Volume 3A covered trackage from the CC interchange at Winchester to the classification yard at Ravenna while Volume 3B brought us up the Kentucky River to the mine run terminal at Hazard. Today, we'll take a look at some recent news affecting Appalachia then follow the EK mainline from Hazard to the new C&O connection at Deane. I'll finish this series with a fourth installment covering all the branchlines and spurs with the exception of one or two to be visited in this report.
Sorry its been so long since I last posted a report. Work has kept me pretty busy during the last month as I've been out of the country twice and on a Boston-bound plane three times since August. This doesn't leave me much time for either writing or crusing around the coalfields but I do still have a weeks vacation left. I did manage to stop by Corbin's terminal last weekend on my way back from Atlanta and noticed CSX now has at least three GP40's repainted into the orange MOW scheme. Anyone know what the old unit numbers for these were? The temperature's dropping, the leaves will soon be falling, the trains are running and the 'fridge is full of Kodak's best. I can't wait to get back to the mountains, this is my time of the year!
On September 13, Rex Hall, 29, a shuttle car operator at Beech Fork Processing Inc's No. 1 Mine at Van Lear in Johnson County was electrocuted when his equipment came in contact with a bare 480 volt power cable. Hall was discovered about 12:15 am, 9,000 feet underground. The mine has been closed while the Dept. of Mines and Minerals and MSHA investigate how the accident occurred.
Later that same day, Randy Joe Kidd, 30, an end-loader operator at Mountaintop Restoration Inc.'s No. 5 Mine at Davella in Martin County was killed when a loaded coal truck lost its brakes and crushed him into an embankment. The accident occurred on the tipple's haul road and is thus classified as a mining fatality.
On September 11, a Western Kentucky bulldozer operator suffocated to death when his equipment fell into a coal hopper and he was covered over by 200 tons of loose coal. These three accidents brought the state's mining death toll to nine for the year.
During the weekend of September 9th, a loaded CSX ELFX (Electric Fuels Corporation of Florida) unit train struck a 4- wheel drive pickup truck which was driving along the tracks of the E&BV Subdivision at Eastern in Floyd County. The driver's girl- friend jumped from the truck when she heard the engineer sound his horn just seconds before impact. She has stated that they were "just having fun" bouncing along the ties but alcohol use is expected to be the true reason for this stupid act.
The following information does not directly pertain to the area of interest that we'll be focusing on today, however it does relate to the overall health of CSX and NS in Appalachia.
Ashland Coal, a subsidiary of Kentucky's Ashland Oil, has announced that layoffs are coming to several operations in West Virginia. The layoffs will affect about 260 employees at Hobet Mining's Hobet No. 7 mine and the Hobet No. 12 preparation plant located on CSX's Pine Creek Subdivision in Logan and Mingo counties. Ashland issued the 60 day closing (WARN) notices on September 6th as required by federal law and is offering these employees a chance for current and future open positions at other corporately owned facilities. These include both the Hobet No. 21 mine in Boone County and Dal-Tex Coal Company's massive Dal-Tex surface mine near Sharples in Logan County, both of which ship over CSX's Coal River Subdivision. Ashland did not comment on a reason for the layoff or it's estimated duration but you can bet it's due to the currently soft spot market conditions. Hobet No. 7 is a 1.5 million tpy surface mine operating on property which contains 8 ultra-high quality coal seams and uses a 72-cu-yd Marion dragline named "New Horizon" to mine by mountain top removal methods. The No. 12 prep plant was the only active rail loading site remaining on the Pine Creek Subdivision and thus closes down a major CSX revenue source. Hobet now joins the adjacent Island Creek Coal Company No. 22 mine and prep plant (the only other site on the Pine Creek Sub) which has been idle for several years, but it will be interesting to see how long Ashland will let the $70 million facility sit without bringing in hard cash.
