History of the Secondary

longacre-wv-coke-ovens

The history of the New York Central System in West Virginia started with the Kanawha & Michigan, originally known as the Kanawha & Ohio Railway Company. By 1888, a 58-mile line from Charleston to Point Pleasant had been built, where it connected with the Toledo & Ohio Central. The K&M purchased the Charleston & Gauley Railway and extended its lines east to a connection with the C&O. Between 1898 and 1903, lines were extended farther east and north into the coalfields. A smaller disconnected section of the Kanawha & West Virginia was built to the east in Nicholas County. This section being about four miles in length, was planned originally as an extension over the Blue Creek divide, connected the towns of Belva and Swiss. Access was over the Kanawha & Michigan via Gauley Bridge.

In 1900, the Toledo & Ohio Central gained control of the K&M and the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad. The K&WV ran 34 miles from Charleston up the Elk River to Blue Creek and then east to Kellys Creek. For many years it carried a significant amount of timber and coal. In 1910, the New York Central gained control of the Toledo & Ohio Central, into which it merged the K&M, the K&WV, and several other railroads in 1938. The Toledo & Ohio Central was finally merged into the New York Central System in 1952. These railroads through out their life spans were primarily engaged in transporting coal and timber, especially coal to Ohio cities over the 1908 built bridge spanning the Ohio River at Kanauga, Ohio, opposite Point Pleasant, West Virginia. But coal and timber weren’t the only commodities this region would soon be shipping out. In 1912, oil was discovered in the Blue Creek basin, and soon, oil rigs were popping up everywhere, even right along the right-of-way. This oil boom lasted until the 1920’s, but oil was still being pumped afterwards, albeit in lesser quantities.

Construction of the 34 mile line from Charleston to Blakeley/Hitop was completed in several stages. Blue Creek to Quick was built between 1903-1905. Charleston to Blue Creek and Quick to Blakeley were built between 1905-1906. One of the last pieces built was the Elk River bridge in 1907 to complete the line. Two wyes were built, one in Charleston where after a few years a yard was also constructed along Spring Street. Passing sidings were constructed at Quick, Morris, Blakeley, and Middle Fork. Two tunnels had to be bored to get the line up to Blakeley/Hitop. To get the line up the Blue Creek basin, tight curves also had to be incorporated, some as tight as 10-12 degrees, which as we’ll read later, limited tonnage and motive power.

The Kanawha valley has also been known for decades for chemical manufacturing, starting before 1920. In the early half of the twentieth century, chemical manufacturers were attracted to the Kanawha Valley by the presence of salt brine, coal, oil, and gas, plus rail and water transportation. The Belle Alkali Company started a plant near Belle in 1915 to produce chlorine, caustic, and hydrogen. In South Charleston, the Rollin Chemical Company built a unit to recover barium peroxide and other barium salts. E. C. Klipstein & Sons started producing sulfur dyes, tear gas, and anthraquinone in 1915. Both these companies were eventually purchased by Union Carbide.

Also started up in 1915, the Warner-Klipstein Company started to produce chlorine, caustic, carbon disulfide, and carbon tetrachloride. In the 1920s, it became the Westvaco Chemical Corporation, and by 1930 it was the largest chlorine producing plant in the world. During World War II, it produced barium nitrate for incendiaries, hexachloroethane for smoke screens, and a catalyst for synthetic rubber. A few years after the war, the company became FMC.

Starting in 1917, and further down the Kanawha River, the U.S. government hired the DuPont Company to build a new nitrocellulose plant to meet the demands of explosives for World War I. An explosives plant, and the entire new town of Nitro, was built in just 11 months using a work force of 12,000 plus. The plant was shut down when the war ended in 1918. This site was then developed as an industrial park, with 17 companies locating on the grounds over the years.

