In the fall of 2015, the War on Coal claimed its first two major casualties near and dear to the rail enthusiast’s heart—CSX deemed the mighty Clinchfield to no longer be a through-route, and Norfolk Southern mothballed fifty miles of its ex-Virginian Princeton-Deepwater District. Lines revered as the epitome of railroading in the Appalachians suddenly went quiet. The cacophony of loaded coal trains grinding and groaning upgrade, protesting against the forces of gravity, was replaced with stillness and silence.
It seemed then that the end must be in sight for coal in the Appalachians. All good things must end. But we certainly didn’t expect the end like this, so suddenly, and not before our very eyes.
This great misty, mysterious land is increasingly becoming a vast necropolis of closed, decaying and forgotten coal tipples, silos and washers and chutes and loading bins like sad monoliths, monuments to a way of life that is gradually fading away. Read more
Across the river from Thurmond, West Virginia, we continue our journey eastward along McKendree Road. After about two miles the road crosses the river at Stone Cliff. After crossing the river the road turns to dirt and gravel. At Stone Cliff camping is permitted and there are rest rooms but no shower facilities or electricity. A footpath from Stone Cliff up along the river is a nice area for spring wildflowers and after about one mile you come to Big Stony Creek which has some nice waterfalls when water flow is up (best time is in spring). I’ve never ventured beyond Big Stony Creek so I don’t know how far the path goes. Read more
Any time I visit the New River Gorge I almost always spend some time in Thurmond. For rail fans visiting southern West Virginia, Thurmond is certainly a must see place. Almost all of the railroad structures which crowded this narrow strip of flat land are gone. Still, there is much about this place which carries you back a hundred years to the boom times of the New River coal fields. A great deal has been written about Thurmond, much of it available on-line, and I’ll not do a history summary here. But I will touch on some of the highlights. Read more
In Part Three we had just arrived at the Sewell Bridge. Here on the south side of the Sewell Bridge was the location of the western terminus of the Southside Junction. Most of the mining in the Gorge was “drift mining” – coal seams were exposed on the mountain slopes and all that required was building access up to the seam and then mining into it. Since the New River had simply interrupted the various seams, those on the north side were continued on the slopes of the south side. The Southside Junction was built to accommodate mining these other seams. The Southside Junction ran from here up to Dun Glen across from Thurmond, West Virginia.
In time, the Lethbridge (Alberta district, Northwest Territories) coal mines would feed all the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) steam locomotives in western Canada, as well as the stoves of its stations and many settler prairie homes. The slogan “Galt Coal Burns All Night” was emblazoned on signage wherever it was sold; lumber yards, grain elevators, and farm cooperatives. By 1890, the North-West Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NC) averaged 90,000 tons delivered per year to Dunmore, and the CPR wanted more. Northwest Mounted Police Superintendent Deane reported the Galt mines could produce more than 1,000 tons per day – with the possibilities for more in sight.
In Part Two, we had just begun to explore Fayette Station, West Virginia. Here Route 82 (one way from the north side of the Gorge and back up the other side) descends the mountain to the river then back up along the south side. Before the New River Gorge Bridge was built, Route 82 was how the Gorge was crossed at this location. At that time it was two way but for years now it has been limited to one way traffic.
Fayette Station is a busy place during the warm months. It is a center of activity for raft take-outs, rock climbing, viewing the bridge and for several waterfalls which are within walking distance. It also has a great rail fan location which I’ll get to later. Read more