Several years ago, I hiked to the east abutment of the abandoned Young’s High Bridge in central Kentucky to photograph the sunset and blue hour. Little did I know that I was about to witness a suicide—or did I?
Coming fresh from a visit to Vermont, I ventured on the back roads around upstate New York. The country was far too beautiful to pass up with rolling, overcast skies for as far as the eye can see. Autumn colors were plentiful. Rounding the corner, I look over and out of the corner of my eye, I sighted derelict locomotives. I did a quick turnabout in the car and hurried back. This was too photogenic to pass up.
The Chicago, St. Louis & New Orleans Railroad’s 34-mile Paducah-East Cairo line was constructed in 1902 and 1903 between East Cairo and Paducah, Kentucky. At the time of its construction, the Illinois Central operated two major north-south routes which converged at Fulton, Kentucky. Forming a “V” through Kentucky and Illinois, the western line passed through Cairo, Illinois while the eastern line went through Paducah. The completion of the Paducah-East Cairo route allowed trains to travel east to west and west to east without having to tour through Fulton.
On June 15, Kentucky’s newest rail trail will open between West Van Lear to Royalton along the former Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad Dawkins Subdivision. The 18.5 mile Big Lovely Mountain Rail Trail will be open to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. One of its highlights is the 662-foot Gun Creek Tunnel and several trestles.
West Virginia has many miles of fantastic rail-to-trails, or railroads that have been abandoned and converted into recreational corridors. Most of the trails are not paved, and many contain impressive bridges and tunnels that make any trip exciting. And quite a few of them have remnants of their coal mining past remaining, whether it is abandoned mine portals or discarded equipment.
Several years ago, I traveled to Hawks Nest State Park along the US 60, the Midland Trail, to hike along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) Hawks Nest Subdivision. The 3.4-mile line was originally as a narrow-gauge railroad alongside Mill Creek in Fayette County, connecting the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad (C&O) at Hawks Nest Station to Ansted and is today a rail-to-trail.
The Detroit, Toledo and Ironton Railroad (DT&I) is a defunct railroad that had its beginnings in southern Ohio as the Iron Railroad Company, which connected Ironton to the coal and timber reserves in the southern part of the state. Through acquisitions and mergers, the DT&I stretched for over 370 miles from Ironton to the automobile manufacturing plants in Michigan. Between Jackson and Bloom Junction, the DT&I had trackage rights along the Scioto & Hocking Valley, later part of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O), a distance of 23.4 miles.
While exploring Virginia’s back roads, I came upon the former New River, Holston and Western Railroad (NH&W) that once extended from the Norfolk & Western (N&W) at Narrows on the New River in Giles County to the village of Suiter in Bland County, Virginia. The 43-mile line followed Wolf Creek or its tributaries for its entire length.
On a recent business excursion to Virginia, I discovered the oft-forgotten Chesapeake Western Railway which was once proposed from Washington, D.C. to Cincinnati, Ohio. Only a segment from Elkton, Virginia westward to Stokesville was ever completed in its original intention. Although some of the railroad has been dismantled, portions remain active for the Norfolk Southern and for a short line.
The Cleveland, Ohio Cedar Avenue substation was constructed in 1917, and was the first automatic substation completed for the Cleveland Railway Company. It was across the street from the Cedar Avenue power plant, which was then at the time the largest non-condensing direct-current plant in the United States, and was operated non-condensing because the exhaust steam was sold to a salt company adjacent at a price that made it difficult for the central station companies in Cleveland to compete with the Cleveland Railway’s power house on a per-kilowatt-hour output.
If buildings could have diaries, the complex of industrial structures along Ashland Road in Cleveland, Ohio would be overflowing with details on its long and illustrious history. Not much has been written about the complex, owing to a lack of information easily available, and misinterpretations based on various first-hand accounts and urban explorers. But what was uncovered was fascinating and complicated, more so than originally envisioned, and despite a wealth of materials uncovered, there are still gaps that have not yet been resolved.
Last Saturday, I had the opportunity to bike the former Hocking Valley Railroad River Division (HV) near Gallipolis, Ohio. The Gallia County Hike and Bike Trail was completed from Logan to Gallipolis in October 1880 for the HV. The tracks were abandoned in 1992 and dismantled a year later.
Railroad YMCA’s were once staples in the United States, offering lounges, recreational amenities, restaurants and a safe and convenient place for rest for the myriad of railroad employees. Russell, Kentucky is one such instance of a town that offered a YMCA.