Westmoreland Coal Company, which now operates mainly along the NS rails of the ex-Interstate Railroad in southwestern Virginia, has also issued WARN notices to it's Pine Branch Mining subsidiary and said they will close the Holton Low Splint mine in Wise County. In addition, further "significant" layoffs at the other Virginia facilities will be announced by the end of September. This closing follows last year's termination of operations at the Holton Complex, Wentz Prep Plant and the sale of the celebrated "Dump Train". Other recent spinoffs were 1994's sale of Criterion Coal Company & an aborted takeover of Golden Oak Mining, both located on CSX's EK Subdivision in Kentucky, (To be covered today and in Volume 3D) and the early 1995 sale of the Hampton Division on CSX's Laurel Fork Subdivision in West Virginia. All of the remaining Virginia Division assets are now reported up for sale and talks with potential buyers and customers are ongoing. The once great Westmoreland has fallen on hard times recently (they reported a $10.4 million loss in the second quarter of this year alone) and is now claiming they may not have enough money to support operating requirements through the end of the year. Revenues for the past three months were $39.5 million from the sale of 2 million tons of coal in comparison to $107 million from 4.3 million tons during the same period last year. Westmoreland has also stated that they will discontinue business operations at their Philadelphia headquarters by the end of the month and move all offices to Colorado Springs, CO. Sounds like we can say good- bye to Westmoreland's long-time presence in Appalachia forever.
Arch Mineral announced on September 18th that they would eliminate 70 salaried positions at its St. Louis headquarters and independent mines. The job reductions will affect 25 employees at the #37 Mine in Harlan County and the Breathitt County operations of Arch on the North Fork. Arch is said to be restructuring in response to declining prices as companies compete to sell coal to a consolidating electric utility industry and has cut 122 managers to date. Arch will now have a trimmed workforce numbering 2,150 saliared and hourly employees.
CSX has agreed to purchase 40% of the stock in the Indiana Railroad Company, a privately held short-line that specializes in hauling Appalachian compliance coal to several Midwest electric utilities. Under the agreement, CSX has an option to purchase an additional 40% of the stock to become the majority owner. The IRC operates from a junction in Indianapolis through Bloomington and the coalfields of Greene and Sullivan counties to a terminus near Newton, IL. CSX has filed with the ICC to gain approval to obtain financial control of the Indiana Railroad even though the current owner, Tom Hoback, has a contract clause which gives him the option for continuing operations for up to five more years.
Model railroaders may be interested to know that the Edna mine, basis for Walther's New River Mining kit which is found on many home layouts, has permanently closed and will be demolished. This plant was owned by the Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Company and operated in the coalfields of Colorado for over 50 years. The facilities fate was sealed when the Public Service Co of Colorado, the mine's only customer, lowered sulfur requirements which could not be met. Edna was the oldest operating mine in the state.
Cyprus Amax Coal Company's Cumberland Mine located in Green County, Pa. has set a new world record for production from a single longwall unit by shipping 573,000 tons of clean coal during June. Amax had purchased this site from U.S. Steel Mining (USX Corporation) last year and spent $20 million to install the longwall unit and upgrade other areas during October. This is a very interesting site to visit as the complex consist of the mine, prep plant, several miles of isolated railroad tracks which run from the mine to a barge transloader on the Monongahela River, a fleet of private 100 ton hoppers and an SD40-2. The tracks do not connect with nor come close to other rails and I've often wondered how the engine and hoppers were moved to this location?? Once again for the model railroaders, these blue hoppers are the prototype for MDC's HO scale USS Cumberland Mine 5-bay hopper car kits.
In Volume 3B, we turned right off of KY15 at the end of the downtown Hazard business section onto a blue truss bridge to gain access to the mine run terminal. To continue following the EK mainline, stay on (or get back onto) KY15, and pass a McDonald's on your right as the road returns to two-way traffic. There is a curving mainline tunnel located a short distance from here that is easily seen. The intersection just past McDonald's should be KY451 which turns off to the left. Turn here, go about a 1/4 mile and take the first road to the right which crosses the North Fork. This should be the fourth road to your right. After crossing the bridge, the tunnel portal is located directly behind the two large buildings on your right.
Get back over to KY15, turn left and continue out of town. The next intersection we come to will be the KY15 bypass which turns off to the right at a set of stoplights just after crossing a bridge over both the river and tracks. There should be a Hardee's on your left at this stoplight. Continue straight through the light and follow the river and tracks which are now just over the embankment to your left. You'll only need to go about 3/4 of a mile before passing the first loadout of the day. This site is not well marked from KY15 and is located back in the valley out- of-sight for the most part. Look for the modern two-story office building on your right just prior to crossing over a short, concrete bridge. This office building is the headquarters for the Whitaker Coal Corporation and the bridge crosses over both Davidson Branch and the trackage of the Davidson Spur. We'll come back and visit this short spur later in Volume 3D, for now lets keep moving east.
