Photo courtesy F. Douglas Bess, Jr.
For those that have been to West Virginia and driven the back roads, you’ll know that these roads can be quite steep, with twisting winding turns. In decades past, you’d also never know when you’d meet a coal truck coming up over that next rise.
Such were the conditions of road transportation in the area served by the Hitop Branch proper, from Blue Creek all the way to Hitop. Dirt roads twisted and turned up the hollows carved out by Blue Creek. The railroad itself bridged Blue Creek or it’s tributaries 29 times in 21 miles on the branch.
Road transportation was so iffy that up until 1962, long after passenger service had ceased between Charleston and Columbus, Ohio, a Budd RDC traveled the branch on two round trips daily, once in the morning, and return in the afternoon, serving as a school bus. Twenty-five stops, fifteen of them flag stops, were made on the 34 mile run, covered in an hour and fifty minutes.
Here is more of the story, gathered from several sources, on the RDC used by the NYC as a schoolbus on the Hitop Branch. Roads were so impassable in the mid-20’s in the communities along the Elk River, then up the valleys following Blue Creek, that made it difficult for students after the sixth grade to be able to get to the Junior High school at Quick, and the High School at Elkview, that the Kanawha County Board of Education commissioned the NYC to run a passenger train up to the end of line at Hitop. Grade schools were also located in Coco, Blakeley, and Sanderson. Fares for students were covered by the Board of Education.
The line (branch), started at Bigley Avenue in Charleston, and at Bigley Ave. Jct., the branch veered away from the NYC mainline down the Kanawha valley, and proceeded along the Elk River for 13 miles before reaching Blue Creek. At Blue Creek, the line then headed up the valleys and hollows carved out by the creek, through such communities as Quick, Sanderson, Blakeley, Middle Fork, Kendalia, and others up to the end of line at Hitop. Using the RDC when it came into use of course enabled the engineer to simply change ends at Hitop and proceed back to Charleston, instead of having to turn or wye a train. One report I have read stated there were 21 stops in 34 miles for students to board, another story states 25. Regardless, during the school year, the RDC was at capacity during their 1 1/2 hour runs each way. Some students still had to cross over mountains each way to use the RDC. The RDC arrived for boarding as early as 7:30 AM to arrive at the end of the run by 9 AM, then departed Charleston at 3:10 on its way to Hitop.
One other story I have read states the RDC stopped running in 1959, another book states 1962. The conductor on the RDC was a veteran of 50 years, named Lee Hill. I have also read, which makes perfect sense, that occasionally adults would ride the RDC. I have also read where newspapers and mail were also transported on the RDC runs, which again would make sense. I’m sure this was a loss when the railroad ended this service, regardless of the state of the roads when the run came off, especially to those who grew up riding this much needed service……
(Please see the great photo by F. Douglas Bess Jr. elsewhere on the site of the RDC)