There are 7 individually named seams which support the county's 89 producing mines, 26 being underground and 63 being surface operations. These seams are the 28-inch "Blue Gem", the 28-inch "Fire Clay", the 20-42-inch "Jellico", the 19-inch "Little Blue Gem", the 23-inch "River Gem", the 26-inch "Upper Pioneer" and the 36-inch "Whitesburg" all of which have currently active mines operating from them. The first record of coal production in this area came in 1837 when 300 tons were surface mined along Bacon Creek in comparison to 1990's output of 1.96 million tons. Not surprising, the record year for production came during the boom year of 1975 when 2.8 million tons were mined. This is not to imply that production has fallen off that much, output has never dropped below 1.5 million tons since 1980.
Where does Whitley County's coal go? As we'll soon see, the only active loading sites are ultimately owned by TECO, the Tampa Electric Company, which operates the Gatliff Coal Company and tends to draw the lions share. Last year CSX shipped coal to only six customers from Kentucky's stretch of KD trackage. TECO's Big Bend facility, a four unit-1,687MW facility which burns about 6.5 million tons per year, received 60% of the total mined or 1.298 million tons while TECO's smaller Gannon plant on Tampa Bay took 26% or 557,083 tons. The remaining 14% went to four spot market customers: Alabama Electric's Lowman Plant drew 6% or 132,569 tons, Kentucky Utilities' Brown Generating Station received 6% or 130,800 tons, TVA's huge Kingston Plant on the KD's Cow Creek Branch bought only 1% or 20,501 tons and Georgia Power's Yates Facility scored the last 1% or 18,400 tons. My sources have told me that during the past few months, several other electric facilities have made spot market purchases. These were TVA's Sevier Plant, Dayton Power & Light's Hutchings Plant and Consumers Power's Campbell Plant, however I don't have the tonnage figures available. What these numbers reveal is that Whitley County's mining industry is very closely tied to TECO's coal supply practices and could not survive on spot market sales alone. As we'll see in an upcoming installment, this is poised to change at any time with the recent completion of TECO's new Pike County prep plant and loadout.
Get to the KY26 (KY26 used to be US25W until it was decided to route traffic toward Cumberland Falls State Park. US25W now heads toward the Falls, then loops back to intersect KY26 once again near Williamsburg. The old stretch between Corbin and Williamsburg was then renamed KY26.) intersection and take a right to parallel the yards southward. About a mile from the intersection is the south entrance to the locomotive servicing facility just prior to a concrete block plant. The entrance road drops down to a tunnel under the south end of the West Yard and you'll always find several trains waiting for departure clearance idling directly above the tunnel. The track closest to KY26 is the mainline so this is a great spot to watch southbound autoracks accelerate out of town as they're normally getting close to track speed at this point.
Our first point of interest is located at the adjacent concrete block plant. Drive past the CSX entrance to the concrete plant's entrance and main office, then look to the left rear toward the tracks to see a small coal loader. This rusting structure was a portable loader owned by Rubicoals, Inc which found a permanent home on the Pennington Block property. The loader, which still has air in its tires, hasn't been used in years and the 11 car, "Pennington Block" siding was removed during installation of concrete ties on the mainline several years ago. The people in the office are very friendly and more than willing to let you go back for a closer look but do stop and ask first.
Take KY26 south again and go about a mile until you pass under a new highway bridge. This is the bypass I mentioned earlier and should be completed by late summer. The bridge is just north of the Bacon Creek CTC signal lights which are lit only if traffic is moving. Continue south as the rails follow the road within a few feet but slightly higher in elevation. We'll travel about two miles and be looking for KY6 at the second gated and signaled crossing to your left at the small community of Woodbine. Turn left onto KY6, cross the dual mainline trackage, then look immediatly to your left. The large slab of green tinted concrete is all that's left of the truck-dump which supplied the Andy Frost Tipple. This site, which was removed about 1985, last belonged to the Woodbine Coal Company and had been a smaller wooden & steel structure consisting of a wood- framed truck-dump, a crusher/screening device, and a steel conveyor leading up to the coal chute. The short 12 car, "Woodbine" siding has also been removed. The wide, gravel & coal covered ex-home of this tipple now provides a great photo location during the morning hours for southbound trains.