More chemical companies have located up and down the valley over the decades as well, giving the valley a unique odor and smog at times. Union Carbide owned two mines in the area, supplying their plants in the towns of Institute, Alloy, and in South Charleston. Included were the mines along the Hitop Branch off the Kanawha Secondary at Morris Fork and Hitop. Almost all the coal from these two mines on the branch were consumed by the Union Carbide plants. Although both mines were producing up to 1971, the Hitop mine was closed at that time due to increasing slate content and bad roofs. Hitop produced 410,514 tons in 1970, while the tipple at Morris Fork provided 727,460 tons in the same year. Conveyor belts were then added at Morris Fork to meet the extra demand on the mine after Hitop was closed. After closing the Hitop mine, the upper 6 miles of the branch were taken out of service, a relief to the operating department and MOW departments of Penn Central, as the line was in bad shape, with worn out 90 lb rail last relayed in the 1920’s, bad ties, and curves of ten and twelve degrees. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here, so let’s look further into the actual Kanawha Secondary and Hitop branch.
The Kanawha Secondary under Penn Central starts at New Lexington Ohio, at the connection with the Western Branch, crosses the Ohio at Kanauga on a 3932 foot long bridge, consisting of 5 trough truss spans, and 58 deck girder spans, runs through Charleston (site of the headquarters of the Secondary, with a set of train dispatchers) running through the towns of Belle, Institute, Nitro, through to probably the nerve center of the secondary at Dickinson yard, through Alloy and a connection with the old Virginian (N&W) at DB Tower, through to the main coal producer at Cannelton (Lady Dunn preparation plant), south to Gauley Bridge and an interchange with the C&O, and finally ending at Swiss. The Lady Dunn mine in 1970 btw shipped out 1,775,00 tons of coal in just over 18,000 cars. The secondary is 163 miles long, while the Hitop Branch itself was originally 34.4 miles in length. Penn Central also had trackage rights on a stretch of the Secondary just under 10 miles in length over the C&O between Hobson Jct. (Hobson, Ohio) and Kanauga. The Hitop itself also had 13.4 miles of trackage rights over the B&O between Charleston and Blue Creek due to numerous derailments during NYC ownership on it’s own rails in this stretch.

The Hitop Branch was built in a winding course up hollows carved out by Blue Creek. In fact, the railroad bridged Blue Creek 29 times in 21 miles between Blue Creek and Hitop. Various combination of bridge types were used to bridge all these waterways, including Elk River, on the lower end of the line between Charleston and Blue Creek.  Speed on the branch was 10 mph. The railroad barely had enough room at points, sharing these hollows with Blue Creek and dirt roads which also flowed through these hollows. Road transportation was so iffy through this area that up until 1962 under NYC, a Budd RDC made two round trips up the branch, once in the morning and afternoon, serving basically as a school bus, making 25 stops in its 34 miles. First, I must back up a bit in my history of the line. The line originally was built along the north bank of the Elk River northeast out of Charleston, with the B&O on the south bank. The K&WV and later NYC ran parallel to US Rt. 119. Due to light rail and deferred maintenance, coal train derailments were frequent, with coal dumping across and closing the highway. Due to federal and state pressure, in the 1960’s the NYC decided to take permanent action. During this period, it filed with the ICC to abandon the trackage between Charleston and Blue Creek, and negotiated trackage rights over the B&O which was in much better shape, to reach home rails at Blue Creek via the bridge over the Elk River at K&WV/B&O Jct and connecting track off the B&O, thence up the Blue Creek basin. The K&WV/NYC trackage was officially abandoned in 1967. Coal traffic off the Hitop branch would now, and on into the PC era, run from its connection with the B&O at Capitol Street in Charleston up to Blue Creek, then back on home rails. After the original line as abandoned, the small yard at Spring Street in Charleston was no longer needed, or used much for that matter, except for a junkyard, gravel dealer, and some warehouses which would handle boxcars through the Penn central era. By the early Conrail years, all these shippers were gone. The track was completely taken up in the 1990’s. Down along Broad Street stood the old K&WV/NYC, later PC offices and freight warehouse, where the dispatchers were also located. The old freight house is now the Capitol Street Market. http://www.capitolmarket.net/our-story

The Secondary trackage proper, on the Ohio side, to climb out of the hilly terrain of southeast Ohio to the more level farm country further north, had to not only negotiate these hills, but had to cope with six tunnels on grades, one at New Lexington, Ohio, one at Moxahala, Ohio, and four between Carpenter and Langsville: Nicolas, Wilson, Dunbar, and Langsville tunnels. All these tunnels were obstacles for long heavy trains of coal coming out of the coal fields and out of the Ohio River valley. The northbound ruling grade of 1.2 percent actually crested inside of the Moxahala tunnel.  The Hitop branch itself had two short bores, one of these being at Coal Ridge, West Virginia. Of course, the branch also had to climb in elevation to get up to Blakeley/Hitop, from an elevation of 600 ft above sea level in Charleston to 1116 feet at Blakeley.

Several other tipples were located on the Secondary, or near to it. One of these was a 190,000 ton per year contributor at Harewood, south of Dickinson. At the end of the Secondary at Swiss, a connection was made with the Nicholas, Fayette, and Greenbriar Railroad. The NF&G was, or is, a 100 mile coal feeder line which was owned fifty-fifty by the NYC and C&O. Located off the NF&G was an isolated branch of the PC called the Peters Creek Branch, which connected at Peters Junction. Two tipples, the Cornelia and Clearfield, were located on this branch, with most of the production of these two destined for the coal docks in northern Ohio.

