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



The Pine Mountain West Branch is a an 18 mile long coal branch which departs the KD Subdivision at Savoy, milepost C191.8, follows the Cumberland River toward the east for several miles, then turns southward at Maiden Bend to follow Patterson Creek to a wye at Nevisdale. At Nevisdale, the switching lead of the wye continues a short distance south along Patterson Creek while the old Patterson Creek Spur turns due east and follows Bennetts Branch for 2 miles to a prep plant. Why this was called the Patterson Creek Spur and not the Bennetts Branch Spur is beyond me. The entire line was originally operated by the Pine Mountain West Railroad until the L&N took over responsibility in 1905 and finally complete ownership of the line in the late '70s / early '80s. To explore the branch, lets backup to Williamsburg and the US25/KY92 intersection just north of Savoy and the twin bridges. Turn onto KY92 at the light heading toward Pineville and you'll soon be following the Cumberland River visible to your right. If you don't see the river in the first 3/4 miles, you're on the wrong road! Stay on KY92 for 4.9 miles until you come to an intersection with KY904 which turns right and crosses the Cumberland River over a nice concrete bridge at Yaden. As soon as you cross the bridge, you'll cross the tracks of the PMW Branch. There is a gravel road which turns left and follows the rails as they curve southward immediatly after the crossing. This looks like a driveway to the house and trailer also on your left, but they continue to an old R&B Coal Company site. Following the gravel road past the house, it will soon enter a wide field covered with coal. This is where R&B's New Yaden Tipple had been located up until 1990. (I have no idea where the "Old Yaden Tipple" might have been) Getting out of your car and walking over toward the rails, you'll find the twin tracks that had served as the 18 car, "Yaden" siding. These tracks had remained active through 1992, serving Wayland Explosive's on-site ANFO storage bins, but now, even the silos and main switch have been removed.

Go back to KY904 and turn left. Watch the odometer and go 4.0 miles until you see a large sign for the "Roost Arena Game Club--Members Only". (The "Only" is spelled "Olny" on the opposite side!) There is a gravel road here leading a short distance to a gated entrance. Just beyond are several large buildings that look out of place for a hunting club because they had belonged to the Blue Mountain Coal Company and used as a work shop for repairing strip mining equipment. Parking at the gate, walk down the overgrown gravel road to the left until you get to track level. This had been the location of Blue Mountain's "Blue Mountain Tipple" which is now completely gone save the winch that was used to pull hoppers under the coal chute. The long, 37-car, single track "Verne" siding is still in place and is still active if needed for storing bad-order cars. This is also the point where the tracks part company with the Cumberland River and begin following Patterson Creek almost due south.

Continue down KY904, crossing the tracks after 0.8 miles, until you get to Nevisdale about 4 miles later. You should now be able to see the switches leading into a wye and the beginning of a multi-track storage yard for the upcoming prep plant. Just a little further, we'll come to the entrance to the Gatliff Coal Company's Central Preparation Plant on the right, an abandoned deep mine on the left and the Gatliff Baptist Church directly ahead. The church parking lot is an excellent location to view the twin loaders and most of the plant's structures from. Gatliff began operations here during the forties using a 5-track wooden tipple which sat between the church and the covered truck scales. The mines and tipple was purchased by the Tampa Electric Company during 1971 to supply coal exclusively to their Gannon Power Station.

TECO has invested large sums of money in the Gatliff Complex which now includes several stacking tubes, twin truck-dumps, a 300 tph cleaning plant, on-site lab, and dual rail loadouts all painted a light green color. The Gannon power plant received about 300,000 tpy from Gatliff until 1987 when coal also started going to TECO's Big Bend Plant and outside customers. As reported at the beginning of this post, Gannon's use is now well over 500,000 tpy while Big Bend consumes in excess of a million tpy. KY904 stops being a paved road at the church entrance and continues uphill between the church and the old deep mine as packed dirt to pass down the length of the prep plant. This is still a public road and will climb all the way up to Gatliff's refuse dump & settling ponds at the summit. Looking back down the valley from here gives another excellent view of the entire complex. There is an underground mine portal on-site located at the far end of the complex near the last stacking tube. Looking down from KY904 reveals a deep pit with conveyors extending up to a crusher and then to the rear stacking tube.