Continuing down KY15 for about a mile, you'll cross another bridge spanning Buffalo Creek and then see a sign for KY1096 that turns off to the left and curves back under the bridge. This had been the site of the Buffalo Creek Spur which had departed the EK mainline near milepost VB245.0 and snaked its way up the creek for just over a mile. Two tipples, Anco No. 2 and Starfire No. 2, were located a few hundred feet from each other at what was known as Fourseam. Nothing remains of the tipples, tracks, or Fourseam for that matter, however, I do have a nice charcoal drawing by an unknown artist of a late 1950's era Starfire No. 2 tipple hanging on my office wall. A typical wooden structure from that era, it sits over four tracks and includes a short, covered conveyor which disappears into the mine opening. Of some importance to a later discussion in Volume 3D is the fact that one of these tipples, I'm unsure which one, was purchased by the Kelly & Sturgill Coal Company and operated as the Fourseam Tipple. This small company became a stepping stone for bigger and better things to come.
Stay on KY15 for about 2.8 miles until you come to an intersection with KY7 which turns off to the right at the community of Jeff. Jeff is the site of Jeff Junction at milepost VB248.7 and is where the EK mainline turns southward and follows the North Fork while the Carr's Fork Branch continues toward the east. We'll also come back to the Carr's Fork Branch in 3D, but first we need to back up and visit a large prep plant located on the opposite side of the river.
Turn right at the KY7 intersection and drop downhill to yet another intersection. Right is KY7, which we'll use in a moment, and left passes under KY15 and leads back to the community of Jeff. For now, turn left and pass under the highway bridge and go to the intersection on the opposite side. Left here will take you back up to KY15 and toward Hazard while right will cross the EK mainline. Turn right, cross the tracks and pass by a church on your right. Continue straight until you cross a small bridge over the North Fork and then the Carr's Fork Branch tracks. There is still another intersection on the opposite side of these tracks but I'm unsure of the road number, sorry. To your right is a small loader which is featured in the Pentrax video tape, "Eastern Kentucky Coal" and left will take us back to the prep plant. Turn left and go about 0.7 mile until you come to the plant entrance and a set of tracks crossing the road.
These tracks were used many years ago to serve the Scuddy Coal Company's operations at what was known as Kenmont. Scuddy Coal owned the tracks from the junction switch at milepost VB248.0 back to their multi-track tipple located just under a mile up Buckeye Creek. Word is they owned a small switch engine which worked the tipple, however I have never been able to confirm this fact. This company closed up during the late seventies and the track lay abandoned until the Interstate Coal Company expressed interest in constructing a large prep plant in the area during the late eighties. CSX track crews not only replaced the old ties and rails, renaming the 90 car siding "Buckeye No. 1", but they also blasted a new ROW through the mountainside to allow the new Buckeye Branch Spur to gain access to the EK Sub through a wye track arrangement. A large cleaning plant, ground storage stacking tubes, truck dumps and a tall flood-loader were then constructed less than a 1/4 mile up the creek and placed in service. The prep plant can be seen from KY15 if you look to your left up the valley just before getting to the KY7 turnoff. Otherwise, you'll need to get permission at the guard shack before attempting to view this facility.
If you now go back to the last intersection, directly in front of you will be the Jeff Tipple. This loader has had many owners over the years with Coal Ridge Fuel Company having been the last operator before it was purchased by the Lee Coal Company. As I stated above, this site is featured in the "Eastern Kentucky Coal" video tape and shows the site as it appeared while under KY Prince Mining ownership. The facility consist of two truck dumps, open air crushers, storage stockpiles, two rail loaders and several front-end loaders used to move the black stuff around. Much has changed today, as Lee Coal has opened a new deep mine directly beside the facility by digging straight down through what had been the county road that's visible in the video to get at the "Hazard 4A" seam. The road has been relocated about forty feet closer to the siding's trackage and a tall privacy fence lines the road on the opposite side. Just behind the fence is an eighty foot deep pit which contains the mine entrance, ventilation blower, mine car trackage and conveyors for loading trucks. Coal that requires cleaning is trucked to the nearby Buckeye No. 1 prep plant while the higher quality material which may be shipped raw is loaded into hoppers on the 30 car capacity, "Jeff" siding. This site actually belongs to the Carr's Fork Branch, but I felt we could cover it here since we were so close.
