As we start upgrade out of Dickinson yard on the branch proper, Charlie notches out the old girls, and the 567’s wind up, as we enter a short tunnel. As we exit the other side, we blow for the county road crossing into Hitop, nothing more than a two lane dirt road. Scaring two deer feeding along the road, we pass behind the Kanawha County Feed and Seed, a long time fixture in these parts. As we round the curve behind the feed and seed, the grade really digs in, and Charlie notches out the geeps again, as we’re making all of about eight miles an hour up the hill, and around a sharp curve to the right. The curve takes us up and around the mountain behind the Hitop Mine itself, as we level off, slowly easing into the passing siding above the town of Hitop.
Easing into the siding, the rear end crew radios we have cleared the switch, as I swing down to cut off our engines. Giving Charlie the signal to move ahead, he slowly pulls out the other end through the switch until I give him the stop signal. Lining the switch back for the main and locking it, I signal to proceed while climbing aboard, as we start the process of running around our train. This is a must, as the lead into the Hitop Mine’s trackage is a trailing point switch.
Pulling down the main and past the east switch, I watch as our rear end brakeman throws the switch for us to pull in and couple to our cabin. After our test is complete, we pull our train forward out of the siding back onto the main. After clearing the switch, our rear end brakeman relines the switch for the main, as we back our train down the main so our rear end man can swing back on our cabin for the trip down the hill.
Swinging back down the branch, and around the sharp curves, we finally swing around the mine, dropping downgrade the entire time. Charlie is working the train and engine brakes holding back our train, as our ex-NYC geeps don’t have dynamics. Slowing as we come up behind the Kanawha feed and seed once again, we come to a stop. I drop off to cut off our power from our empties, and to line the mine lead, as our rear brakeman drops off to line the rest of the mine’s switches into its three tracks.
We both crank down a considerable number of the hopper’s hand brakes, as we still sit on a downgrade. The rear end man then walks over to the mine trackage to handle the switches, while I walk ahead to grab the lead switch, flagging the county road crossing as I do. Charlie pulls away slowly until clearing the mine lead. Our plan is to pick up what loads there are, pull them out onto the branch, tie these on to our empties, then shove the empties into the mine. After we have tied onto all our loads, all handbrakes are released, we pull back out onto the branch, and shove backwards onto our empties.
Coupled back up once again, we release the brakes on the empties, pull forward to once again clear the lead switch, then spot our empties under the tipples. After taking a considerable amount of time in switching out the mine, our rear end crew quickly heads over to the general store for some cold pop out of the machine on the front porch. Old timers sit on the side of the store, intently playing checkers as they are oblivious to the goings on of the railroad. If only we had time to catch the outcome of the game!
With everyone back onboard, we whistle out of the valley, and immediately head back through one of the two tunnels on the line. Exiting the other side, we soon slow once again for the crossing behind Sam and Mickey’s, and head into the yard lead. A fellow railroader awaits in the scale house as we slowly pull our loads one by one across the scale track for the loads to be measured and weighed.
Wth this finally accomplished, we spot our loads back onto tracks 4 and 5 in Dickinson yard, cut our power off, and drag our cabin into the service track to spot in front of our yard office. We then cut our power off, and pull our old steeds forward to the refueling station, where Dan awaits us. Signing off in the yard office, we catch up on some gossip with the outbound crew of train NT-5 heading back to Buckeye yard in Columbus, and check in on a game of poker going on between the crew of the Morris Fork run, which will head up the branch next. Then it’s off to our homes and families…..