The mine, called "Blue Gem 1-B" is in the 25-inch "Blue Gem" coal seam and was reopened during the summer of 1986 after being idled during a violent labor strike in December of 1982. The mine is currently supplying about 290,000 tpy. Gatliff operates one additional underground mine, called "Blue Gem 6-A", which is several miles away and supplies around 100,000 tpy. The balance of Gatliff's company-mined 1,000,000+ tpy output is trucked in from one of its 24 surface operations spread all over Whitley County. These mines, with names such as Bays Hollow, Colonel Hollow, Happy Hollow, Canes Creek and Powell Creek, range in size from 2,000 tpy up to 120,000+ tpy and are open or closed to coincide with TECO's needs. Other contractors providing tonnage processed and shipped from the Gatliff Complex include Brenda Coal, Goldens Creek Enterprises, Little Rock Mining and Wash Ridge Coal Company.


The Clear Fork Branch departs the KD mainline at Holton, Tn, milepost C206.0, tunnels under part of Pine Mountain, then runs through Car Gap almost due east some 12 miles only to wind up back in Kentucky at the tiny community of Fonde. To explore the branch, take TN90 east from Morley and follow the winding road up Hickory Hill, past the community of White Oak, then back down to the Clear Fork valley. The tracks will have been invisible from Morley until you cross the TACKETT CREEK BRANCH about 4 miles later at the bottom of the hill near the community of Tackett Creek. This branch departs the main Clear Fork Branch just to your left, crosses Clear Fork and TN90 then follows Tackett Creek around the opposite side of King Mountain to an unknown location. Now this is the one area where I have to admit defeat, where these rails go and what that serve has so far eluded me. It was recently discovered that NS refers to this as the Powell block and list mile markers from 0.1TC up to 14.0TC. I have turned right on the gravel road which follows these rails, driven back about a mile, then hiked from the Tackett Branch 1 mile marker down past the 3 mile marker. I have used my Blazer and followed almost every deerpath in Claiborne County only to watch the roadbed and rails disappear off in the distance. I borrowed my dad's RamCharger during Thanksgiving, after driving my regular car to Corbin, and promptly got it stuck on an old access road such that I had to hike three miles to bum a tow. I have even crossed over Horseshoe Mountain through an old strip mine located south of Fonde and wound up at an active strip job where the workers claimed I was on Tackett Creek but they didn't know of any tracks in the area. The rails are, in my opinion, still in use. I base this on the "slight" rust covering, well groomed ballast (no sign of weeds) and the flange marks in the dirt at the TN90 crossing which indicates at least some recent activity. I've just ordered three new topographic maps for the region to the south covering Cumberland Mountain and I'm planning an all day fact finding mission into remote Tackett Creek during the coming weeks so watch for an update in my next installment.

For now, stay on TN90 and go about a half mile to another grade crossing at Anthras, Clear Fork mile marker KM210.0. The Clear Fork Branch is now following along the valley formed by Teague Mountain to the north and King & Leach Mountains to the south. TN90 will first cross over Clear Fork on a new concrete bridge then the tracks such that road and rail have now switched sides. Before crossing the bridge, you can take the gravel road to your right (which had been the roadbed to a short spur that also crossed the creek) past a church, to the ex-location of an old wooden tipple. This site had been operated by the Dixie Pine Coal Company as their Anthras Tipple but sat abandoned for years until someone set fire to it during March of 1995. Part of the refuse bin remained standing until mid-summer when the entire area was leveled by a bulldozer. This can all be seen by looking to your right while on the TN90 bridge if you don't want to venture back.

Continue east on TN90 for 1.1 miles to the community of Eagan (a.k.a. Dilley). There is a paved road to the right which is located just past the small gas station/country store which will cross the Clear Fork over a low concrete "bridge" then runs a few hundred feet back to a timber trestle. If you take the gravel road straight up to track level instead of passing under the trestle, you'll find a switch and spur leading back to the west. This spur had served a wooden tipple about a hundred yards west of here which had featured its own narrow gauge mine trackage and cable inclines for bringing raw coal down from mines high up on King Mountain. All is now gone except for the spur which could still be used. If you have a 4-wheel drive, cut under the tracks and follow the "bad" dirt road up the mountain to see some of the abandoned equipment and old roadbeds for the mine trackage. The siding here is at mile marker KM211a and was known as "Dilley" but the name of the coal company remains in question. Locals have told me everything from King Mountain Coal to Dilley Mining to Dixie Pine.