The mainstay of the branch and Secondary under NYC and PC was definitely coal. Though chemical traffic and to a lesser extent lumber, Penn Central hauled two cars of coal off the Secondary for every one of chemicals or other commodities. In 1970, this accounted for over 2 1/2 million tons of coal in over 28,000 hoppers. Into the 1970’s, coal loadings on the branch proper were good for two coal trains per day, with the loadout at Morris Fork taking over the brunt of the production after Hitop was closed about 1970-1971.

Yards on the West Virginia side included Nitro, Institute, and Dickinson, with Dickinson yard probably being the primary yard, as numerous through trains and locals were dispatched from there. Dickinson yard was an 18 track classification yard with a yard office, bunkhouse, car shop, and fuel pad. The car shop and the fueling station were the only such facilities south of Columbus on the Secondary. The yards at Dickinson and Nitro were both expanded and rebuilt under NYC in 1964-1965. These expanded tracks were also used by the chemical companies in the area served by the locals to store cars awaiting movement orders. Dupont at Belle leased out several tracks in Dickinson yard, while extra tracks were used at both Nitro and Institute.

Locomotive power used on the Secondary varied between 4 and 6 axle power, that is, up until sometime I recall between 1972 and 1973 when six axle power was banned due to deteriorating track structure and worn-out rail being pounded by ever increasing tonnage. I do have photos of SD units, early GP units ( 7’s and  9’s), a few GE U-boats, SD40’s, and GP-40’s being used over the Secondary. NYC and PC also used F unit combinations on the Secondary, as as you’ll see in the prototype photos section, and the blog page, also used Alco RS units, and GP-9B’s. So it seems NYC and especially PC used whatever they had on hand to get trains over the line. In many photos and books I’ve seen however it appears after the PC merger that many ex PRR geeps were brought in for use on the locals and in the yards, while the NYC GP units went elsewhere on the system.

Another line that deserves mention is the Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbrier Railway. The railroad was named after the three counties it served in the New River coal field in West Virginia, and was created in 1929. The predecessors to the NF&G were C&O’s Gauley Branch, which ran from Gauley Junction to Greendale, the Sewell Valley Railroad, which was constructed from 1908 to 1910 to serve a large sawmill in what became Rainelle, Wva, the Loop & Lookout Railroad which built several lines, including one from Rainelle to Nallen.

Further west, the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad, constructed a 10.7-mile line Belva at Twentymile Creek to Swiss. Then, in 1917, the Sewell Valley and Loop & Lookout railroads were transferred to the Sewell Valley and Ohio Railway. Finally, in 1929, the NF&G was formed with the Sewell Valley and Ohio being folded into the new company.

The NF&G constructed 28 miles of track, including two tunnels, from Swiss to Nallen between 1929 and 1931, including the 3,164-foot Koontz Tunnel. The NF&G built a coal assembly yard at Rainelle, where it built coal trains for delivery to the C&O mainline at Meadow Creek, WVa, and westward from Rainelle to Swiss, where a connection was made with the NYC line running southeast from Charleston. The NF&G did also own and run three Brill Model 55 gasoline powered motor cars on four routes radiating out of Rainelle. A round trip fare for example in 1948 from Rainelle to Clearco was .78 cents!

In my research the information is a bit fuzzy as to how and when the C&O and NYC gained 50-50 ownership of the NF&G. The NYC and later PC used the NF&G as a coal feeder line to connect to PC’s Peters Creek Branch, which ran from a connection with the NF&G at Peters Junction up to Enon. Two coal tipples were located on the Peters Creek Branch, the Cornelia and Clearfield tipples, with 1970 output at 6924 cars. Further research as to when and why the NYC and C&O wound up with a 50/50 ownership of the line has found that both companies (subsidiaries) wanted to build into the area, and could not come to a mutual agreement, so in 1929 the ICC ordered the 50/50 ownership.

An application to dissolve the 143-mile NF&G was filed by Conrail and CSX to the Surface Transportation Board on January 16, 1996.  Under the application, Conrail would acquire the NF&G from Swiss to Peters Junction, a distance of eight miles, while CSX would acquire the NF&G from Peters Junction east to Meadow Creek, and branch lines between Rainelle Junction and Raders Run, Rupert Junction and Clearco, and C&E Junction and Brush Junction, and operate under the Sewell Valley Subdivision.

