. In addition, corporate advertising list the subsidiaries falling under Arch Mineral (now traded on Wall Street under the Apogee Resources banner) as Arch of:Illinois, Kentucky, West Virginia, Wyoming, and the Catenary Coal Company. What happen to Cumberland River Coal and Arch on the North Fork? I'm working on it, but rumor has it that Arch has spun these two off to be operated as an independent division. As I've said before, it's very hard to keep up with current events in the coalfield, but it's also fun trying!
Now head back toward Jackson on KY15. You should pass the KY30 turnoff and then a McDonalds on the right to ensure you're going the proper direction. It's about a mile to a mile and a half to downtown Jackson. KY15 is a bypass, so you'll have to turn right at the red-light and cross the bridge to actually enter Jackson. Turn right on the second road just over the bridge, take the first left for one block and turn right again to pass by the tightly packed business of Main Street and several stop-lights. This road, which is "Old KY30", will soon take you back across the North Fork and then pass under the EK mainline. The small yard and pusher station is located by turning left on the other side (County road CR5303) of the underpass and climbing uphill to track level and the ex-location of the removed Jackson Tipple which had used one of the yard tracks for hopper loading. This dock was used for the sole purpose of loading coal mined on Cripple Creek and was shut-down when those mines closed during the seventies. Nothing remains but concrete footers and lots of loose coal to mark the old site. The Elkatawa Hill pushers can often be found sitting on the same tracks that had serviced this loader.
Continuing to the far end of the yard on CR5303, you'll come to the site of another removed tipple. Just past the point where the yard tracks start was a switch that served the small, Falcon Coal Company's SouthFork #1 Tipple. This had been one of Falcon's very first tipples in Breathitt County and had loaded hoppers on the 12 car capacity "SouthFork #1" siding. It survived into the late eighties until being salvaged for scrap metal and passing into history.
Get back to KY15 and go right for about 2 miles to an intersection with KY1812 to the right and KY1111 to the left. Right on KY1812 will get you a good view of the mainline tunnel located at Dumont, however it's on the opposite bank of the North Fork and thus too far away for any good action photos. About a half mile before the tunnel had been the location of a small Falcon Coal Company tipple known as SouthFork #2. This tipple loaded coal from mines on Stray and Lick Branches into hoppers on the 30 car capacity "SouthFork #2" siding which is long gone. There's nothing to see now but a long section of well ballasted mainline. Still, if your interested, take county road CR5303 from the Jackson Yard until you come to a water filtration plant. This is where it sat until the early nineties.
Getting back on KY15, drive toward Hazard for 2.7 miles until you get to a long, private concrete bridge on your right at Kragon. Just before getting here, you will pass a coal processing facility on your right that is not associated with the railroad. This is owned by Kentucky May Coal Company which is a subsidiary of Ashland Coal, itself a division of Kentucky based Ashland Oil Company. (Remember, Ashland also owns 50% of Arch Mineral) This small facility has a truck-dump for the incoming raw coal which is crushed and screened to size and then reloaded in the same truck, out-of-sight and behind the structures. This coal is then driven the quarter mile or so to the bridge at Kragon where access is available to the large rail transfer loader on the opposite side of the North Fork. You can usually drive over the bridge on the weekends without anyone bothering you since the real gates are located on the far side. The best views of Kentucky May's new Kragon Tipple come while you're on the bridge. The Kragon Tipple consist of twin truck-dumps located high on the hillside which feed coal to a square stacking tube and stockpile which has been blasted out of the side of the mountain. A long conveyor then moves the stored coal into a very tall, yellow-painted flood-loader that sits over the 100 car capacity, "Kragon" siding. Despite the fact that these structures are several years old now, they are still very bright and clean giving the impression that they're not used very much. Not true, unit trains are loaded here two-three times per week. Also visible between the flood-loader and the bridge is a small loader (truck-dump to conveyor to hopper) that was used while this facility was being constructed. It's now abandoned, but could probably be placed back in use if needed.
