The now defunct SouthEast Coaompany still refuses to pass into history. This time it has come back from the dead to play a key role in the current race for Kentucky's governor. This year's elections are forecast to boil down between two men: Kentucky's Democratic Lt. Governor Paul Patton, an ex-Pike County coal operator, and Republican Larry Forgy who did extensive legal work for SouthEast beginning in the 1970's and earned millions from the company during the eighties. In the usual televised mud slinging, Patton charges that Forgy shares blame for allowing SouthEast to go bankrupt without the required funds to cover workers' compensation claims. It seems that Forgy found a loophole which bypassed the 1985 Kentucky law requiring a $6 million bond to ensure payment of injured workers' claims. Allegedly under Forgy's advice, SouthEast had only $250,000 set aside at the time of its demise and covered claims for less than a year before leaving several workers high and dry. Two other former SouthEast controlled companies, Red Fox Coal and South East Ohio Coal, are now also in the same situation with health care claims. The image of hurt miners struggling to get by without the money they are due is a powerful noose around Forgy's neck which Patton pulls tighter each day. Patton has gone on to point out that Forgy also played a large part in the dealings of SouthEast successor DLX, made lots of money and received a large tract of land even as normal wages were being denied workers during the final days. In reality, there is little evidence to prove he had significant involvement in setting up the plan or propping it up latter with loans to DLX, but it is a well known fact he was deeply involved with the company's legal work. Patton will thus continue to chip away at these issues and we'll have to wait until November to see the outcome.
Go back to the KY15 intersection and cross over to take KY267 northward. Just after the grade crossing at Clemons, you should be able to see the older flood-loader which had started life belonging to the Tesora Coal Company. Shamrock Coal, the Sun Coal subsidiary which we have discussed before, acquired this site in 1982 and operated it as part of their Perry Division. With 14 million tons of raw coal reserves included in the purchase and several more available as part of the contract, this facility had a 30 year life expectancy. Shamrock began limited mining in the Fall of 1984 and operated in the "Hindman #9", "Francis #8" and the "Hazard #7 & #10" coal seams using a 39-cu-yd electric shovel and four 190 ton haulage trucks. If you're not familiar with heavy equipment, these are BIG dump trucks capable of holding the equivalent of two full size rail cars. I'm 6'3" and I can stand under one and not be able to touch the undercarriage! Most of the coal was processed and shipped "raw" except for the #8 production which was trucked to the Clover Division's Beech Fork plant.
In May of 1989, a 50,000 tons per month contract with Kentucky Utilities was signed to supply two separate power plants. Between 1989 and 1994, the Wahoo Tipple, as it became known, shipped between 1.2 to 1.5 million tons per year to KU and spot market customers. 1993 saw the site being managed by a limited merger between Shamrock and Whitaker Coal, which are corporate brothers under Sun Coal, with several additions to the processing facility being undertaken to allow the washing of the #8 coal on site. This reduced transportation cost greatly and was seen as a positive step toward the continued operation of the Wahoo Tipple. Hard times came to pass in early 1995 with the expiration & loss of the KU contract and previously reported slumping spot market. Sun called it quits and deleted the entire Perry Division from their books. The coal reserves, prep plant and the Wahoo Tipple were quickly sold to Cockrell's Fork Mining Company which operates out of Somerset but has yet to ship anything. Being the sole rail loader on the First Creek Branch basically idles the entire 4-mile stretch until production resumes.
If you continue up KY267 a short distance, you'll find another large processing plant and deep mine being operated by Benco Mining, Inc. on the left side of the road. This site did have rail loading capability at one time in the past, but the rails and loader were removed for reasons unknown to me. A short spur crossed the road here and ran up between the office building and the coal stockpile. There is a 60 foot-deep pit which exposes the coal seam, located a few feet from the road and surrounded by a chain-link fence. Conveyors move the raw coal back and forth to the surface where it's cleaned in a modern prep plant then trucked to other loadouts, mainly the Aceco Tipple just down the road at Typo. You can park and look straight down into the pit to see the coal seam, mine opening, conveyors and ventilation blowers without too much risk but do be careful.
The main branchline had continued for an additional half mile or so north of here years ago to provide service to the "Al" and "Ta" tipples but these were removed long, long ago.
There is a single loader located on this section of trackage and will require some navigating to find it. If you will remember from Volume 2B, just before entering downtown Hazard, KY15 crossed over both the North Fork & the tracks, then made a downgrade spiral to an intersection with KY476. KY467 turns right & passes under the KY15 bridge and KY15 continues to the left and goes through downtown Hazard. Turn right onto KY467 and follow this road past the local businesses until it makes a 90 degree left turn to cross the North Fork on it's own bridge. Cross the tracks belonging to the Lotts Creek Branch on the far side of the bridge, then go about a mile to another bridge which will once again cross the North Fork. Just after crossing the bridge is an intersection with KY1440 at Darfork that turns to the right and parallels the river and the tracks back to the southeast.
The old Combs Processing Company's Jenny Tipple is located on your left side just a few hundred feet down this road. This site consist of a truck-dump, crusher and a twin track steel loader complete with a glass enclosed control room. The office and scale house are on the right side of KY1440, opposite the tipple, and are currently used to store a new coal truck. The coal loading structure hasn't been used in several years and is quickly becoming overgrown with weeds. Looking to the right and behind the tipple, one will find a row of early 1900's era mining camp houses which are still being used to this day. The 25 car, "Hilton" siding, formerly known as "Lafayette No. 3" had been removed during 1992.