Bad news hit the entire secondary early in February, 2016, as Norfolk Southern idled most of the secondary between Columbus, Ohio and Dickinson yard. One segment of the line that will remain active for now is between New Lexington and Glouster, Ohio, as Ohio Central has trackage rights over this portion to serve a coal generated power plant in Conesville. Otherwise, traffic from Charleston, WVa through Dickinson yard will be handled out the south end of the route over the ex-Virginian and N&W to reach the Pocohontas division mainline at Wharncliffe, WVa, adding about 180 miles for this traffic. Sad news indeed….

 

Great news for the West Virginia Secondary!

This is part of Watco’s press release:

PITTSBURG, KS, May 20, 2016 – The Kanawha River Railroad (KNWA), a subsidiary of Watco Transportation Services, LLC (WTS) has reached a definitive agreement with Norfolk Southern Corporation (NS) to lease and increase operations on 309 miles of rail line in Ohio and West Virginia. The lines run from Refugee, Ohio (just southeast of Columbus) to Alloy, West Virginia, and Cornelia, West Virginia, to Mullens, and expects to begin operations in July of 2016.

“The Watco Team is excited to serve the Customers in Ohio and West Virginia,” said Watco Chief Commercial Officer Ed McKechnie. “Our team is prepared to offer our new Customers in the agriculture, energy and chemical industries the transportation service product they need to move their product to their end Customer.”

KNWA plans to return the entire main line between West Virginia and the Columbus area to daily operation. Norfolk Southern suspended operations on part of the line in Ohio in early 2016 due to declining rail traffic volumes, and rerouted traffic on other routes.

 

 

koontz bridge

The Coal Feeder: the NF&G

A line that deserves mention is the Nicholas, Fayette & Greenbrier Railway. The railroad was named after the three counties it served in the New River coal field in West Virginia, and was created in 1929. The predecessors to the NF&G were C&O’s Gauley Branch, which ran from Gauley Junction to Greendale, the Sewell Valley Railroad, which was constructed from 1908 to 1910 to serve a large sawmill in what became Rainelle, Wva, the Loop & Lookout Railroad which built several lines, including one from Rainelle to Nallen.

Further west, the Kanawha & West Virginia Railroad, constructed a 10.7-mile line Belva at Twentymile Creek to Swiss. Then, in 1917, the Sewell Valley and Loop & Lookout railroads were transferred to the Sewell Valley and Ohio Railway. Finally, in 1929, the NF&G was formed with the Sewell Valley and Ohio being folded into the new company.

The NF&G constructed 28 miles of track, including two tunnels, from Swiss to Nallen between 1929 and 1931, including the 3,164-foot Koontz Tunnel. The NF&G built a coal assembly yard at Rainelle, where it built coal trains for delivery to the C&O mainline at Meadow Creek, WVa, and westward from Rainelle to Swiss, where a connection was made with the NYC line running southeast from Charleston. The NF&G did also own and run three Brill Model 55 gasoline powered motor cars on four routes radiating out of Rainelle. A round trip fare for example in 1948 from Rainelle to Clearco was .78 cents!

In my research the information is a bit fuzzy as to how and when the C&O and NYC gained 50-50 ownership of the NF&G. The NYC and later PC used the NF&G as a coal feeder line to connect to PC’s Peters Creek Branch, which ran from a connection with the NF&G at Peters Junction up to Enon. Two coal tipples were located on the Peters Creek Branch, the Cornelia and Clearfield tipples, with 1970 output at 6924 cars. Further research as to when and why the NYC and C&O wound up with a 50/50 ownership of the line has found that both companies (subsidiaries) wanted to build into the area, and could not come to a mutual agreement, so in 1929 the ICC ordered the 50/50 ownership.

An application to dissolve the 143-mile NF&G was filed by Conrail and CSX to the Surface Transportation Board on January 16, 1996.  Under the application, Conrail would acquire the NF&G from Swiss to Peters Junction, a distance of eight miles, while CSX would acquire the NF&G from Peters Junction east to Meadow Creek, and branch lines between Rainelle Junction and Raders Run, Rupert Junction and Clearco, and C&E Junction and Brush Junction, and operate under the Sewell Valley Subdivision.

The last train to run on the Subdivision was in July 1996 after the Pittston mine closed down. CSX filed for abandonment from milepost 59 to milepost 43.7 on January 30th, 1997. Another coal mine along Glade Creek was shut down in 2006, leading CSX to again petition in 2008 to abandon another portion of the Sub between milepost 27 and 43.7. Both petitions to abandon were approved. In 2012, several counties purchased the former roadbed for a 16.7 mile long trail…

 

The story of Deepwater….