From the loadout at Kragon, it's 2.7 miles to an intersection with KY1110 at the community of Haddix. Haddix is another very interesting location along the EK as it not only sports three very large tipples within a quarter mile of each other but a one- of-a-kind feature unique to all of Eastern Kentucky. After having gone about 2.2 miles from Kragon, start looking at the mountainside to your right for a conveyor suspended in midair from a large silver-painted storage bin. The storage bin is actually a three-truck-wide truck-dump that's had it's roof removed and marks the location of Arch on the North Fork's Haddix Loadout. Prior to 1987, this structure had been Falcon Coal Company's first flood-loading facility capable of filling unit trains in less than four hours and was referred to as the Falcon Fast Load Tipple. The site consist of the dump and conveyor mentioned above which allowed coal to free-fall 100 some feet into what had been Rye Creek before the area was strip mined and the stream redirected. The coal was then moved by conveyor to the modern flood-loader which sits over the 90 car capacity, "Haddix" siding. The take-over by Arch Mineral resulted in this loader being abandoned and left to rust even-though it's a good ten miles closer than the Elkatawa Loadout to the massive South Fork strip mine now operating in Robinson Forest. The windows in the control room for the loader have all been broken out and the door locks pried open by local kids who have left an assortment of beer cans and graffiti inside. I once got caught in a rain storm while exploring this site and sought shelter in the control room for over an hour while photographing trains racing by through the broken windows. To get here, turn right onto KY1110 from KY15 and then take the first right before crossing the tracks. This road will follow the tracks past several private homes until coming to a gate marked by a "Haddix Tipple" sign. The gate has been open for several years, however the road back to the loader is very rough and requires a 4WD or a lot of guts. The siding here is still active and used by CSX for hopper and MOW equipment storage.
The next point of interest sits on the left side of KY1110 about 100 feet on the opposite side of the crossing. To get here, simply come back to KY1110, cross the tracks and pull off the road to the left. On your right is the entrance to the Haddix Tipple truck-dump and is marked by an Arch on the North Fork sign, a gate and a road winding up the mountain. On the left is the old Falcon Coal Company, SouthFork #3 Tipple which was used prior to the construction of the Fast Load Tipple. This is an interesting relic that had filled hoppers on four tracks by using twin loadouts. The first structure is a loader, which consist of four movable coal chutes and a control room mounted on steel girder framework. Moving down KY1110, we next come to the truck-dump and storage bin. A conveyor had moved coal up to a crusher and then to a processing plant located even further down the road. Conveyors fed clean coal back to the first loading structure and then even further down KY1110 to an identical four- track loadout. This site is thus almost a half-mile long. During 1992, the crusher, processing plant and several conveyors were removed, leaving only the loadouts and truck-dump standing. Demolition then stopped and these loadouts still stand today, but for how long is any body's guess. The four-track, "SouthFork #3" siding and switch, which had been located between the road crossing and a bridge over the North Fork, were removed sometime prior to 1990.
The third and most unique loadout at Haddix is well hidden and took me three frustrating trips to this area to actually find it, even after several EK engineers told me, "It's right there at Haddix". To get to it, go back to KY15 and turn right toward Hazard, pass by the blue gas station / mini-mart at the intersection, and take a right to cross a concrete bridge spanning Troublesome Branch. The turnoff for this bridge is just about 0.1 mile from the intersection and will take you up and over a hill on a gravel road that passes through open steel gates. At the top of the hill, the road turns to broken blacktop and passes by the entrance to a strip mine site off to the left being worked by a joint venture of S.J. Groves & Sons Inc. and Fram Coal Company. Fram is a division of Jellico, Tennessee's Mountainside Coal Company while S.J. Grove is Lexington based. You'll next pass by several nice houses (one even has a pool) that could be located anywhere in the U.S. giving the area sort of a twilight-zone effect. The road will next wind down to the EK mainline and then back uphill to a concrete bridge crossing over the tracks. The bridge is blocked by a rusting cable that's very hard to see so don't ram it with your car! This is the entrance to Addington Coal Company's Haddix Loadout, although you still won't be able to see anything. Viewing the structures will require a hike and I recommend parking your car back at the point where the road comes closest to the tracks. As you sit on the bridge, look both ways and you'll soon see why this site is so unique.
This is the one and only loadout in Eastern Kentucky that has a "balloon" or "loop" track for the continuous loading of hoppers. These handy track arrangements are used extensively in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and at several Consol mines in northern West Virginia and southwestern Pennsylvania. Trains can enter through a wye, load and then head back the way they came without stopping or additional train handling. All other sites in Kentucky (also southern West Virginia and southwestern Virginia for that matter) are located in the tight and narrow confines of the valleys and require at least a back-up or run-around move to get headed back the way they came. This particular location just happens to be at a peninsula where Troublesome Branch empties into the North Fork and the loop was made possible by a deep cut through a natural gap in the hill. To see the loadout, hike to the left through the cut and the flood-loader is just about 200 feet around the corner. Going to the right, like I did the first time, requires a mile and a half walk. Getting around behind the hill also gives a good view of the stacking tubes and processing equipment located on the hilltop which are invisible from any place else. This site was originally built by Starfire Coal Company and operated as the Lost Mountain Unit Train Loadout until being idled during early 1990. Addington took control in late 1994 but has yet to ship any coal from the 100 car plus capacity, "Andy" loop-track.