A half mile from here, just before the intersection with KY1146 at Duane, is the still existing Ajax Tipple. This is the largest surviving wooden tipple in Eastern Kentucky and is located on your left so watch closely for it. You'll have to park and walk back behind the treeline for a good view but you will not be disappointed. A good picture of this tipple as it appeared during its operational life is found on page 71 of Ron Flanary's book, "The L&N in the Appalachians". This site was owned by the R.M. Mining Company and loaded hoppers on the five track, 60 car "Barry" siding. It basically looks like a giant wood box with windows sitting on many round, wooden post with a long conveyor running up from a truck-dump. Sounds fairly plain but this tipple has a personality that will take you back to an infant coal industry. One can almost see old L&N J-class steam engines as they gather loaded hoppers from the storage tracks for the trip back to Hazard. Well worth a stop!
Continue past the intersection where KY1146 turns to the right and go about a quarter mile to another intersection with KY1146, this one to the left. Take a left onto KY1146 and enter the community of Bulan and the location of a high volume loadout. The sprawling complex on you left belongs to the Cyprus Amax Coal Company subsidiary, Cyprus Mountain Coal, known in this area as Lost Mountain Mining and is operated under the Buckhorn Processing name. The Bulan Tipple is a simple, albeit very large, truck to rail transloading facility that consist of two truck-dumps, two stacking tubes suppling close to 200,000 tons of coal storage, offices and twin flood-loaders. The smaller, green and yellow painted loader is the original structure while the much larger, white painted loader was built and placed in service during 1993. The coal is supplied from Lost Mountain's large Harris Branch strip mine located just across the 4-lane KY80. If you keep going on KY1146, you'll quickly run into KY80. Turn left, then take the first right back onto KY1146. The strip mine and a large prep plant are located just at the top of the hill. Total output from the Harris Branch Mine and thus the Bulan Tipple topped 3.4 million tons during 1994 with over 4.0 million tons projected for 1995. This was not to be. As reported in Volume 2B, a layoff has completely shut this site down until the market returns to more favorable conditions. Until then, about 340 miners and support personnel are drawing unemployment checks.
The Whitaker Coal Corporation was founded in 1946 by Luther Whitaker and was later turned over to his five sons; Elmer, Emmitt, Everett, Earl and today's president, Ed. As is typical of family companies in Kentucky, Whitaker is made up of several underground and surface mines operating in the many thin coal seams of the region. The original Whitaker tipples, then known as Bluegrass No. 3 and Bluegrass No. 4, as well as a third belonging to Starfire Mining were replaced in 1978 by a large 800-tph preparation plant and a modern flood-loader. In early 1983, the giant Sun Coal Company bought Whitaker and allowed the brothers to continue with business as usual. You may remember that Sun also owns the Shamrock Coal Company discussed in Volume 2C and several other sites in Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming. During 1988- 1989, the plant underwent a $2.5 million expansion which added special equipment to recover smaller size coal that had been previously dumped in refuse piles and wasted. In addition to processing equipment, a second flood-loader and three, 50,000 ton capacity ground storage stacking tubes were also added. These upgrades give this site the ability to load three, 10,000 ton unit trains each day if market conditions will allow it.
The coal processed here comes from four working sections in the company's on-site EAS deep mine (Named after the five brother's first names and pronounced E's), the Perry Coal Company's nearby deep mine and Ray Coal Company's No. 49 and No. 54 deep mines located several miles away. A new surface mine on Mud Creek was recently opened to replace the Long Branch and Honey Branch mines that exhausted their reserves several years back.
Up until June, this complex had been shipping a combined 1.5 million tpy of compliance coal, with 630,000 tons going to Georgia Power, 720,000 tons to Consumers Power in Jackson, MI and the balance sold on the spot market. Then in late spring, Sun shocked the community by laying off the entire 327 employee workforce and closing the mines and prep plant until market conditions improve. The two long-term contracts are now being filled by other Sun Coal owned mines and loadouts, the bulk of it coming from Shamrock Coal's Clover Division in Harlan County. Shamrock is able to produce the required tonnage at a lower cost due to the use of a longwall unit in the Beech Fork Mine. Today, the gates are closed and there's no way to get past the entrance for a better look.
From KY15, you can see the large covered truck-dump located on top of the mountain beside a long shop building used for rebuilding mine equipment. This structure (the dump) is large enough for semi-trucks to pull into and be completely covered from the elements while dumping their payload. A conveyor extends straight out to feed twin stacking tubes with a 100,000 ton raw coal storage capacity. Other conveyors running up the mountain lead from the EAS Mine to the raw coal stockpiles or from the processing plant to a refuse dump on the opposite side of the ridge and are completely lighted at night. What you can't see from the road is the large prep plant located just below the raw coal stockpiles, the triple clean coal stockpiles, the twin flood- loaders and all the surface support equipment for the EAS mine which also includes several smaller raw coal stockpiles and ventilation blowers. There is a high concrete bridge which spans the valley in-between the two loaders and takes the access road pass a refuse loadout for trucks. This bridge gives excellent views on both sides of the 180 car, "Bluegrass #4" siding should you find this site operating again.
From the intersection of KY15 and KY7, take KY15 east and cross a curving bridge over Carr's Fork and the tracks. The Lee Coal Co transloader which was visited in Volume 3C and the new deep mine at Jeff are easily visible to your left.