Back on TN90, turn left and go about 1.5 miles to the first good gravel road to your right. The road will drop down the hill slightly and can be seen crossing the tracks and Clear Fork over a new concrete bridge which has had about 50 feet of road paved on either side. There is a triangular shaped sign for a church marking the turnoff and old bridge debris lines the roadside to your right. Turn right from TN90 and follow this road across the tracks and bridge, then keep to the left as you cross a second set of tracks. These belong to the STRAIGHT CREEK SPUR which departed the Clear Fork Branch at milepost KM213.0 and is now running southeast along Straight Creek. At one time there had been a total of four tipples along this spur, two within a quarter mile of the last crossing, one at the end of the spur and one on the ROCK CREEK SPUR just ahead. All but one of these are now history. Follow the gravel road past the oil tanks on your right until you see the 200 foot-high, flood-loading, concrete silo belonging to Kopper Glo Fuels. This silo looks out of place as it stands all by itself with only a conveyor disappearing over the hill and a blue sign proclaiming "Jesus is Lord" wrapped around its top. The tracks pass through the base of the silo and there are rollup doors which are kept closed at all times except when loading. Keep going straight past the silo and take the next right which runs up Rock Creek. The tracks had continued straight along Straight Creek a short distance to a small loader and the company town of Marion, but these were all removed with the construction of the silo. The tipple at Marion had also featured narrow gauge tracks which ran from the mine portal about a mile to the east, through a quarter mile long tunnel to the main structure. The tunnel and mine have since been sealed and you'll need a good map and boots to locate them. As you turn right, you'll cross what had been the tracks of the Rock Creek Spur that served the older prep plant just to your left. It will appear that this is a private road, but it's public as there are several homes and a church further to the south. Continuing several miles past the church on Rock Creek Road, as it's known, will get you past a refuse dump and in sight of the Tackett Creek Branch rails, but this is also where I recently got a 4-wheel drive stuck so proceed at your own risk. The tipple here started out loading hoppers under the plant itself, then constructed the wooden loader nearest the road. The plant then expanded by adding a stacking tube and ground storage stockpile just past the main structure which supplied two new remote loading chutes. After securing a large contract with the TVA during 1989, the concrete silo was constructed with a conveyor running from the stockpile up and over the hill to the silo some half mile away. Loading at the actual tipple, and thus on the Rock Creek Spur, ended with the tracks severed near the road crossing. This plant has been plagued with labor disputes and contract problems since 1990 and was idled for several years before resuming production this Fall. The labor strike in 1990 prevented the delivery of coal to TVA which prompted the utility to abandon its 4-million- ton, ten year contract. Kopper Glo sued TVA during December, 1992 for $9.2 million they claimed they were due while miners continued to walk the picket line at the plant's entrance. Kopper Glo had obtained comparable coal for shipment from a Kentucky CV mine as outline in the contract but TVA rejected the substitution. The two parties and the UMWA have all since settled their differences and this site is now back in the coal business bringing some much-needed tonnage to the Clear Forks rails.

Go back to TN90 and turn right to enter downtown Clairfield, but don't blink or you'll miss it. From here you'll need to go almost 3 miles to get to the VALLEY CREEK SPUR. The road, Valley Creek Road, is hard to see because it doubles back on TN90 at the intersection. Look for a wide gravel shoulder with a gravel road running back down the hillside. Directly ahead of the hidden intersection and on the lefthand side of TN90 will be a large rock filled area that is the result of a past landslide. If you turn right here and follow the road across the tracks, you'll soon find the remains of a wooden tipple and the concrete foundations for several support buildings. Past ownership of this tipple belonged to MoCoal Incorporated, however, TECO's Gatliff Coal Company now holds the coal leases to the land. The rails, which run about a quarter mile up the valley between Rich Mountain and Cooper Ridge, are still in place but unused. Continuing several miles on this road will get you to an active strip mine which claims to be on Tackett Creek except the elusive rails of that branchline are nowhere to be found.

Back onto TN90 and right will take us past the "Kidwell" siding after about 3/4 of a mile. The only thing remaining of Rich Mountain Coal Company's loader is a wooden truck-dump visible along the side of the road to your right. The Kidwell siding, however, is alive and well and serving as a storage track.

Continue straight about 1/2 mile to the community of Pruden and the site of the only other active loader on the Clear Fork Branch. The main Clear Fork tracks will continue straight, paralleling TN90 to the right, while the "Pruden No.2" spur will cross the road, pass under the loader some 150 feet away, then cross the road once again about half a mile up to reconnect with the branchline. The Kentucky - Tennessee state line crosses TN90 just a few feet prior to the first grade crossing, placing this site in the Bluegrass State and converting the road to KY74 from here on. Prior to 1990, there had also been a short spur and tipple to your right just before the grade crossing and the state line known as "Pruden No.1". The small loader remaining at Pruden is a fraction of the complex that existed here some years back. Conveyors and trams had extended down the mountains on both sides of the road from mines higher up in the seam outcrops. Gatliff Coal Company purchased this facility and did away with all but the small loadout and a scalehouse. Modern crushers and screens now process the strip mined coal without the luxury of a real cleaning plant. All evidence of what had existed here has since been overgrown or sold off as scrap metal. The plant remains somewhat busy with 20-30 NS or CSX hoppers present every time I've been by with NS being the railroad of choice during early December.