While we're in Woodbine, lets run over and see the old spur that ran about a mile from the mainline up Lynn Camp Creek. From the crossing, KY6 makes a tight 90 degree righthand turn just in front of a Conoco gas station, then makes a second 90 degree lefthand turn to avoid running through Benge's Country Super- market. As the road straightens out, you'll pass a few houses on both sides of the road and then come to a large empty field on your right with a gravel road running across it. This road is located right after you cross a very small bridge over Eaton Branch and just the other side of a yellow "Curvy Road" sign about a half mile from KY26. Turn right on the gravel road and drive back until you cross the twin tracks of the Nancy Spur. Up until 1992, this had been the home of Richland Coal Company's Nancy Tipple. The facilities here consisted of a dual truck capacity truck-dump with a conveyor running up to a metal-siding covered coal bin which featured dual, movable coal chutes for loading hoppers on both of the storage tracks. Coal trucks would bring in loads from out-lying mines and dump their contents directly on the ground. Bulldozers and front-end loaders were then used to form storage piles or move the coal to the truck- dump. Although this structure resembled a first generation flood-loader, hoppers were slowly pulled under each chute by a powered winch and cable making filling out a unit train an all day job. Today, the Nancy Spur is still in use by a local railroad car salvage and repair operator. Old rail cars of all types may be found stored here in various stages of being dismantled with 27 ex-D&H gondolas present December 17th. The old coal storage yard is now host to a pile of used sideframes that must number in the thousands.
Get back to KY26 and turn left or southward again. After several hundred yards, you'll come to another gated crossing on your left at the entrance to General Shale Brick's Plant #33. The southern switch for the wye leading to the Nancy Spur is visible to the left of the crossing, while another switch on your right leads to a siding servicing the brick plant and a small lumberyard just to the south. Directly ahead of you and just visible over the roof of the brick plant is a large active strip mine.
Continue down KY26 and pass by the lumberyard and home- builders supply. As the road parallels the tracks, start looking for a high concrete bridge spanning the tracks about a mile from the brick plant. Just past the bridge, the tracks swing off to the east and part company with KY26 briefly as they round a long sweeping righthand curve which will soon take them over 26 to parallel the road on your right. Taking the one-lane road which crosses over the right-of-way at this bridge will allow you to stay beside a train most of the way down to the southern end of this double track section at Faber. This is helpful if you want to photograph a southbound waiting on a slow northbound to clear the stretch of single trackage between here and the next passing siding some 8 miles away. KY26 meanwhile will duck under the now-single-track KD main through a concrete underpass sporting the colors of the local football team.
The next site is located only about 200 yards from the underpass at the first right turn after passing under the tracks. Look for a badly broken paved road climbing uphill to cross the tracks at an unsignaled crossing. Just about 50 yards down from this crossing existed the Faber Tipple until its removal in 1991. The road which crosses the tracks leads both left and uphill to the old truck-dump or right to a private home. The lady that lives here has no idea of who operated this site and I haven't tried real hard to find out elsewhere. This tipple was an all steel structure which had been out-of-service for years and was surrounded by a high chain-link fence that did little in keeping the local kids (or me) out. The structure hugged the mountainside and was of the simplest of designs. It had loaded on a 40 car capacity siding also known as "Faber" which survived until track crews installed concrete ties along this section during 1991.