As early as last February, the Addington brothers had offered to buy all of the business units except the environmental division by trading all 15.9 million shares of common stock owned by the family, $5 million in cash and a list of other considerations including a request that the IRS rule the transaction as tax-free. The board of directors had appointed a special committee to evaluate the offer and nothing further had been discussed until the August 7th announcement. It had been rumored that the family was upset by the focus on garbage and wanted to go back to mining coal as a private company. Larry Addington is known to love the coal business and even took several months off from his position on the board to work in the field developing the unique Highwall Mining System which they lease. He also stated in 1992 that he wanted to expand the West Virginia holdings and increase production to 20 million tpy during the next 5 years which never happened. What does all this mean for the Breathitt County facility? Only time will tell. For now let's keep exploring the EK Sub and I'll let you know the outcome during a future post.
Get back to KY1110, turn left and go 2.5 miles to an intersection with KY28 and turn left again. Travel for 7.1 miles on KY28 (a very curvy road which will climb up and over a mountain) until you come to an intersection with KY451 at the community of Chavies. The EK has taken a shortcut here by following the North Fork and even cut several miles off it's trip by passing through Line Tunnel. Line Tunnel gets it's name from being located on the Breathitt / Perry County line and was built to avoid following the Stidham Bend of the North Fork near the five-house town of Barwick. You can see the northern portal of Line Tunnel by taking a left on Barwick Road which is about a half mile before getting to the KY451 intersection. Stay on Barwick Road for about 1.5 miles until you see the tracks and a rough crossing. Cross the tracks and the tunnel portal will be about a half mile back on the right.
Sitting at the KY28 / KY451 intersection, you will be able to see the processing facilities belonging to Pine Branch Coal Sales directly in front of you, just down KY28. This is another small site consisting of scales, truck-dump, crusher and single track loader. There is usually a large amount of coal stockpiled on- site with several bulldozers and front-end loaders present for moving and loading it into the equipment bins. The collective assortment of structures is called the Pine Branch Tipple and is served by the 42 car, "Chavies" siding. If you follow KY28 around the corner, you'll find the "McClure" siding which is used for unloading covered hoppers containing the blasting agent "ANFO" into two vertical storage bins. Most of this material is being used by Pine Branch's large strip mine located on Combs Branch. Crossing the tracks on KY28 at the storage bins will take you by a small airstrip owned by a local coal operator and the mountain top removal project of the Combs Branch Mine visible in the distance to your left. Staying on KY28 will also get you back to KY15 after 5 miles. Let's go back to KY451 and follow the tracks.
From the intersection, go three miles on what is less than perfect pavement. There are several areas where the road is actually sinking into the ground as a result of underground mining years ago. There will be at least two turnoffs to the right, however, you should always stay to the left and parallel the tracks without ever crossing them. After three miles of this broken road, you will be treated to the sight of a large conveyor crossing from the right and leading into a tall, white flood-loader. This is the Buchanan Fuel Company's Picadilly Tipple which sits over the 100 car capacity, "Bessie" siding. It will be difficult to see the large stacking tube and coal stockpile high on the hillside to your right, so look closely. The loader appears to have seen better days with it's rusting steel and peeling paint, but this site is very active and there has been a recently added coal sampling lab located to the right side of the conveyor for constantly checking the quality of the loaded coal. The shoulder of the road is about 20 feet higher than track level so you will have a good view should you be lucky enough to catch a train loading.
Continuing on KY451 for about a half mile will bring you to an intersection at the community of Krypton. KY451 is the road which turns off toward the right and we'll have to go this way in a few minutes after we attempt to find the next prep plant. This will be the most difficult tipple we have tried to locate yet, so if you want to skip it feel free. The roads into this area range from narrow, one-lane paved to gravel to dirt and mud so you make the decision. If you would like to try, turn left and head into the community of Krypton. You'll pass an old company store on your left that had served the Redwood Coal Company. Redwood has been out-of-business for over 30 years and it looks as if no one has been around this building in at least that long. The colorful sign hanging on the front is still in excellent shape and worth at least one photograph. Continuing straight will get you to the tracks and Krypton's post-office but you first should find and turn right onto Krypton-Napfor Road. This is a one-lane and very winding road which hugs the mountainside about 60 feet above track level and there are no guardrails so be careful. After a mile, you will come to an intersection with Meadow Branch Road which goes straight while Napfor Road turns left. Stay straight on Meadow Branch and go about a mile until the road turns to gravel while gradually gaining altitude. You should next come to a wide dirt road which turns off to the right. If you keep going straight, you'll soon pop into an opening and see that you are about a hundred and fifty feet above the EK trackage and directly over the dual-bored Campbell Tunnel. Take this road down the mountainside and you'll end up at track level with a good view of both portals. These tunnels are used to shortcut the Campbell's Bend of the North Fork and save about two miles of trackage and what would be a very tight curve. This entire area is known as Dunraven and includes the three or four houses located down by track level.