Continuing toward the east, KY74 will quickly turn almost due north and begin climbing up Log Mountain on its way to the town of Middlesboro and the rails discussed in Volume 2B. Just past the far grade crossing is a paved road to the right over a third crossing at the community of Fonde. The rails which seem to follow KY74 along Sowder Creek are really just the switching lead to a Wye used for turning engines. The Clear Fork Branch continues eastward by following the road into Fonde but will end less than a mile from the intersection at the site of a removed tipple. The land here is also owned by Gatliff and contains a large quantity of remaining reserves but is currently idle. Following the tracks up Clear Fork will get you to a cable gate and the remains of several old mining camp building including the company store. This uneventfully ends the Clear Fork Branch but continuing rumors of a new Gatliff cleaning plant being built at this location simply will not die. Gatliff probably needs to start cleaning this coal and hauling it back to the Nevisdale Complex is just too expensive. Time will tell.


The White Oak Creek Spur departs the KD mainline at Morley, milepost C207.0 and had followed the valley for just under 2 miles to service a small loader. As outlined above, the switch is located at the Morley Yard and you can get there by following the directions for viewing the remains of the Westbourne No.2 tipple. The spur remains in service by loading cars at the small sawmill also located a short distance up the valley from the Morley Yard. If you get to the yard, you'll easily see the sawmill. The tipple of interest was owned and operated by the Deerpath Coal Company and is still intact but very hard to get to. You'll have to follow TN90 from Morley as it winds uphill in a tight hairpin curve. Just past the area which has been recently widened, (it should be easy to recognize) there are two gravel roads about 100 feet apart which cut off, merge together and drop sharply down the side of the mountain. These roads look rough but I've taken a VW Jetta down them several times without any problem. (Of course it was dry.) There had been a nice "Deerpath" sign here marking the right road until last year when someone knocked it down. Look for an old gate to be sure you're on it as there are several others in the area that lead nowhere. At the bottom of the hill is an old wooden, multi-track loader that's completely intact. A truck-dump supplied coal to a wood- sided conveyor which then hauled the coal over the hoppers. This tipple has been abandoned since the early eighties but Deerpath is still in the mining business. Last year they recorded 4,473 tons from their No.1 mine operating in the 28-inch "Jellico" seam along Lynn Camp Creek near Woodbine and 697 tons from their No.2 mine operating in the "Blue Gem" seam at the same site. Not much, but it keeps 'em going.


The Jellico Branch departs the KD mainline at Lot, milepost C201.5 and runs southwest to terminate at Norfork Southern's Jellico Yard. This is the original L&N mainline that was used prior to building the KD trackage along Hickory Creek and over Duff Mountain. NS uses this track for access to the loaders on the Clear Fork Branch through a long-held trackage rights arrangement. CSX never uses these rails unless the KD is blocked by a washout or derailment as the NS may also be reached by way of the Cow Creek Branch several miles south of here. The line does feature a nice, but rusting, truss bridge over the Clear Fork which can be seen from I-75 to the east just prior to the 1 mile marker near the Kentucky Welcome Center. The tracks then pass under I-75, cross US25W and follow Elk Creek on into the Jellico yard.

And that just about wraps up the northern end of the KD Subdivision. As we've seen, these rails are not, and never were, a big originator of Appalachian bituminous. What they lack in loading action, they more than make up for in hauling action and you'll never have to wait long at any one spot for the next unit or autorack train to roll by. In Volume 5, I'll conclude my coverage of the old L&N trackage with a short look at the Cincinnati to Corbin mainline known as the CC Subdivision. (I had intended for "this" report to be a short one but it just kept growing!) Volume 6 will then take us over to CSX's ex-C&O Big Sandy Subdivision mainline for what may be a multi-part trip from Huntington down to Elkhorn City.

Topographic maps for the region covered today include: Corbin, Vox, Wofford, Rockhold, Williamsburg, Saxton, Jellico East, Eagan(TN), Fork Ridge(TN), La Follette(TN), Lake City(TN), and Well Springs(TN). As always, all comments, questions or criticisms are more than welcome by E-mail at RDV2@aol.com. This is especially true if you have any information on the Tackett Creek Branch or the history behind the old tipples along the Clear Fork Branch. Enjoy!

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