From here, it's approximately 3 miles to a KY26 grade crossing at the community of Rockhold where the rails pass back to your left. The tracks continue to follow the road and Watts Creek uneventfully along the hillside at a distance of 10 to 500 feet away. This is level trackage and trains, especially the autorack and tote trains, usually hit full speed in both directions. The entire area around you has been extensively strip mined in past years as should be apparent from the bald mountaintops and hillsides. The new Whitley County Middle School, on your left about a quarter mile before the crossing, sits on what was first a strip pit then a deep mine entrance prior to 1990. After crossing the tracks, watch for a low rail bridge on your left and then an intersection with KY511 on your right. The area to your left, just opposite the entrance for KY511, is the ex-home of the Rockhold Tipple. The old concrete equipment garage is now used by Hinkle Welding and is usually surrounded by coal trucks or other heavy equipment needing work. Coal loaded at Rockholds had come from 3 deep mines operating under Bunch Mountain at Colonel Hollow. This is the gravel haul road just to the north of the grade crossing. The tipple and 25 car capacity, "Rockhold" siding were both removed around 1988 when the Gatliff Coal Company acquired the mines, opened a large strip job, and began shipping coal to their preparation plant several miles southeast of here.
Continuing down KY26, the road will get very twisty and curvy for about a mile as the tracks venture several hundred yards away to the east behind the foliage covering the banks of Watts Creek. The next site is rather hard to spot, so slow down and begin looking for an area with several structures as the road begins to straighten out. The dirt and gravel road we are searching for turns left just before you pass Hunter's Auto & Truck Repair, a garage that resides in a very run-down, paintless wooden building with an automobile graveyard next door. Helton's Transmission Service is on your right in a white concrete-block garage with several junk cars also sitting about. There is a large, clean, white sign for this business directly opposite the road we're looking for. Turn left onto the gravel road and cross over Watts Creek on an old wood bridge; don't worry it'll support your car and then some without a problem. Don't confuse this bridge with the nice concrete structure about a half-mile back. Take this road about 300 feet to a rail crossing and you'll find the long- idled Whitley Development Tipple just off to the right but it should have been in sight as soon as you crossed the creek. This site had been operated by Pat White Fuels and is a typical early 1970's vintage, privately owned loader consisting of a truck- dump, crusher/screens and a hopper loading chute. The 37 car, "Wofford" siding is still intact and is often used to store MOW equipment or bad order hopper cars. I even found an empty autorack sitting here once. The entire tipple is long abandoned and surrounded by a chain-link fence, but one can still slip inside to look around. Not that I would condone this practice! There is also a 6,113 foot-long passing siding here and you can often find a waiting train parked just short of the 3-track crossing.
Get back to KY26, turn left, and go a half-mile to yet another grade crossing, passing an intersection with KY2985 and a new concrete bridge spanning Watts Creek in the process. From this crossing, it's 1.6 miles to an intersection with US25W. The rails will be in sight for a short distance, then cut westward as they near Williamsburg. Take a left and follow along US25W for 1.7 miles until you get to a set of red lights at an intersection with KY296 at downtown Williamsburg. The rails will have been way out-of-sight since shortly after the grade crossing but you can turn left at this intersection to enter Williamsburg and explore an L&N-era depot that still exist. Turning right on KY296, cross the Cumberland River, go through two downtown red lights, then continue about 3 blocks to the grade crossing. The old depot is on your left. The road which turns left beside the structure will take you back to the storage area for two wooden, L&N cabooses: Number 142 which is in good shape and an un- numbered cab which has seen much better days. Get back to US25W, (You'll have to follow the one-way signs through town and cross the Cumberland over a different bridge) turn right and go 0.7 miles to another set of lights at an intersection with KY92. We'll use this road in a few minutes when we explore the Pine Mountain West Branch. Until then, keep going straight (the road is now both US25W and KY92) until you pass a shopping center and Walmart on the right and then cross two high bridges. The first spans the Cumberland River while the second crosses over the KD main and will give you a good view of the storage tracks and Savoy Wye that leads to the Pine Mountain West Branch. The next set of lights you come to just across the last bridge is another intersection with KY92 and is a connector road leading to the southern I-75 Williamsburg Exit. Stay on US25W (straight) and pass through the light, by two car dealerships, a Firestone manufacturing plant and the Adkins Motor Inn. Take a left on the second paved road past the Inn. The first road is really a gated entrance to the Firestone plant and the second is Savoy Road, although the sign was missing a few weeks back. This road will climb up a small hill then drop down to a rail crossing. There should be an electric substation on your left before crossing the tracks and a concrete plant on your left after crossing the tracks. The structure along the railroad tracks at the concrete plant are the remains of an old coal tipple. The typical truck-dump is easily picked out, however, most of the other equipment has been removed and replaced with concrete mixing equipment. The dump still serves as a truck-dump with the exception that it's no longer coal that being delivered but sand. The 20 car capacity, "Savoy #2" siding still exist but is no longer used. During its coal service years, the tipple's one and only operator was the Whitley County Concrete Company.