Start looking to the right for the large stacking tubes and prep plant located on top of the mountain. The KPC Unit Train Tipple is located within a half mile of Jeff and lies hidden behind the trees even in the winter. The only part visible are these stacking tubes, so look carefully. The first right turn past this site will take you across the Carr's Fork to a parking area adjacent to the tracks. This parking lot is for a manufacturing plant located between the tipple and the bridge. You must travel through the plant's property to get to the coal processing plant owned by Coal Ridge Fuels and the guard is not very receptive to request. He told me to walk down the tracks! I did, and what I found was a modern flood-loader which draws clean coal from the stockpile on top of the hill. Walking up the path to the wash plant revealed truck-dumps, a yellow-painted prep plant, settling basin and the stacking tubes. Coal Ridge Fuels is now out of business, having operated this site only a few years after purchasing it from Kentucky Prince Coal Mining, thus the "KPC Unit Train" name. I'm not sure, but I think Lee Coal also gained control and ownership of this site at the same time they acquired the Jeff Tipple. As of June, the coal still wasn't flowing from here yet.
Continuing along KY15, within a mile the tracks will cross from your right to left side under a bridge where they remain for less than a quarter mile before passing back to you right again. They will remain on your right for about a quarter mile, pass back to the left under another bridge, then cross KY15 at a grade crossing. There is a switch to the left (north) of this crossing which leads to the White Oak Branch Spur. These tracks extend for half a mile up White Oak Creek and had served the Elkhorn-Jellico Coal Company's 4-track Defiance Tipple. The tipple is now gone, however, there is a large ANFO storage bin and a loading site for cut logs which keeps the 25 car, "Defiance" siding open.
About a quarter mile from this grade crossing is a right turn- off which leads to Scuddy Branch Road at the community of Scuddy. There had been a spur which ran due south along the banks of Scuddy Branch to serve a small tipple. This tipple was purchased from the Scuddy Coal Company by Coal Power Corporation and operated as the Scuddy Tipple on the 24 car, "Scuddy" siding until both it and the tracks were removed in 1992.
Continue down KY15 for 1/2 of a mile until you get to the next road on the right. This should be George Branch Road. If you should pass a minimart/gas station, Thorton's I think, you've gone too far as the Stoker Tipple sits directly behind here. Turning right on George Branch, crossing the bridge and tracks, then turning left on the dirt road which parallels the tracks will get you up close. This structure is most unusual as it is really a small prep plant minus the metal siding which has found a permanent home on the site of an old 4-track wooden tipple that had shared the same name. The lack of siding lets you get a good idea of what's inside all the large metal boxes we've been seeing. Old conveyors still extend down the mountain from abandoned drift mine openings higher up while concrete retaining walls and footers mark the old structure's site. The original tipple belonged to the Elkhorn-Jellico Coal Company until MKM Sales bought the site, demolished the wooden beast and used the 35 car, "Stoker" siding to load hoppers from coal processed in the more efficient unit. The Diamond May Coal Company purchased this area during 1993 to eliminate any possible competition with their primary site just up the road. The tipple has been idle for several years and stands partly covered with canvas tarps but rusting away nonetheless.
Get back on KY15 and go just about a half mile to the town of Vicco. Vicco, which gets its name from the Virginia Iron and Coke Company, has always been associated with the mining industry since the namesake company founded it and several nearby mines in the early 1900's. During the early part of this century, this town was as lawless as any old West counterpart and then some. Tired miners would come here to drink, gamble and visit the many young "Ladies" who had found a quick and easy way to earn money. Putting these three vices together often started trouble, and Vicco fast became the murder capital of the coalfields rivaling Harlan and West Virginia's Thurmond & Welch communities. What Vicco lacked in morals, it made up for in high quality coal seams and the L&N acknowledged this fact by building branches and spurs up four of the valleys which radiate from here.
The first of these was a continuance of the Carr's Fork Branch for a mile past Vicco where four tipples were constructed. These were known as Sassafras, Hytemp, Meg and Coalings. Only the Hytemp Tipple, or Carr Creek Tipple as some called it, survived into the eighties, only to be removed shortly after being acquired by Golden Oak Mining. I'll point out its ex-location in a few moments. First, let's check out the other three branches which are on the way.
As we approach Vicco from the Stoker Tipple, driving along KY15, there will be an exit to your right as the highway starts to climb uphill to cross a long bridge over the tracks and several downtown businesses. Turn right at the exit, cross over the tracks and then follow this road until it makes a 90 degree left hand turn. The first right after the curve will take you across a bridge spanning Carr's Fork and then to an intersection with KY1095. Right on KY1095, and we'll be following the tracks of the Montgomery Creek Branch.
KY1095 will next cross back and forth over the tracks four times before ending up on the right or south side for the remainder of the branch. A quarter mile from the last crossing is the site of the also-removed Solo Tipple. This tipple was also captured on "Eastern Kentucky Coal" and had been owned and operated by Kodak Mining Company. The Solo Tipple had been about twice the size of Montoco and thus required two, 18 car tracks referred to as "Solo". Solo was also removed during upgrades to the branch to replace the jointed rail with modern welded tracks for supporting heavy unit trains loaded at the next site.