Now get back over to the KY15-KY7 intersection and take KY7 to the south. This is the beginning of KY7 so as long as you're on it, you're going the right way. Just about a quarter mile from the turn will be a right turn-off marked by concrete retaining walls on either side and a chain link gate. This is a private road leading uphill to a second portal of Whitaker's EAS Mine which will be discussed when we cover the Davidson Branch. There's really not much to see except for the mine entrance and some support equipment so don't bother stopping. There's not a guard shack, but the entrance is monitored by video and you will be stopped if you don't have permission to be there.
About 2.4 miles from the KY15 intersection is the small community of Viper and an intersection with KY1165 which turns to the right. Just to the left is a large, blue-painted building which had been a service station several years back. The gravel road to the left (but on the right side of the building) will get you back to the old location of the Viper Tipple. This had been a small private loader which was served by the also removed, 22 car "Viper" siding. The office, scale house and scales are still in place, along with a lot of junk.
Stay on KY7 and go 4.7 miles from Viper to the 4-house town of Fusonia (a.k.a Coolidge Station) and an intersection with Fusonia- Kodak Road. If you start looking across the river at about 4.0 miles, you should be able to spot the next tipple. Turn left on Fusonia-Kodak Road, cross over the North Fork (Which is now little more than a wide creek), cross the EK tracks and turn left on the gravel road which parallels the tracks. This road will get us to the ex-Red Star Coal Company's Fusonia Tipple, which was served by the now-removed, 30 car capacity "Coolidge" siding. Today, the GreenBrook Coal Company of Viper currently has ownership of the structure which consist of a rusting tin siding tipple, truck dump, conveyor, and concrete office buil flowing northward. I tipple itself had loaded coal on twin tracks and sits up on steel truss legs. A fragile stairway leads to the upper workings, but the door is padlocked so don't risk it. Later when we explore the Carr's Fork Branch and the spurs around the town of Vicco, the Fusonia-Kodak Road is a quick, but very rough shortcut to the town of Kodak.
Go back across the North Fork and turn left onto KY7. From Fusonia, it's 3.5 miles to an intersection with KY699 at an area known as Dent (a.k.a. Cornettsville). Dent, which is located at EK milepost VB260, is the site of Dent Yard and is also the starting point of the Leatherwood Branch which crosses the North Fork and KY7, then follows both KY699 and Leatherwood Creek south for several miles. Once again, we'll come back to this branch later, so let's visit the yard for now. Just prior to the intersection with KY699 is a road to the left which crosses the North Fork and leads into the yard. In today's world of CSX, Dent Yard is used only for hopper car storage and as a holding area for meets. During the L&N era, Dent was used as a mine run yard to service the Leatherwood and Rockhouse Creek Branches, especially during the early seventies when track conditions were so poor that crews could not make the round trip from Hazard within the Hours of Service Law. As discussed in Volume 3A, Dent was also briefly used as a stagging yard for the 120-plus car long, RMU powered trains which ran between here and Decoursey Yard south of Cincinnati.
Of interest here is the small tipple located to your left after exiting the bridge. This unused loader now belongs to Golden Oak Mining and is known as the Dent Station Tipple. Consisting of a single track loader and a truck-dump, this site was purchased by Golden Oak as they attempted to buy out the competition several years back. The 30 car, "Lundgren" siding is still in place but unused. There is also an old, three dome railroad tankcar, minus its trucks, located here that served as a storage tank for the antifreeze compound mixed with loaded coal during the winter to keep it from becoming a solid block of ice. We'll discuss Golden Oak later when we visit their primary processing facilities.
Getting back to the main road, turn left, cross the tracks of the Leatherwood Branch, pass the intersection for KY699 and then continue east on KY7. Two miles from Dent will be the Letcher County line and an intersection with KY1103 at the town of Ulvah. KY1103 follows the Line Fork Creek and winds about 8 miles to the south through Lilley Cornett Woods. This whole area, except for the old growth forest inside the boundaries of the "Woods", has been extensively deep mined by the hard-luck SouthEast Coal Company prior to their untimely downfall. The "Woods" is one of only two untouched forest left in Kentucky and is well worth a visit if time permits.