The prep plant we are looking for is located at the end of the dirt road which we just passed up. This is yet another facility owned by Pine Branch Coal Sales and consist of a 350 tph, heavy media washing plant and raw coal storage stockpile situated on the top of the ridge along with offices and a scale house. If the guards will allow it, look over the hillside behind the washing plant and you'll see a large clean coal stockpile area which has been blasted out of the side of the mountain and about 150 feet further down, the flood-loader sitting over the 120 car capacity, "Hoyt" siding. There is no easy way to see the loader except by asking the guards to take you down a 4WD road to track level. Otherwise, it's a good 2 mile hike along the right-of-way that should never be attempted. The entire complex here is known as the Dunraven Prep Plant and was originally built and operated by the River Processing Company which also owned a smaller, non- rail facility near the town of Amburgey in Knott County. Both of these sites were purchased by Pine Branch a few years back and, along with the tipple at Chavies, have been idled off & on ever since, although they do manage to average around 600,000 tpy from ten mines in the area.
Do your best to get back out to KY451 and turn left. From Krypton, it's just about 4.6 miles to the community of Yerkes and the site of another twin-bore tunnel. The only way to see the Yerkes Tunnel is to park at the Yerkes post office and hike down the service road which parallels the tracks back to the portals. As you come into town, the road will immediately cross the tracks and the service road will be visible to your left with a chained off entrance. The post office provides a good place to leave your car for the hour or so it would take to hike the half mile back to the tunnel and return.
From Yerkes, stay on KY451 for about 3/4 of a mile as the tracks hug the road and the North Fork until you come to an intersection with KY2021 at the community of Busy. Turn left and KY2021 will also follow the tracks within a few feet for about another mile until they cross to the opposite side of the North Fork on a dual track bridge at the community of Butterfly (a.k.a. Sonia Station). KY2021 will follow the North Fork for about another mile until it runs into KY80. In getting to KY80 we have missed two sites which I'll tell you how to get to in the next installment. These were the Typo Tunnel and the switch for the First Creek Spur. As you turn left onto KY80, start looking across the river at the opposite bank and you'll soon see a massive flood-loading facility. You can pull off the side of the road here for a better look at the Aceco, Incorporated Typo Tipple, however the best view will come from the Daniel Boone Parkway bridge which we'll also get across next time. The Aceco facility consist of truck-dumps and processing equipment located about 200 feet up the side of the mountain feeding into six, tall stacking tubes all daisy-chain connected by conveyors reaching around the bend in the river. In the middle of this is another conveyor feeding the huge flood-loader which loads on the 120 car capacity, "Typo" siding. Aceco is not in the mining business and simply furnishes a transloading service for many of the area's contractors. Trucks are in and out of here 24 hours a day which keeps the stockpiles filled to capacity most of the time and gives the appearance of an entire mountain of coal. If you come into Hazard on the Daniel Boone Parkway from London and Manchester, this is the first thing you see and it let's you know right off that coal is the number one commodity in this part of the country.
Located just past the Typo Tipple is the six track, mile long Crawford Yard which serves as hopper storage and as an overflow for the often gridlocked Hazard Yard. There is no way to get over to see it up close short of riding in on a train so be content with looking through the trees or from the east side of the Parkway bridge. After turning left onto KY80 from KY2021 and passing under the Parkway bridge, go about a mile and a half until you cross over both the North Fork and the EK trackage on a truss bridge and enter the community of Combs. There is an old entrance to the right just after getting off the bridge which had been the driveway for the Sunfire Coal Company's Sunfire Prep Plant. This tipple was located back up the EK mainline to the left of the bridge and has been completely removed. The driveway had dropped down to track level, then cut back under the bridge and snaked it's way to the tipple just around the bend in the river. This tipple had loaded hoppers on the 30 car capacity, "Sunfire" siding which has also been removed.