Within sight of where the old Solo Tipple had stood, is the location of a very large transloading operation known as the Charlene Loadout owned by Kodak Mining Company. This facility was constructed on the site of Kodak's first generation Kodak Tipple at what had been the town of Kodak. The mining company has since purchased all the nearby private homes, in order to abide by federal mining laws regarding minimum distances between facilities and private residences, and thus owns everything in sight. Most of the remaining buildings are vacant or used for storage and office purposes. The loadout itself consist of a truck unloading area at the top of the hill, conveyors leading to a crusher, coal stockpile, and twin high-capacity flood-loaders which stand a few feet from the public road. Kodak Mining is a very old mining company which worked several mines in the region until the early eighties when they idled all operations. The Montgomery Branch thus sat dormant and rusting until 1991 when William B. Sturgill, a prominent Kentucky coal operator who will be discussed more later, acquired all of Kodak's low-sulfur coal reserves and began construction of the Charlene Loadout. In anticipation of the plant's startup, CSX upgraded the rails, ties and the five grade crossings which had become nearly impassible in a normal car. Today you'll find 3-4 unit trains loaded each week to fulfill Kodak's long-term contract obligations with as many as two per day when spot market sales are up. CSX now calls this 120-plus car siding, "Charlene" after the new loadout.
If you look to the left just past the second flood-loader, you should see a dirt road leading past a gated entrance. This is the old county road 5119 which Kodak now owns and uses as a haul road leading from a surface operation. A paved, KY1095 will continue straight and quickly intersect with the Fusonia-Kodak Road mentioned when we stopped by the Fusonia Tipple back on KY7. As for CR5119, this road follows the tracks of the Montgomery Branch as they curve northward for a half-mile up Kelly's Fork. Located just around the corner had been, or is, Kodak's Emmons Tipple. Although this was an older site, it did have unit train loading capacity and sported a 4-track, 90 car siding also called "Emmons". I say it may be there because I have not personally asked permission to venture back and check since the Charlene Loadout was constructed. With Kodak's removal of the other tipples and CSX's line upgrades, I will assume that this was also removed. As soon as the leaves fall off the trees, I plan on making this one of the first destinations of my 1995 excursions, and will post my findings in an upcoming report.
To explore the area, go back toward Vicco on KY1095 and cross the bridge to get back on the main street. Turn right, go about a hundred feet to an intersection and turn right again to head toward the KY15 bridge which should now be directly ahead of you. As you pass under this bridge, there is a small road, CR5117, to the left which will cross the tracks and take us up Stacey Creek. About 3/4 of a mile from the grade crossing is a wide area to the right across from a row of houses on your left. This had been the location of Coal Ridge Fuel's Simon Tipple. At one time there had been 5 tracks making up the "Simons" siding which served a wooden tipple. During the twilight years of its operation, a smaller loader was installed and most of these tracks were removed leaving only room for 19 cars. With the demise of Coal Ridge Fuels, the remaining structure and siding was removed.
Continuing up CR5117, we'll get to an old grade crossing at a point where the road turns to dirt and a chain-link gate stands open and unused. This had been the entrance to Kodak Mining's Chester Preparation Plant, a more modern facility which featured rapid loading capabilities on the 78 car, "Chester" siding. This plant was also recently removed and the entire area reclaimed by Kodak's current owner. You can drive back for a more detailed look but there's really not much to see. The grassy embankment to the far left is a reclaimed refuse dump which had been nothing but black slate before topsoil and grass were added. To the far right had been a deep tailings pond which has been drained and to your immediate right had been the portal to a deep mine.
It should be noted here that the abandoned ROW to your right as you turn onto KY1088 is all that left of the last mile of the Carr's Fork Branch. The Hytemp Tipple had been removed in the late eighties while the tracks survived until 1993 when they were salvaged and the grade crossing at KY1088 paved over. Nearby home owners have since had the old ROW paved and now use this as a long driveway. During all the trackwork, CSX crews also removed the switch leading to the Knott Branch and replaced it with a smooth curve making it much easier for loaded unit trains to make the 90 degree turn and rendering this a new extension of the Carr's Fork.
The remaining tipple at Anco is the old Falcon Coal loadout discussed in Volume 2B and reported to be in Perry County. Upon looking at the map, I find this is actually sitting just across the line in Knott County. Sorry. I said "old" but this site was actually a new replacement built during the late seventies to upgrade the very old Yellow Creek Prep Plant that had been idle for several years. After being acquired by Arch Mineral from Falcon Coal's parent company, Diamond Shamrock Coal, this newer site fulfilled contract obligations with Kentucky Utilities by operating as part of Arch on the North Fork. This flood-loader is also featured as it appeared during Arch ownership in the video, "Eastern Kentucky Coal" and reported to be loading a unit train once a week for KU. The footage of an empty KUCX hopper train lead by veteran U30C's and followed by an L&N caboose are at the KY15 grade crossing near Scuddy headed to this tipple.
After the KU contract expired, Arch sold this unusual looking (see the video) rounded flood-loading facility, to the Diamond May Coal Company which promptly shut it down and invested several million dollars to construct a washing plant to clean the coal. The plant now consist of the pre-existing truck-dump, stacking tube and flood-loader as well as a new, medium size prep plant, settling basin and raw coal storage area. The 120-car siding is active once again and still referred to as either "Anco" or "Yellow Creek" depending on which CSX crew is on duty.
From the intersection at Dent, turn south onto KY699 from KY7 and start driving. The first tipple on the branch was located just a mile from the intersection at the community of Daisy, milepost LF261. The Lee Mike Coal Company had operated this old transloader, known as the Daisy Tipple, until about 1989 when it was removed along with the 45 car, "Daisy" siding. The tipple's location had been the grass-covered field to your right just before KY699 crosses over the Leatherwood Branch for the first time.