Back on KY7 at Ulvah. Ulvah had been the site of a small tipple which was removed over 15 years ago. Both the tipple and the siding had shared the "Sassafras No. 3" name.
Continuing along KY7, we'll next go 5.5 miles to the community of Blackey, having crossed the tracks once during the trip. At Blackey, milepost VB268, we'll find a long, blue truss bridge which takes KY588 across the North Fork and some interesting trackage. During the L&N years, Blackey was the junction point of the Rockhouse Creek Branch and the EK mainline which continued on toward McRoberts. The Rockhouse Creek Branch was given mainline status after the Deane Connection linking this trackage with the old C&O's E&BV Branch was completed under CSX. The original EK mainline east of Blackey is now known as the Whitesburg Branch and retains its milepost prefixes of VB. Milepost prefixes for the mainline east of Blackey to Deane still use the old Rockhouse Creek Branch letters of VG and also start counting from mile 268. Train crews can often be heard over the scanner reporting their location back to the Jacksonville dispatcher as being at milepost xx on the "Rockhouse Main." If we stay on KY7, the Rockhouse Creek Branch (From here on referred to as the mainline) will cross the North Fork and begin to follow Rockhouse Creek on the KY7 side. About a quarter mile from the KY588 bridge, the tracks will move to within 30 feet of the road. At this point had been the site of the KY Black Beauty Tipple which was operated by the KY Black Beauty Coal Company and loaded on the 14 car, "Hebe No. 4" siding. This tipple consisted of all open-air equipment and was a simple truck-to-crusher-to-hopper operation which stood abandoned for several years before being removed along with the rail siding late last year.
Just a few hundred feet from here had been another small tipple that lasted into the CSX era before being removed. The Magic Valley Coal Company's Magic Valley No. 4 tipple had loaded on the 9 car, "Shirley" siding prior to being abandoned. An unknown company acquired this site with the intentions of reactivating it, renamed it the Blackey Tipple, then went bust before loading a single ton of coal. CSX removed the equipment and the siding during trackwork in 1990.
KY7 will quickly cross what had been a two track (One for the mainline and one for the Shirley Siding) grade crossing, pass the town of Letcher, cross back to the left-hand side of the tracks again, then cross back to the right all within one mile. The first paved road to the left after the last crossing is Caudill Branch Road and is the site of a removed spur. The Caudill Branch Spur had left the mainline at milepost VG270.0 at what is known as Duo and ran north for two miles to the town of Carbon Glow. Both Duo and Carbon Glow were company towns which are completely gone save for a more recently built house or two. One mile up the Spur, at another ghost town which was known as Gold Star, sat the Red Fox Coal Company's multi-track Jack Top Tipple. The 45 car, "Jack Top" siding was removed along with the tipple and the entire spur during the late eighties.
Getting back on KY7 and turning left, it's a very curvey 5.5 miles to the town of Isom and the next coal loading site. As you enter Isom, there will be several businesses lining the roadside to your right. Visible directly behind the larger shopping center will be the square stacking tubes of the Swanee Tipple at milepost VG277.3. You really can't miss it. This is the old SouthEast Coal Company's flood-loading site described in Volume 3A which replaced two smaller tipples that were located on the same spot: Isom No. 2 and Isom No. 3. As you get to the fenced off entrance to this facility, there will be two side-by-side concrete bridges crossing over Rockhouse Creek, the one on the left belongs to the coal company while the one on the right is public. A public road will then skirt the fenced-off area and take us back to a grade crossing which is about 20 feet from the flood-loader. There is also a high concrete bridge to the right of here which allows access to the private homes located on the mountainside behind the loadout. This bridge was installed by SouthEast Coal at the request of residence who were tired of constantly being blocked by a loading unit train. For us, it gives a very nice aerial view of the entire facility that we otherwise couldn't get. The Swanee Loadout consist of a truck-dump, twin stacking tubes with about a 100,000 ton capacity, crusher, and a flood-loader. Raw coal was loaded at Swanee, then shipped the 137 miles northwest to SouthEast's Calla Prep Plant also discussed in Volume 3A. Kentucky Processing Corporation is actively using this 100 car capacity, "Swanee" siding to perform the same task.