Visible to the right of the bridge is a very large wooden tipple which is preserved in excellent condition considering it's age. This is the Sunfire Coal Company's Combs Prep Plant and survives completely intact partly due to it's protected location on the fenced property of a combination cement plant & trucking company. The operators are kind enough to let you go back and take a look if you ask nicely and explain why you would like to see it up close. The multi-track siding was referred to as "Combs" and is still in service as a storage area for covered hoppers.
Continue down KY80 for a few hundred feet and you'll quickly see the next tipple wedged in-between two "ANFO" storage silos belonging to the Delaware Powder Company. This is all that's left of the Starfire Mining Company's Starfire #3 Tipple which now consist of a few steel beams and a wooden truck-dump along with a concrete block office building. This site has definitely seen better days, although the 12 car capacity, "Starfire #3" siding is still in-place serving the two powder company silos.
Continue straight and KY80 will soon pass under the 4-lane KY15 while the EK mainline turns toward the east and crosses the North Fork once again. Take the first left after passing under the bridge, which is the on ramp for KY15, and head toward Hazard. Within a half mile, you will pass another concrete company and then see a Shell Service Station on your right. Pull into the service station and park out-of-the-way. There is a large wooden privacy fence which lines the embankment behind the station, however, there is an opening right next to the building with steps leading down the hillside. If you look over, you'll be directly above the Cumberland Elkhorn Coal Company's Lennut Tipple. This is a medium size facility which loads coal on two tracks while also extending over the EK mainline. The 24 car capacity siding is called, naturally, "Lennut" and has been idle along with the tipple for almost five years now.
The EK mainline has once again shortcut the river by tunneling through the mountain just a few hundred feet past the tipple. The western portal of the curving Hazard Tunnel can be seen by getting back on KY15 the way we were going and turning right at the next set of lights. This is a bypass around downtown Hazard and will cross the trackage over a bridge such that the portal is visible to you left. The best way to see it is to make a U-turn, legally of course, after crossing the bridge and coming back across on the side closest the mountain, then looking over the guardrail to your right.
Get back to the four-lane KY15, not the bypass you are now on, turn right and you will soon pass over yet another bridge, this one spanning the North Fork and another set of tracks. These tracks actually belong to the Lotts Creek Branch which departs the EK mainline at milepost VB240.4 just outside of the eastern portal of the Hazard Tunnel now to your right. KY15 will start to make a very hard corkscrew turn to the right while dropping quickly in elevation. Stay in the far left lane as we will need to turn left at the upcoming intersection. The road to the right is KY476 which we'll use in the next post but for now turn left and follow KY15 which has narrowed to two-lanes. Follow this road always keeping to the right as it become one-way and passes through downtown Hazard. The speed limit is 15 mph in town and the local police love to enforce it so watch out. As you start to run out of buildings, start looking for a right turn which quickly crosses the river on a long, blue truss bridge. If you pass a McDonalds, you will have gone too far. Turn right onto the bridge then right again on the other side after crossing the tracks and pass by a lumber supply company. The tall bridge directly in front and above you is the KY15 bypass and the tracks snaking up the valley under it do not go anywhere. They are used for storage and usually have several old boxcars or a mine-run caboose parked on them. Don't take the paved road passing under the bridge, stay to the right to parallel the tracks. This broken pavement road will get you back to the Hazard Yard and engine service facilities. The road is very bad and will soon turn to gravel for a short distance before returning to a nice paved surface. There are several private homes on the hillside right next to the yard offices so the road is considered public up to this point. You can usually see everything from here anyway but do ask permission if you proceed past the old water tower.
Hazard is a very unique Eastern Kentucky town in that it is really multi-level. The old part of town is where we just passed through and is near water level with the river. The newer sections of town are perched high on the mountains with almost every large shopping center, gas station or restaurant having been built on old strip mine lands. The latest addition to use a mined-out area is the Perry County High School and a new Walmart located behind the Aceco Loadout. Local mining firms love this practice since it saves them the cost of reclamation while providing growing room for a crowded community. All of the larger roads in the region have been blasted through the high mountains resulting in shear cliffs above almost all of them. Taking KY15 back toward Jackson or the Daniel Boone Parkway toward London and looking up every valley will reveal active strip mines or some evidence that the area has been mined in the past.
This is a good place to take a break since we're now at the spot where several branchlines begin and radiate up the numerous valleys to serve yet more tipples. In the next installment, I'll cover all of these sites and then get us over to the new connection with the old C&O branchline at Deane. Topographic maps for the area covered today are: Beattyville, Tallega, Jackson, Quicksand, Canoe, Haddix, Buckhorn, Krypton, Hazard North and Hazard South. Any comments or questions are always welcome at RDV2@aol.com. Enjoy!
On to part 3c
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