After crossing the tracks, the concrete plant and old truck- dump will still be on your left while a CSX field office is now on your right. Also on the right is the southern leg of the Savoy Wye, an active log-loading operation and storage tracks for the caboose which is used on each and every train operating on the Pine Mountain West Branch. Just about a hundred feet further up is the entrance to yet another coal tipple. The Stone Creek Tipple sits off to the left on the northern leg of the wye and is completely intact, albeit unused for many years. This is a slightly larger operation than the previous KD loaders with several conveyors and separate crushers and screen. The hopper loadout is a stationary structure as opposed to just a conveyor sticking up in the air. The facility had been operated by Stone Creek Mining, Inc and loaded hoppers on the 18 car, "Savoy #1" siding which also still exist. Feel free to look around as this site is completely abandoned.
Get back to US25W and turn left toward the south once again. The tracks are still parallel to the road but out-of-sight in most places as they follow along the banks of the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River in a valley formed by Taylor Mountain to your left and Hog Jowl Mountain to your right. After just about a mile and a half, you'll pass one of the few remaining active drive-in theaters on your left at the community of Emlyn. One half mile further and we'll pass the entrance to Gatliff Coal Company's Renwood Tipple, one of only two active loading sites on the KD mainline. This is a small, but fully operational 100 tph prep plant that started life belonging to Hickman & Williams Coal Company in the seventies. Gatliff Coal purchased the plant around 1990 and invested in some upgrades which included enclosing all the equipment to protect it from the elements and rebuilding many of the worn conveyors and bins. There are always large stockpiles of coal stored here and usually 25-30 CSX company hoppers either loaded or in the process of being loaded. The tipple, which is served by the "Emlyn" siding, is serviced once a day by a local out of Corbin known as the "KD Local". The coal processed here mainly comes from several contractor operated strip jobs west of I-75. This plant is also visible from the northbound lane of the interstate around the 6 mile marker and is always lit up like a high school football game at night.
Continue down US25W for 4.4 miles to an intersection with a left turning KY1804. If you pass under I-75, you've gone just a little too far. The KD will have still followed the road within a few feet all the way here. Turn onto KY1804 and stay right. There is an un-numbered road which turns left after a few feet and will get you no-where quick. KY1804 now parallels the KD across the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River, then turns left and tunnels under the mainline. The road that goes straight just before the underpass will get us up to the old Saxton Tipple which still exist for the most part. This site had been owned and operated by the K.I.V.A. Coal Company through the 1980's until the property was abandoned and then acquired by the South Whitley Recycling Company. The 10 car, "Saxton" siding is now used to load scrap metal and junk into gondolas instead of coal into hoppers. The entire tipple, minus the loading chute, remains in place but is surrounded by truck parts, old appliances and just about any piece of junk you can imagine.
Get back to US25W, turn south, pass under I-75 and drive 3.7 miles to Jellico, Tn. The KD will be far out-of-sight to the east of the interstate while we'll only cross the tracks of the Jellico Branch on our trip south. There's really nothing to see between Saxton and Highcliff so you're not missing anything. At Jellico, follow the signs for US25W which will turn left in the middle of town just opposite the Norfork Southern yard on your right. This yard was used as a mine run terminal for the Clear Fork Branch during better days but stands void of a single car today. A private Tennessee coal company has a medium size loader just midway through the yard which is visible from US25W but has been idle since about 1992. NS now works the Clear Fork Branch by way of CSX's Jellico Branch and trackage rights over a short section of the KD from Lot to Holton with a turn based in Clinton, Tn when needed.