The tracks and KY7 are now actually headed in a northeasterly direction at this point, so continue northward on KY7 to an intersection with the 3-4 lane KY15/KY160 about a half mile away. We will want to stay on KY7, but it does crisscross the larger road several times before rejoining the tracks. I recommend taking a right onto KY15 then looking for the second "KY7" sign. The left turn will be just after crossing Rockhouse Creek but prior to the tracks. KY7 will start to drop lower than the rails to a point where they are about 25 feet higher than the roadway. About a quarter mile from the intersection is the location of the abandoned Isom No. 1 tipple which had been owned by the Red Fox Coal Company. Red Fox Coal, BTW, gets its name from the town of Red Fox which is about 5 miles west of here on KY15. The old tipple is hard to see from the road due to its elevation, so look for the large, gravel & coal-covered field on your left and pull off KY7 into this area. This field had served as a coal storage yard for the loader and it should be visible on the side of the hill. This is a small steel (rusting) truss structure which only transloaded raw coal into hoppers so it lacks any elaborate processing equipment but you should check it out anyway. The 27 car, "Isom" siding has long been removed.
Keep headed north on KY7 for 4.5 miles as you follow Rockhouse Creek past the community of Sackett to an intersection with KY931. About a 0.8 of a mile before getting to KY931, there will be a paved road to the right known as Low Gap Branch Road. The wide clearing to the right of this road's grade crossing is where the Colton Tipple had once stood at milepost VG279.0. This site was another small transloading operation which belonged to Delta Supreme Mining prior to being purchased by Golden Oak Mining during their expansion into Eastern Kentucky. The tipple and the 21 car, "Colton" siding were removed about 1988.
We're going to continue on KY7 for now, however, KY931 will be used later to help us explore the Camp Branch Spur which leaves the mainline at milepost VG280.0 near Pat. This intersection is a Tee and KY931 goes right while KY7 turns left. Within a quarter mile of here is the location of the abandoned Price Tipple which sits over the twin tracks of the 30 car, "Hebe #2" siding at milepost VG281.0. The truck-dump is at road level, while a short conveyor extends straight into the top of basically a big green box standing on steel legs. This "box" is really just a coal storage bin with siding to dress it up a bit and contains only minimal processing equipment. There are four chutes below the structure; two for loading coal on the twin tracks, one for filling trucks and one for the slate bin. The site was run by Price-Smith Mining Associates when it was active, however hoppers have not been spotted here in over ten years.
A mile past the KY7/KY931 intersection, the EK takes a hard right as it curves due east to follow the creek and crosses over KY7. On the other side of this crossing is another intersection, this time with KY1410 at the community of Colson. KY7 is a right turn and you should quickly start looking toward the tracks and hillside to your right for a small wooden tipple. There are several private homes between KY7 & the tracks and the old Maxie Tipple will be visible just above their rooflines. An unknown (name) road leads past a large metal-siding building to allow access to the houses and also passes directly by the tipple. This wooden structure, or what's left of it now, also belonged to the Red Fox Coal Company and was served by the 60 car, "Maxie" siding. Some of this relic has fallen down or been overgrown but there is still enough to warrant a stop and at least one picture. Up until the early eighties, there had actually been 3 other tipples all located near the Maxie Tipple. The Magic Valley No. 3 and Meg No. 2 Tipples both sat at the coal covered clearing visible to the right from the intersection, while Meg No. 3 had been just a few hundred feet east of Maxie.
Getting back on KY7 and traveling east for just over a mile will take us past the now idled Johnson Elkhorn Tipple. This is a medium size operation which includes washing capabilities and thus consist of covered equipment buildings, settling tanks, a stacking tube and a single track loader. About 100 feet east of the processing plant is a small loader that includes a truck-dump and short conveyor extending straight out and over the rail siding. There is also a glass enclosed control room and a large antifreeze storage tank as well as several old coal trucks stored here. These two sites were both owned by the Johnson Elkhorn Coal Company and are collectively served by the 40 car, "Airco" siding. I "think" Golden Oak has also gained control of these two loaders and both appear to be workable if needed.