KY699 will now parallel the tracks, which are on the opposite side of Leatherwood Creek, for two miles until crossing back over at the community of Slemp. A quarter mile back up the road from this crossing is a long curved tunnel, one of only two on an EK branchline, that's completely obscured from sight. The second tunnel is located at Oz on the Whitesburg Branch. Unless you like to hike, just be happy knowing that this ones here.
From Slemp, it's just over 2 miles to the Blue Diamond Coal Company's only active operation left in Eastern Kentucky. Rounding a tight left-hand curve, the tall, blue-painted flood- loader will mark the location of what could be the biggest, area- wise, facility in the region. The Beech Fork Processing Plant's loader (not to be confused with Shamrock Coal's Beech Fork Mine which ships from the Clover Loadout on the CV Sub.) sits on the same site which had belonged to the original Beech Fork Tipple, a wooden structure served by the 30 car, "Beech Fork" siding.
Knoxville, Tn. based Blue Diamond Coal is a company which has had a very checkered past and a long history of operating big mines shipping record setting volumes of coal. At one time, this company owned the small tipple at this site, two more sites on the Leatherwood Branch, the ill-fated Scotia Mine at Oven Fork in Letcher County discussed in Volume 2C, and the Justus Prep Plant at Sterns in McCreary County on NS's CNO&TP mainline. Financial problems resulted in consolidations, layoffs, closings and sales of large coal reserves resulting in the company concentrating all efforts on the facilities which lay before you. The Beech Fork Complex consist of the flood-loader sitting beside KY699, a total of ten stacking tubes with close to 3/4 of a million tons of storage capacity, several truck-dumps, two rotary crushers, a high capacity wash plant, refuse conveyors and bins, and finally two slurry settling basins. You really have to see this to believe it. The road which turns right from KY699, crosses a bridge over the tracks, then leads past the scale house and up Beech Fork Creek is a public county-owned road. You must take this route if you want to see anything more than the loader. Don't let the guard shack stop you as everyone has a right to be on this road, which follows directly beside the complex for nearly a mile before winding uphill past the last truck-dump. The bridge back at the intersection passes directly over the tracks just a few feet from the flood-loader giving good views for pictures of unit trains being loaded. These events occur fairly often as Blue Diamond loads several million tons of coal per year from both strip & deep mines operating in the "Hazard #4" and "Leatherwood" seams.
A very short distance down KY699 will get us to an intersection with KY463 which turns left. Stay on KY699 and pass under a bridge which takes the tracks of the Blair Fork Spur about five miles up a creek to the town of Tilford. We'll come back here in a moment. Continuing on KY699, the road will curve to the right and pass under the Leatherwood Branch through a dual automobile tunnel as the rails begin to gain altitude and follow the Clover Fork of Leatherwood Creek. From here, it's about 2.2 miles to the community of Leatherwood and the remains of Blue Diamond's Leatherwood Prep Plant which sits just north of a point where Perry, Leslie, and Harlan counties all meet. After the road makes a long horseshoe curve to the left, begin looking for a left turn at which point the huge structure will be visible in the valley below. Fear not, turn left and follow the dirt road down to the prep plant and what had been Leatherwood, Ky. The plant itself is a very large, metal siding covered facility which had been built in 1950 by the Roberts & Schaefer Company to process coal at the rate of 850 tph and load railcars on up to six tracks which passed directly under it. One need only visit the new Kentucky Criterion prep plant at Deane to see how far processing technology has advanced during the last 45 years as R & S also boast construction of this site as one of their latest accomplishments. The most interesting feature at Leatherwood is the raw coal storage bin which is a blue funnel shaped structure, 40 feet wide, 150 feet high and spanning the valley from side to side. There were mine entrances high on both sides of the valley with a trestle connecting them. The storage bin ran under this trackage starting midway across and sloped down to the top of the prep plant. Mine cars would exit the portals, proceed over the storage bin and dump their contents under a covered awning into the hopper. Like I said, very interesting and another must see before someone decides to tear this plant down.
The mining camp which later became known as Leatherwood had included about sixty homes and a downtown area consisting of a company store, movie theater, gas station, barber shop, etc. Everything is now gone except for the company store and theater which remain as offices for Blue Diamond. The only modern structure around is a pumping station used to clear water from the abandoned mines located directly under the town. A small yard is also located here and its rails extend almost into what was the downtown area. These rails, the 180 car capacity "Leatherwood" Yard, and the entire stretch from just past the Beech Fork Complex now lie rusting and unused.
The first, and only remaining, rail loader is positioned just a mile from Jimhill at Stony Fork. This impressive looking tipple also belonged to Blue Diamond Coal Company and was used to ship coal from the on-site Royal Diamond Mine. I say impressive because the tipple is painted a bright blue color and has been kept impeccably clean despite is long service life. This facility was used to ship raw coal directly from the mine either to steam customers or to other cleaning plants for additional processing. The loader is a tall, open steel truss structure with partial flood-loading abilities and can fill either hopper cars on the 60 car, "Royal Diamond" siding or coal trucks from a loading chute over a parallel road also passing under the structure. The trucks were then used to haul the raw coal to the Beech Fork Complex which does not have rail car unloading capabilities. A long blue and yellow conveyor extends from the loader, which spans the siding on the left side of KY463, to the base of a conical storage stockpile. This stockpile inturn, is fed from another conveyor extending directly from a crushing and screening device to the top of a steel stacking tube. Coal is conveyored straight from the mine portal to the crusher with no intermediate storage.
