The Norfolk & Western, as part of the Ohio Extension from Elkhorn, West Virginia to Coal Grove, Ohio, snaked through the mountainous canyons throughout the rich coalfields. A part of this alignment, from Lenore to Wayne, West Virginia, was abandoned in 1933 when improvements were made to the line along the Big Sandy River.

The Norfolk & Western Railroad (N&W) of Virginia was formed in 1881 after the foreclosure of the Atlantic, Mississippi & Ohio Railroad (AM&O). The AM&O had been formed in 1870 by the merger of the Norfolk & Petersburg, the Southside and the Virginia & Tennessee.1

The N&W’s primary goal was to access the minerals, with a focus on coal, near Pocahontas, Virginia. The railroad penetrated West Virginia with the opening of the mainline to Bluefield on May 2, 1883, giving access to the rich Flat Top – Pocahontas Coal Field.1 Coal mines were readied in anticipation of the extension northward towards Bramwell and Welch. Between 1884 and 1887, the N&W was extended northward via the Bluestone Extension, from Maybeury to Elkhorn.

A tunnel was blasted through Flat Top Mountain at Elkhorn in 1887, and the line was proposed to follow the Elkhorn Creek, Pinnacle Creek, Clear Fork, Coal Creek and the Mud River valleys to the Ohio River, known as the Ohio Extension.1 Initially surveyed in 1886, the line was declared unfit and the route was abandoned in 1888. A route via the Elkhorn Creek to the Tug River, passing by Keystone and Welch, leading to Twelve Pole and Ceredo at the Ohio River was soon adopted. The N&W would cross the Ohio River and venture to Coal Grove, Ohio.4

The Ohio Extension was approximately 195 miles in length.1 Construction began in 1890, and the first train to run at the Dingess Tunnel, located between Lenore and Twelve Pole, was on September 25, 1892.3 The entire line was completed on November 12, 1892 with the completion of the Hatfield Tunnel, eight miles east of Williamson, West Virginia.1 4

The route from Lenore to Ceredo via Twelve Pole was largely unsuccessful. A significant portion of the line was remote from any major populated regions, and was geographically isolated. It also contained numerous sharp curves and grades.4 The initial route was constructed as inexpensively as possible,1 although it was rebuilt with larger bridges, sidings and double-tracks in the 1910s. The route was still inaccessible to the west due to difficult terrain, and confronted with the need for a full double-track along Twelve Pole, the decision was made to construct a second track along the Big Sandy River, an alignment that was flatter and featured far less curvature.

The Big Sandy division of the N&W was opened on December 15, 1904.4 It extended from Kenova south to Naugatuck, where it interchanged with the Twelve Pole division. The Twelve Pole division was used as an eastbound track for empty coal cars, while the Big Sandy division was used by loaded cars westbound.

This was not optimal, and in 1933, the N&W made the decision to abandon the Twelve Pole south of Wayne to Lenore.2

Today, many of the 33 bridges along Twelve Pole are in use along West Virginia County Route 3/5, including two tunnels.3

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