Less than a mile from Airco, you will pass a sawmill and lumber yard on your right just before the EK mainline turns due north and crosses over KY7 on a steel, 2-track overpass. Directly behind the sawmill is a larger processing facility which belongs to Golden Oak Mining. This is the Hi-Energy Tipple and No. 1 Processing Plant which sits at milepost VG284.1 and has remained very active over the years. There are several metal-siding equipment enclosure buildings, truck-dumps, conveyors, and at least three large ground storage stockpiles on site. The 100 car, "Hi-Energy" siding extends from the plant, over KY7 and is used to load complete unit trains. For years, L&N and then CSX crews worked this tipple on mine runs out of Hazard or later, Martin Yards. A trip by here in late spring of this year found a bright blue GP8 switch engine with "Progress Loadout" painted on the side in bright yellow pulling a long string of hoppers under the coal chute replacing the CSX crews. I don't know if someone else has acquired this site from Golden Oak or if this is simply a renaming of the site. I'll discuss several of the possibilities later when we visit the Camp Branch Spur.
After crossing KY7, the EK mainline passes by the switch for the Hi-Energy siding and then shortly begins to curve eastward by passing through a tunnel and shortcutting a severe kink in Rockhouse Creek. The tunnel can be seen by turning left onto a gravel road before passing under the tracks. This road will climb back up to track level and pass a trailer park to your left. The new switcher for the Hi-Energy tipple is stored just short of the switch and can be easily photographed if it's not working. The road will turn to dirt and begin to enter a strip-mined area to the left. The tunnel can be found to your right by just following the tracks.
Get back to KY7 and pass under the tracks. The road is now following Indian Creek and will do so for a little over a mile before turning north and crossing a small hill to rejoin Rockhouse Creek and the EK. As the road turns eastward again, a large stockpile of coal will be visible directly in front of you. This marks the spot of Montgomery Elkhorn Coal Company's processing facilities at Democrat. The Elkhorn Tipple consist of a 3-truck- wide dump with a conveyor feeding a 50,000 ton raw coal stockpile. The coal is then processed through crushers & screens and stored in an identical stockpile prior to being loaded into hoppers by a single track dual-chute loader. There is a maroon SW1500 owned by the company which is used to shuffle cars and prepare a unit train for pickup by CSX. This engine and loader are also shown briefly in "Eastern Kentucky Coal" while the tape follows an empty northbound powered by 7 mixed engines as it traverses the Deane Connection. The dirt road which drops down the hill past the scale house is public and will take you right next to the plant. Just make sure you do NOT pass over the scales as this tends to bother the operators a great deal. There are several tracks here which collectively makeup the "Democrat" siding.
Just to the east and within sight of the Democrat Tipple is the tall structure which composes the Alla Tipple. There is another dirt road just past this loader which will get you closer if needed. There are several abandoned and active rails here which made up the yard at Deane so be careful. This site is currently idle and owned by the Deane Processing Company. The tipple was recently purchased from the Diplomat Coal Company and consist of a truck-dump with a conveyor and raw coal stockpile cut out of the hillside. Another conveyor moves the coal to the top of the five- story high structure which looks just like a modern flood-loader. This is actually just processing equipment and the actual loader is a short conveyor sticking out of its side to extend over the 30 car, "Deanco" siding.
East on KY7 will quickly get us to the end of the EK Sub and one last prep plant. This had been the location of the large, but very old, BethEnergy Corporation's Hendrix Plant. This plant had been served by both the L&N on a siding known as "Rapid Load" and by the C&O's E&BV Subdivision on a siding known as "Hendrix". The actual rails of the two railroads never joined until the formation of CSX brought them together. The fresh rounded cut on the hillside to your left is where construction crews eased the transition from the east-west L&N to the north-south C&O to allow unit trains a gentle curve.
With BethEnergy's corporate parent, Bethlehem Steel's, desire to get out of the coal business, the old plant and property were sold to a wholly owned subsidiary of Westmoreland Coal Company known as Criterion Coal Company. At the time of the sale in July of 1987, Westmoreland outbid A.T. Massey Coal Company by paying over $20 million for 150 million tons of low-sulfur coal reserves, known as the Hendrix Reserve, lying under 38,000 acres of land in Letcher, Knott and Pike counties. Included in the transaction was the 38-year-old prep plant which had not been operated in nearly ten years. Criterion Coal formed an operating subsidiary called Kentucky Criterion to actually operate the soon-to-be developed strip mines and rail loadout. Westmoreland's interest in these properties were due to the Cleancoal Terminal, a CSX served barge transloader on the Ohio River between Cincinnati and Louisville at Ghent which they had purchased in 1985.