The only other structure here is the cable house which contains large electric motors driving a winch and pulley resembling those found on a skylift ride at an amusement park. This cable system is then used to pull tracked mine cars or to power "man-trips" down the 60 degree slope from the portal to the coal seam several hundred feet below. Man-trip is a term given to the equipment used for, or the act of, getting miners from the surface to their work areas underground. The Royal Diamond Mine has been idle now for over five years and a trip by here last year found a new sign with "Altec Energy Inc. of Delphia, Ky" right beside the Blue Diamond Mining sign at the entrance. Altec may be gearing up to operate this site on a contract basis for Blue Diamond.
Continuing along KY463, the spur will cross to the right side of the road and remain there all the way to Tilford. About a quarter mile from the crossing are several conveyors and a stacking tube located to your left at a spot known as Beech Rock Branch. This is the Beech Rock portal of Blue Diamond's large Turkey Creek Mine, which operates under these hills to the north all the way into Letcher County. The Beech Rock equipment is used to transload raw coal coming from the mine into trucks for transport back to the Beech Fork Complex. Turkey Creek has been a very large source of Beech Fork's output, having supplied around 845,000 tons per year from the 66-inch-thick "Hazard #4" coal seam since the late eighties. I can't positively comment on recent operations since I didn't make it by here on my last trip to the area but I'd be willing to bet it's just as active as ever.
About 2 miles past the Beech Rocks facility, KY463 will pass the community of Delphia where the tracks of the Blair Fork Spur had split to form a multi-track yard extending up to Tilford. The wide clearing on your right as the road begins to climb uphill was the location of the yard and two tipples known as Tilford #1 and Tilford #2. Both tipples and all yard tracks have been removed along with almost all of the mining camp houses which had belonged to the Tilford community. The L&N had referred to the collective set of tracks as "Tilford", however I can not be certain of who had operated the wooden structures which were removed prior to my first trip into the area in 1985. A good guess would be Blue Diamond but at this point that's just what it would be; a guess.
Take KY588 from the intersection with KY7 at Blackey, cross the bridge over the North Fork and follow the winding road for 2.5 miles to the community of Tolson. Up until a few years ago, KY588 had been a one-lane gravel road known as KY1290. After paving was completed, which is now basically just a little more than one lane, the road numbers were changed to complete the connection all the way to Whitesburg and a junction with US15. Visible to your left at Tolson will be the dirty yellow loader which comprises the Tolson Fast Load Tipple. As discussed in Volume 3A, SouthEast Coal used the Tolson Loadout to ship coal from their nearby Line Fork Mine back to the Calla Prep Plant where it was dumped, cleaned, reloaded into hoppers and shipped on to the barge transloader on the Licking River just south of Cincinnati. The facilities here are made up of a truck-dump on the KY588 side of the river with a conveyor leading directly to the top of a flood- loader standing over the 90 car, "Tolson" siding. An area has been blasted out of the hill behind the loader and trucks dump their loads right over the embankment to form a small storage stockpile. A second conveyor feeds coal from this stockpile into the loader on the opposite side. More storage space was never needed here as the Line Fork Mine had on-site stockpiles and company-owned unit trains were always on hand to hustle the raw coal back to Calla. Tolson was also home to SouthEast's SW1500 switch engine that had been used to fill hoppers left by the twice per day Calla Turns. This switcher continued to load hoppers during the period it took the company unit trains to run back toward Ravenna, dump their contents at the car shaker and return. A very efficient operation during its time. Kentucky Processing now uses this loadout for the same purpose, however, tonnage comes from other area mines as Line Fork was closed with the bankruptcy of DLX Corporation. The dirt road directly across from the loadout, right from KY588, is the haul road which climbed up to the Line Fork portal.
Less than a mile from the Tolson Loadout is the location of Interstate Coal Company's Hogg Tipple. Interstate purchased this site from the Lake Coal Company around 1988 and continues to ship small volumes from the 90 car, "Hogg" siding. The facilities consist of a cleaning plant and storage stockpiles at the top a hill with a long conveyor moving the washed coal across KY588 to the dual-chute flood-loader. This modern structure looks exactly like the one at Andalex's Sandy Fork Tipple on the "Alamo" siding of the Left Fork of Straight Creek Branch back in Bell County and was built by the same contractor. The wash plant is out-of-sight and one must take the paved road to the left in order to get up to the main entrance for a good look. The building which houses all the processing equipment looks more like a manufacturing plant than a prep plant due to its short size and roof ventilators, with only the conveyors and stockpiles giving away its true purpose.
Continue along KY588 for about a quarter mile until the road makes a tight, right-handed hairpin turn at an intersection with KY160. KY160 turn left and follows Smoot Creek due northward for seven miles to a junction with the 4-lane KY15. In the past, SouthEast Coal Company had operated a privately owned set of tracks, known as the SMOOT CREEK SPUR, which departed the Whitesburg Branch at milepost VB275.2. This two mile long spur serviced SouthEast's Premium Tipple, the on-site Premium deep-mine and a second loader known as Fleming No.3. All tracks and structures have been removed and the crossing at KY588 repaved, but if your curious, a short trip up the road will reveal the concrete foundations and the sealed-off portal of the deep mine located on the left side of the road. I never got to see the Fleming No.3 tipple, which was said to also be owned by SouthEast, and I've searched in vain to try and locate its exact position. As far as I can tell, this site has completely vanished without a trace.
KY588 will follow the tracks for about 3 miles from the KY160 intersection to the community of Oz at which point the road continues to follow the North Fork around a long northward bend while the railroad tunnels through a narrow ridge and saved about a mile.
