Morning meet at Appalachia, Virginia, between train 855 and Extra 120 North, a Norton Turn. Conductor “Spiz” Williams is waving from the rear of wooden cab 510 on October 17, 1967.
Connecting the dots
By Ron Flanary/photos by the author
Maybe I’m the only person fascinated by such stuff as this, but I thought I would share this little tidbit. Recently I acquired six dispatcher train sheets from the Louisville & Nashville Cumberland Valley Division, all from February 1969. My friend George Pitarys in New Hampshire was able to secure them for me. These things are pure gold, since they detail all operations on a particular day, including the trains, their times at the various stations and control points, locomotives, consists, conductor and engineer names, and so on.
At that time, I was still living at home in Appalachia, Virginia, with my parents and attending college at Wise. It was an easy commute, so I was able to stay at home the entire four years. I also worked every weekend playing in my father’s jazz band, plus I worked two years as a contract janitor for Southern Railway at Andover. I was quite busy in those days engaged to my finacee Wilma, carrying a full course load in college, working weekends sometimes till 3:00 or 4:00 a.m., and still being up in time for church on Sunday. No way could I handle that today!
At any rate, I kept a “journal” of sorts for a few years. It was virtually all railroad-related describing the things I saw, including unusual events and interesting locomotive consists. The entry for Friday, February 21 was rather long. It has details of an Interstate Railroad mine run (the 3rd Mine Run) at Blackwood with an A-B set of F-units, and the Interstate First Hill at Norton with three SD24s. I noted that L&N 723 (an F7B) was behind the power “dead-in-tow.” There were other notes about things I saw that morning, no doubt on the way to college.
L&N Train 865 at Arkle, Kentucky, crests the top of Emanual Hill behind an F7A (in an early F2 carbody), two RS3s and a GP7 on March 22, 1967.
I didn’t usually work at Andover on Friday evenings, so I noted L&N 865 setting off at Dorchester Junction that afternoon with engines 177, 137, 160 and 803 (three RS3s and an F7A). Much later that night, I must have gone home after a date with Wilma because near midnight, I saw the Interstate First Hill setting off interchange for the L&N at Appalachia as L&N freight 856—with the same four units off train 865 at Norton, with 803 leading, no cars, and a caboose—waiting in the clear on the main. The Interstate crew had those same three SD24s and had returned from the Clinchfield at Miller Yard with some through freight, a long cut of empty L&N coal hoppers and Clinchfield F7B 853. I was well acquainted with all the L&N crewmen, so engineer Hershel Frazier invited me aboard while they made the pickup. I rode about 15 minutes with him in the cab of the 803. Then, I took note (again) of the Clinchfield unit as the train left town with “a sizable consist.”
Fast forward to the present day and the discovery of the L&N train sheets. One of the group included Friday, February 21, 1969, but I didn’t immediately notice it was a date that correlated to one of my journal entries. Sure enough, train 855 from that day showed delivery of L&N F7B 723 at Dorchester Junction. The motive power was shown as 1209, 1405 and 723 (SD35, C628, F7B), with “723 off at DorJct.” I checked the Clinchfield Railroad diesel roster (complied by David DeVault), and the 723 was “received at Miller Yard on February 21, 1969.”
In case you haven’t figured this all out by now, the 723 was an ex-Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis unit (NC 919, later L&N 1919) with a steam generator. It became Clinchfield 250, and was painted Pullman green to join its ex-NC&StL sister—CRR 869, ex-L&N 1918—in support passenger service with the Clinchfield’s restored “One Spot,” the famous Ten Wheeler No. 1. The 869 had been purchased outright from the L&N in 1965 and rebuilt by the Atlantic Coast Line at Waycross before coming to the CRR. Amazingly, both of these two B-units still exist today, but virtually every other piece of equipment reflected on that 1969 train sheet was likely scrapped years ago.
A detail view of the train sheet from November 21, 1969. This shows a portion of the northbound trains from that day. The train on the far right is number 856, the freight in which the author rode the cab of F7A 803 at Appalachia that evening. You'll notice the engines out of Norton included 803, 160, 137 and 177, with CRR 853 "dead." The notation to the right shows the middle two RS-3s were swapped for 171 and 187 at Loyall. RS-3s were cycled back and forth from Corbin to Loyall on these through freights. There was also a notation in the Comments section about the F7B swap between the L&N and the Clinchfield that day.
The train sheet itself was a fascinating cross section of the Cumberland Valley at that time. It was a fairly busy day, with 20 total trains between Corbin and Heidrick (where the C&M Branch diverges to Manchester). Loyall was also busy, fielding six mine runs that day. With the through trains to and from Norton, and the double daily Lynch Turns, there were 21 movements through Loyall that 24-hour period. Although some early unit trains were running then (particularly the Merna and Amru trains), none were operated this particular day.
Northward coal tonnage from Loyall to Corbin was heavy. Train 856, for example, handled 121 loads and no empties (10,809 tons) into Corbin. Train 864 arrived with 101 loads, seven empties and 8,662 tons. A number of those loads probably included general freight. The two Lynch Turns arrived at Corbin with 13,077 tons (109 loads) and 11,412 tons (95 loads) respectively.
In motive power terms, the RS3s handled virtually all the mine runs, and powered several of the through trains. The Straight Creek mine run out of Corbin was handled by F7As 811 and 818---not good mine run power for switching the tipples! The Miracle Turn was pulled by the 484, a GP7. The two Lynch trains were pulled by 818, 1525 and 1512 (F7A and two U25Cs), and 1227, 1219 and 1211 (SD40 and two SD35s).
Engine and caboose at rest on the Puckett's Creek Branch, working on a Loyall-Varilla Mine Run in February 1968. The train has tied up while the crew goes to lunch.
Number 856 was delayed at Loyall early that morning when the local power suddenly went off. The train was held almost two hours until Kentucky Utilities restored the electricity to the community (it had snowed, so I’m sure that was a factor). Then, the 803 “wouldn’t load,” so it took another delay at Wilhoit while engineer Herschel Frazier tried to trouble shoot. He finally remedied the problem, so the train continued to Corbin without further delay. The Straight Creek crew stalled on Emanual Hill with 57 loads when one of the two F7As died and couldn’t be restarted. Local freight 833, with RS3 179, was waiting at the top of the hill at Arkle, so the dispatcher had him cut off and drop down to pull the Straight Creek train to the top.
It was just another day on the railroad, of course, but it was fun to finally connect the “dots” from my life and observations of more than 40 years ago!
For more information on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, please visit the L&N Historical Society.
Read "A Day in the Life " by Ron Flanary