Exploring the Oneida & Western Railroad and Brimstone & New River railroads in the Big South Fork region.
I made a trip down to the Big South Fork National Recreation Area to take up some backpacking on what turned out to be a most beautiful and sunny weekend. Hiking along many of the rugged and remote trails at Big South Fork, I came across across many aspects of forgotten railroading history. The Oneida & Western Railroad (O&W), for instance, is one of those interesting discoveries.
The O&W existed between Jamestown and Oneida, Tennessee and served vast pockets of virgin timber and coal mines before it was abandoned in 1954.
Initial planning for the O&W began back in the late 1800’s, but it wasn’t until the Jamestown Railroad Company was incorporated in October 1912 by the Tennessee Coal and Lumber Company that the plan advanced. The Jamestown Railroad Company proposed a route from Glenmary to Jamestown. A lawsuit filed by the Stearns Company of Kentucky questioned the legitimacy of the newly formed company that had no charter. In response, the Jamestown Railroad Company issued a charter and amended the alignment on August 5, 1913, so that it existed between Oneida to Albany, Kentucky via Jamestown. The railroad was named the Oneida & Western Railroad.
Construction began on the O&W on November 4, 1913 at the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway (Cincinnati Southern) at Oneida and was completed to the Big South Fork Cumberland River by June 1915. By 1930, the O&W reached Jamestown, extending for over 37 miles.
At its peak, the O&W featured three daily roundtrips carting both passengers and freight. But by 1936, motorcars had been dispatched to make the same journey and passenger service on the O&W ceased. In addition, most of the timber reserves had been depleted and the coal mines were being played out.
The last hope for the O&W came in 1942 when the Wolf Creek Dam was proposed in Tennessee. A construction company based out of Chicago proposed an extension of the O&W to the dam site to haul construction materials, but the company lost the bid after World War II. By 1953, there were only two to three trains per week operating on the line, and it was abandoned all-together in 1954.
The O&W offices, located along U.S. Route 27 in Oneida, were later used by the Plateau Electric Cooperative. The junction with the Cincinnati Southern later became home to a coal tipple and crusher yard. Today, the O&W west of Big South Fork to Jamestown is a combination hiking and horse trail; to the east, it is a dirt road that provides access to the river.
On the way out of the Big South Fork valley, I came across other abandoned railroad artifacts. The Cincinnati Southern New River Bridge is located in Scott County, Tennessee south of Oneida, and carried the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP, Cincinnati Southern). The iron modified Fink truss crossing was constructed in 1879.
The completion of the bridge and associated Tunnel 15 to the south completed the Cincinnati Southern between Cincinnati and Chattanooga. This alignment, from the Brimstone & New River Railroad south to Robbins, was bypassed and abandoned after phase four of a modernization project that began in 1961 eliminated the last of the small-bore tunnels along the CNO&TP. On July 10, 1963 at 12:05 a.m., the new New River bridge was opened to traffic.
While the trackage and approach to the New River crossing was removed, the center span was not.
Finally, while inspecting a railroad overpass on U.S. Route 27 east of New River that I believed was active, I came across the abandoned Brimstone & New River Railroad (B&NR). The B&NR is a disused railroad from the Cincinnati, New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railway (CNO&TP, Cincinnati Southern) at New River, Tennessee southeast to Lone Mountain.
The Brimstone, from Slick Rock north, was paralleled by the earlier Knoxville and New River Railroad (K&NR). The K&NR was chartered by the state on May 14, 1883, and was proposed between Robbins at the CNO&TP near Brickyard Hollow and the divide of the New River and Brimstone Creek near Lone Mountain. The 13-mile timber narrow-gauge railroad was planned to extend south of the Windrock Mountains and into Anderson County, where it would have connected to the Knoxville & Ohio.
The initial alignment, which became operational in 1885, extended to Slick Rock. The railroad lasted only seven years when the timber reserves were depleted and financial woes forced the railroad to default.
The primary uses for the Brimstone line was to assist in the extraction of timber and coal. There were two coal mines at Hughett and Lone Mountain. Timber were taken to the W.M. Ritter Mill, located at the railhead at New River.
On July 10, 1963, a new New River crossing for the CNO&TP was completed approximately one mile north of the community of New River, and several miles of the CNO&TP was abandoned. The tracks from Helenwood to New River were kept to allow access by the Brimstone Railroad.
In 1965, the railroad was reorganized as the Brimstone & New River Railroad, and again as the New River Railway just one year later when the W.M. Ritter Company merged with the Georgia Pacific.
Traffic on the line became scarce during the latter-half of the 20th century because coal within Scott County had less-desirable high sulfur coal.
In 1970, the line was purchased by the CNO&TP, with trackage rights by the Southern, which later became part of Norfolk Southern. The rail line was used for another ten years until its eventual disuse. Today, the railroad is abandoned with no active coal mines along the route.