From the point where the road cuts away from the tracks to the next intersection with KY931 is only about 1.5 miles and there are two abandoned loaders to find. Just ahead on the right, about a half mile after the road rejoins the tracks, is a very small loader at the community of Ice. This small truck to rail tipple was owned by the Jo-Ray Coal Company and filled hoppers on an 11 car siding also called "Ice". The tipple, actually just a truck dump and conveyor, is almost hidden among the underbrush and can be found by looking for a small road and bridge crossing the North Fork and leading to several private homes. There has been a large white delivery truck sitting next to this site and rusting away along with the tipple for years making for a good spotting aid.
Not far from here, just past a left-handed hairpin curve, is the intersection with KY931 and the remains of a steel and wooden structure known only as the old No.8 Tipple. This loader, which consist of a wooden truck-dump held over from an even older tipple, shakers, screens, breakers and a single-track loader with an enclosed control room, belonged to the No.8 Limited of Virginia Coal Company. The 45 car, "Romeo" siding has been idle for years yet still connects to the tracks of the Whitesburg Branch making it possible to resurrect this site if ever needed. This is most likely only wishful thinking. There had also been a second wooden tipple located just a few hundred feet past No.8 which was called Tim No.4. This was removed during the very early eighties along with the "Tim No.4" siding.
At the intersection, KY588 goes straight while KY931 follows Cowen Creek to the south after crossing the tracks. Stay on 588 and follow the tracks toward Whitesburg where they will terminate uneventfully. When you get to the intersection with KY15 at Whitco, turn right and proceed for two miles to the intersection with US119 which has just crossed Pine Mountain from Harlan County and CSX's CV Subdivision. The end of the Whitesburg Branch is just past this intersection and really not worth looking for. The rails just stop.
Take KY931 east from the KY7 intersection at Pat and follow the rails for just under a mile. The first sign of something big coming up is the large warehouse on the right at Polly. This serves as a central storage area for the Golden Oak Mining Complex soon to come. The wide clearing just past this warehouse is the old site of SouthEast Coal's Polly Tipple. The tracks which had once been used to load coal are now utilized to store CSX engines while their string of hoppers are pulled under the flood-loader by two Golden Oak-owned SW1500. If you pass two big GE's parked here, you can be sure there's plenty of action just around the corner.
As you round that corner, the first thing to be seen is the 8 story high breaker and screening equipment fed by a short conveyor leading from the sheltered truck-dump to the right. The round covering of the conveyor sports Golden Oak's oak leaf emblem and protects automobiles from falling chunks of coal. There is a gated, multi-track grade crossing with an intersection just on the opposite side. All roads here are public so feel free to drive around. Right will get you up to the truck-dump and then over to the town of Colson. Left will take us the full length of this huge complex which, as stated in the video "Eastern Kentucky Coal", rivals those of Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Another conveyor extends from the outlet of the breaker to the top of twin, 50,000 ton raw coal silos. Next is the large blue prep plant and slurry settling basins, refuse conveyors crossing the road and extending up the mountainside to the mine dump, the flood-loader, and finally the clean coal storage silo. During 1990, additional clean coal storage was needed so an open air stockpile was constructed surrounding the base of this concrete structure. A concrete retaining wall lines the road and holds back 50,000 more tons of clean coal. Most of the coal processed here had been trucked in from off-site deep and strip mines until 1994 when a new deep mine was opened just across the tracks and east of the clean coal silo. Ventilation blowers and fences mark the portal while conveyors bring the raw coal back across the road to a conical stockpile and stacking tube. This coal is then loaded into trucks by end-loaders and driven the 3/4 of a mile back to the truck-dump for processing through the complex. The mine is thus on-site but still requires ground transportation to be moved through the plant.
Arch Mineral may be my favorite company, but this is my favorite tipple and I've been building an HO scale replica of it in my basement for three years now. The only exception is my addition of a rail car shaker and additional conveyors to add some operating variations to my layout. As of now, this ongoing project of mine takes up a four by ten foot section and keeps me busy when I find time to work on it.
Golden Oak Mining is owned by 71 year old William B. Sturgill, or "Mr. Coal" as he's known to his employees, and is only one of his many holdings. Mr. Sturgill, the son of a Floyd County Sheriff, started in the coal business in the 1940's with the purchase of a tipple at Fourseam on the now abandoned Buffalo Creek Branch and soon became one of the first in the state to utilize large-scale strip mining in these mountains. Kelly & Sturgill, as his company was known, molded the broken down Fourseam tipple into a profitable coal producer before using it as a stepping stone to form Breathitt County's Falcon Coal. Sturgill later expanded back into Perry County with the construction of the Yellow Creek Loadout near Vicco, on the L&N's Knott Branch, which also fell under Falcon control. From the discussion in Volume 3B, we know that Falcon operated many other tipples and mines throughout Breathitt and Perry counties before being purchased by first Diamond Shamrock Coal and later Arch Mineral in 1987 to form today's Arch on the North Fork Division.
During this period of time, Sturgill became one of the state's most powerful financial and political forces by serving as Kentucky's energy secretary under governor John Y. Brown and later as chairman of the board at the University of Kentucky. It's often been said, "If you want to be governor of Kentucky, you have to have the blessings of Bill Sturgill". After completing his political career, he returned to the mountains and purchased several smaller tipples calling his new company Golden Oak Mining. In 1980, Reading and Bates Corporation, an Oklahoma-based oil company paid $14.3 million for the entire operation during a period when it was common and trendy for oil companies to own coal companies. R&B Corporation then spent $30 million in 1982 to build the complex at Sapphire and almost immediatly ran into serious financial trouble with the downturn of the economy. Sturgill continued to mine coal by forming Big Elk Creek Coal Company and selling tonnage back to R&B.