Here begins the story of Deepwater, West Virginia. Located in Fayette County, the most recent census shows a population of 280. There are several stories as to how Deepwater derived its name. One story goes that this is the last navigable spot on the Kanawha River, with Kanawha Falls being just upstream. Another story is that the spot was named by Squire James G Kincaid and other locals on a rainy day in 1871 as a remark to the standing water outside the new post office along Loup Creek.

Deepwater is also known as the starting point of the Deepwater Railway, founded in 1898 by William Page, (of which Page, West Virginia is named), which later became part of the Virginian Railway. Thus Deepwater eventually became the far western end of the Virginian, a railway built specifically to funnel coal to the docks at Norfolk, Virginia. In the early 1930’s the long, impressive span was built by the Virginian over the Kanawha River at Deepwater, to connect to the New York Central, running up the length of the valley to Charleston.

In addition, until December 2, 1933, the Virginian Railway ran a daily passenger train from Princeton to Mullens, Pemberton, Raleigh “Y” and Beckley. The return trip ran Beckley to Pemberton, then to Fireco and back to Pemberton, then on through Sophia and Amigo to Mullens. On September 8, 1933, the eastbound trip suffered a collision at Amigo which resulted in the death of the engineer. After discontinuance of the Pemberton to Beckley leg, this train continued to operate from Mullens to Fireco until December 21, 1940. It also served the Wyco and Winding Gulf branches. Until 1937 it connected with a mixed train from Princewick to Amigo. In earlier years, as many as three round trips per day ran the Mullens to Fireco line. Service wilted with the coming of paved roads and the vigorous competition of the Consolidated Bus Lines.

The last regularly scheduled passenger train through Raleigh County ran on the Virginian Railway between Roanoke and Charleston. This train, #’s 3-4, entered Raleigh County near Hotchkiss, ran through Slab Fork, Lester, Surveyor, Eccles, Harper, Cirtsville and into Fayette County near Pax. Through train service began on the Virginian in 1909. It was discontinued incrementally as follows:

1) Ran Roanoke to Charleston until January 25, 1952.
2) Ran Roanoke to Deepwater Bridge, West Virginia until June 20, 1952.
3) Ran Roanoke to Page, West Virginia until December 31, 1954.
4) Ran from the West Virginia state line near Oney’s Gap in Mercer County to Page in Fayette County, West Virginia until July 11, 1955.

Prior to the completion of the Deepwater Bridge over the Kanawha River, cars from this train ran via C. & O. trains #33-34 from Deepwater to Huntington, West Virginia and/or Ashland, Kentucky. Beginning on March 16, 1931 this train was rerouted via Deepwater Bridge and the Ohio Central Division of the New York Central to Charleston. This train carried a club car with parlor seating, a diner, and an observation car until the early 1930’s. Train #3 wrecked at Lester, killing the fireman, on December 13, 1935. A companion train, #5-6 ran from Princeton to Deepwater, and for a short time to Charleston, from the early 1920’s until its discontinuance about 1932.

Some of these trains carried Railway Post Office cars which provided for the sorting and handling of mail. The postmarks used for the C&O trains were “Quinnimont & Lester R.P.O.”, for the Virginian on the Winding Gulf was “Fireco & Mullens R.P.O.” and on the mainline of the Virginian was “Roanoke & Charleston R.P.O.” All of these trains were powered by steam locomotives until their last runs.

Run through agreements were also in place between the Virginian and NYC for traffic flowing through Deepwater up to Dickinson yard, about 15-17 miles downstream from Charleston. Pooled crews and locomotives ran through in both directions, with NYC crews and locos running through to either Elmore or Mullens. This arrangement lasted until the late 1960’s, ending through service on this part of the Virginian/N&W. Time freights 71 and 72 ran over this line from Dickinson to Norfolk. I also have listed freights CN-2 and NT-5 which ran through to Elmore.

In place at this NYC/Virginian connection was DB Tower. In actuality not a tower at all, but a block station, DB was as I understand named for “Deepwater Bridge”, the “tower” sitting just west off the end of the bridge, right at the connection onto the NYC. The tower (as shown on the prototype photos page in a photo by friend Doug Bess, sported a train order semaphore). A lead took the Virginian/N&W over to the NYC, while another track at the tower went into the huge Electro-Met plant of Union Carbide, located in Alloy. This plant was a substantial source of traffic for both NYC and later Penn Central, despite N&W competition. The tower alas is long gone, but current owner Norfolk Southern still swings coal drags off the Kanawha River bridge and up what is now the West Virginia Secondary.