Following US25W, you'll come to an I-75 interchange about a mile from downtown Jellico. Pass under the 4-lane and stay on 25 for 1.5 miles as it takes you down a long straight section prior to a sweeping right curve. We'll be looking for a left turn which will get us over the Clear Fork on a nice, new concrete bridge. Look for a small night club on the left near the bridge but if you pass a large rock quarry on the right, you've gone a little too far. This little night club can get really busy as it's the only "bar" for miles and attract quite a clientele on the weekends. (Kentucky is "dry" from the state line northward all the way to Richmond some 80 miles away.) After crossing the bridge and dodging any drunks, follow this road to a grade crossing (0.5 miles), turn right, then start looking for the W.H. Bowling Coal Company's small tipple at Highcliff. This is a medium size loader which fills hoppers on the 60 car, "Highcliff" siding and was active the last time I visited in 1992. I'm going to recheck this site during the next few weeks since I just realized I've never taken a photo of it. I'll let you know in Volume 5 if the KD Local is still making house-calls.
Get back to US25W and continue south as the road enters the watershed of Hickory Creek and rejoins the rails of the KD mainline just past Holton. This section of track between Holton and Chaska must be seen to be believed. This is mountain railroading at its best. The tracks follow the banks of Hickory Creek to the east while US25W clings to the mountainside to the west. There are tight curves, tunnels through huge rock formations, 500 foot sheer cliffs above the roadbed and numerous bridges as the mainline wanders from bank to bank seeking the best footing. The wide, boulder covered creek bed leads from Duff Mountain back to the Clear Fork of the Cumberland River and features too many rapids and waterfalls to count. US25W is almost always higher than track level and provides several pull- offs, including one directly above tunnel #2, where you can stop and watch the action . We'll be looking for an intersection with TN90 which will turn left at Morley, about 5 miles from the last site. Turn left on TN90 and cross the bridge spanning the mainline. While you're on the long, 2-lane bridge, look to the left and you'll be able to see through tunnel #1 and yet another rail bridge crossing the creek. To your right is the old 3-track "yard" at Morley which remains active, the switch leading to the White Oak Creek Spur and the still-in-place "Westbourne No.2" siding. Taking a right onto the gravel road after crossing over the bridge will take us down to track level and allow access to what remains of the Westbourne Coal Company's small loader. Just follow the gravel south about 200 feet until you come to a wire blocking the road at the abandoned scalehouse. You can now get out and walk back to the rusting truck-dump and screening equipment. The actual loading chute is lying off to the left under the weed cover. Wondering where Westbourn #1 is? It was located further south on the now abandoned Hog Camp Branch at Westbourn Tennessee.
Get back to US25W and turn south one more time. Chaska is only about 3.4 miles from TN90 so watch the odometer and start looking for a sign belonging to the Chaska Baptist Church which sits to your left. Turning left at the gravel road leading to the church and following it past the parking lot up to track level will get us to the pusher station for Duff Mountain. The road will also take you right beside the tall, abandoned coaling tower which had serviced the steam-powered pushers from years ago. You can usually find two CW44-8 units waiting on the next southbound coal train idling away beside the new crew shelter. If they're not here, just wait a few minutes, this is a very busy section of railroad!
This is where I'll stop as there are no additional coal loading sites south of here on CSX. The tracks continue, of course, over Duff Mountain, through Jacksboro, Lafollette and Lake City, then parallel I-75 on the hillside to the west of the interstate until heading toward Oak Ridge just past a truck weigh station and on into Knoxville. W.H. Bowling Coal Company had recently been operating a small tipple near Kilsyth but a September 1995 trip revealed this site's removal. Also, the previously mentioned Crooked Fork Branch at Kilsyth is still active, serving ANFO storage silos at Roosevelt belonging to Austin Powder Company. We'll revisit these CSX rails in the future when we explore the old East Tennessee, Virginia & Georgia Railroad tracks from Jellico down to the coal branches at Lake City. For now, let's go back and take a look at the three CSX branches we passed up on the way down.
On to part 4c
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