In 1986, Sturgill came back and saved Golden Oak from going bankrupt by rebuying the entire 60-acre processing plant and coal reserves for an undisclosed price. "I just had to get it back," Sturgill quoted one time, "they owed me too much money." One Golden Oak employee once told me he really bought it back because he was too sentimental to watch it go under and paid much more than it was worth at the time. Golden Oak and Big Elk Creek continued to operate hand in hand, boasting 11 underground and 3 surface mines, until 1991 when Westmoreland Coal became very interested in acquiring the complex. As we know from Volume 3C, Westmoreland had purchased the Hendrix Coal Reserves from BethEnergy during 1987 and constructed the Kentucky Criterion Coal Complex at Deane. If you look at a map, you'll find that Golden Oak is only three miles to the southwest and on the opposite side of the mountain from Criterion. Golden Oak's 86 million tons of coal reserves actually meet the 150 million tons of the Hendrix Reserve and Westmoreland found this to be ideal for adding to their total coal base which was then estimated to be in excess of 1.1 Billion tons. The fact that the UMWA had tried unsuccessfully to organize Golden Oak in 1987 increased the appeal of this company. On May 7th of 1991, Westmoreland Coal announced that they would purchase all of Golden Oak's assets, including the Sapphire Complex, coal reserves and 2 million tons per year in long-term supply contracts, for $68.5 million in cash and up to 6% of Westmoreland's total common stock.
With the deal basically completed except for federal regulatory approvals, Sturgill and his Big Elk Creek Coal Company began looking for a site to construct a rail loadout to facilitate moving his mined coal to market. They found a deal with the old Kodak Mining Company and CSX's abandoned Montgomery Creek Branch near Vicco. As reported earlier, the twin flood-loading complex known as the Charlene Tipple and a new set of welded rails are the end result of these actions. With all going well, something big happened. The bottom fell out of Westmoreland's third quarter earnings and the feds found problems with the contract which resulted in both parties backing out of the deal. Westmoreland has since sold, or are trying to sell, all Appalachian holdings and Sturgill has begun operating both Golden Oak and Big Elk Creek (Kodak) at a huge profit.
Today, William B. Sturgill is so loved by the people of Eastern Kentucky that when Kodak Mining was charged with several MSHA and federal regulatory violations two years ago, the local newspapers (including those in Lexington and Louisville) were flooded with letters to the editors standing up for him and recounting his past contributions to the communities. This is completely unheard of in Appalachia where it's usually the other way around with people writing to complain about mining and the coal companies. Sturgill's two companies do have a great impact on the mountain counties with Golden Oak alone having a $1.4 million monthly payroll for 574 employees, a $1.6 million monthly budget for purchasing mining supplies from local businesses and an annual tax bill of $9.3 million.
In addition to all this, Sturgill just threw a large picnic at the Sapphire Complex on September 14th, complete with a cake decorated with tipple icing, to celebrate the shipment of that plant's 50 millionth ton of coal. In a speech to the crowd, Sturgill reported th GUIDE TO APPALACHIAN COAL HAULING R Golden Oak's total projected output through the year 2000 already sold through solid long-term contracts. (Mainly with Florida's Electric Fuels Corporation and their Crystal River Steam Plant) Also mentioned were plans to increase output to over 6 million tons per year by expanding existing mines and opening several new ones. He closed with the statement, "Fifty million is a lot of anything. Fifty million tons is a lot of coal---and I plan to be here when the next fifty million tons is mined".
Also joining the celebration was Mike Muslin, president of the Kentucky Coal Association who closed the party with a short toast saying, "He's like people who go to work every day---to do a good job every day---and believe that's what they're supposed to do. He works hard and keeps on providing jobs for this area---and I think it's kind of nice, every once in a while, to pause and say, 'There's some good things out there that we can celebrate.' Bill has always been steady. His heart is in the coal business. He IS the Cal Ripken Jr. of the coal industry."
The first of these was the Webb Elkhorn Tipple, last owned and operated by Amleasco, Inc, and served by the multi-track, 72 car capacity "Spreader" siding. This is the single remaining tipple on these old sections of track and is easily found by watching closely to your left about half a mile from the KY15 intersection. The structure is of a large, wooden design and hugs the steep mountainside behind an abandoned mining supply warehouse.
Next up the branch had been the Elkhorn-Jellico Coal Company owned Wolram Tipple located at the small community of Wolram and served by a 50 car multi-track siding by the same name. When it was first constructed, the siding here was known as Biscayne No.2 until the site was purchased by Elkhorn-Jellico and the name changed. This structure was also positioned on your left and has been removed.
Finishing out the Sand Lick Branch had been SouthEast Coal Company's first tipple. The Belcraft Tipple had sat at the end of the line on a multi-track, 60 car siding known only as "Belcraft". This tipple loaded coal from mines on Persimmon, Fairchild and Long Creeks and survived until the mid eighties.
And that's finally it for CSX's ex-L&N Eastern Kentucky Subdivision. Topographic maps for the region explored today include Hazard South, Vicco, Blackey, Mayking, Jenkins West, Leatherwood, Tilford, Roxana and Whitesburg. The next series of reports will cover the remaining ex-L&N mainline through Kentucky with visits to London and several sites south of Corbin near the Tennessee border. Enjoy!
On to part 4a
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