After spending $5.6 million to acquire the site and another $7 million on upgrades and improvements, they were failing to make a return on their investments. This was blamed on the scant $1.00 a ton being charged to move other companies' coal and the stiff competition from CSX's Louisville transloader and Transco's large facility at Maysville served by the TTI Railroad. By shipping their own coal from a nearby mine over a single railroad, they could open up foreign exports through New Orleans, and compete in the Midwest utility market to recover their $12.6 million investment in record time. The location at the junction of two rail lines owned by CSX thus made Hendrix a deal they could not pass up. Cleancoal, BTW, has an annual capacity of 8 million tons, extensive ground storage, on site blending capabilities and a modern sampling lab for meeting any customer's specifications. BethEnergy, which at one time had twenty-some mines in Appalachia, including three prep plants just over the mountain from Deane on the old C&O, now controls only a single operation known as High Power Mountain located on Conrail near Charleston, WVa.
Criterion first had the old Hendrix Plant demolished, (you can still see "Hendrix Plant 1949" embossed in what's left of the concrete truck dump located on the right side of KY7 directly across from the flood-loader) then built a modern flood-loader which is fed from three daisy-chained stacking tubes located on the left side of KY7. Coal was conveyored across KY7 by an overhead belt from truck-dumps on the right. This setup was up and running by 1989 and used to ship around 1 million tpy until 1991 when the demand for cleaner coal forced the company to invest in a wash plant. The plant was completed by Robert & Schaefer in 1993 and consist of a 750 tph prep plant which often exceeds 1000 tph, raw coal storage and reclaim, breakers, refuse conveyor and bin, and a slurry pumping disposal system. These facilities are now located on the right side of KY7, along with several office and storage buildings. The plant has also purchased a blue GP-7 switch engine to pull hoppers under the loader.
Westmoreland Coal Company started getting into financial trouble during late 1993. This could have been due to decreasing coal demands, dwindling reserves at the Virginia Division or the result of spreading itself too thin by getting involved with a power generation deal with LG&E Power to build the 50-MW, Roanoke Valley #2 plant in Weldon, NC. Who knows? The facts are that they had to start selling assets to keep out of bankruptcy court beginning with parts of the Virginia Division, WV's East Gulf prep plant near Eccles and the nearby Triangle properties. Next to go were WV's Hampton Division, the Cleancoal Terminal and finally Kentucky Criterion. Just this month, they have announced that all of the Virginia Division, their biggest money maker, is up for sale and that they are out of Appalachia for good.
Who got Kentucky Criterion Coal Company? Even that was a problem for Westmoreland. After being placed on the market in June of 1994, CONSOL, one of the world's largest coal companies, bid $85 million for the prep plant, remaining coal reserves, several coal contracts and two power generation units. All was going well until TECO, the Tampa Electric Company, refused to reassign their contracts to CONSOL. TECO objected because their Pike County mining subsidiary, Premier Elkhorn Coal, held a subcontract to supply 20% of Westmoreland's tonnage and thus the sale to CONSOL would directly hurt PEC. Westmoreland, who had hoped the incoming money would allow them to cover $38 million in general debt, was forced to file for Chapter 11 in mid-November. They also filed a motion with federal court to force TECO to accept shipments from CONSOL of Kentucky. The details have not been released, but by the end of the year, CONSOL subsidiary, CONSOL of Kentucky, owned Kentucky Criterion and contracts with Georgia Power, TECO and the Roanoke Valley #1 & #2 plants. Would the $85 million have kept Westmoreland in Appalachia? No one can say for sure, but the eventual filing of bankruptcy is rumored to have been the last straw for upper management.
And that's the end of the EK Subdivision. I'll cover the E&BV Subdivision from Deane to the Big Sandy mainline in the near future when we finish exploring all of the old L&N trackage through Kentucky. The next installment will take us back for a closer look at the many branchlines and spurs we passed up along the way. Topographical maps for the region explored today include: Hazard North, Hazard South, Vicco, Blackey and Mayking. All comments and questions are always welcome at RDV2@aol.com.
On to part 3d
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