North Fork Hollow Mine Run
NW Mailing List
nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Nov 26 11:44:11 EST 2017
First off, let me apologize for the long delay in responding/thanking you
for the wonderful information; sometimes life gets in the way. Second,
your descriptions inspired further questions that I have inserted below the
pertinent part of your text and set off by ***. Thanks again for your
The North Fork Hollow mine run was a daylight job out of Eckman Yard.
Dispatched facing upgrade, the regular power was the 2023 with Cicero Sells
as engineer, the senior man at Eckman.
An Elkhorn job out of Bluefield would set off empties the night before on
the storage tracks Elk Ridge (60 cars) and North Fork (55 cars) adjacent to
the branch line near North Fork Junction. The mine run could bring more
empties from Eckman Yard or Byrd Yard in Northfork, as needed.
>From the aerial view of the Elkridge in the Branchline book, it looks like
there was a middle track that ran from just East of the bridge to somewhere
around the curve into Kyle. I am assuming this was the 60 car Elkridge
storage track. Was the 55 car North Fork storage track East of the junction
and up-the-holler, alongside the coke ovens?
The job was broken up into three round trips from the junction up the
branch: first to Algoma up the Buzzards Creek Branch, then to Gilliam and
Rolfe, then to Ashland and Crumpler.
Algoma was at the end of the spur with no tail track to pull past, so
empties were pulled off the junction-end of the storage tracks while
backing out onto the main line, then shoved forward up the branch main
track, then up the spur. Loads came back to Byrd Yard.
Allow me to check my understanding here. The diagram of Algoma in the
Branchline book appears to show 3 side tracks splitting off from the
Buzzard's Creek main, one of which swings out wide around coke ovens. All
of these then recombine just past the tipple into what I assume was the
single empty hopper storage track. Empties would need to be pushed into
this track as there was no way for a locomotive to run around them to get
back out. I assume these cars were gravity dropped past the tipple when
being filled and stored full on the tracks below the tipple. After shoving
empties up past the tipple, I assume the locomotive would drop back down
below the throat of the side tracks then move forward to couple onto a cut
of loaded hoppers and then proceed to back them down the branch and into
Byrd yard. Let me know if any of this is correct.
Gilliam and Rolfe were delivered by trailing point moves from the main
track, so empties were pulled up the branch on this trip. The engine backed
down with loads trailing to Elk Ridge and swapped the loads for the
Again allow me to check my understanding here. The diagram of Gilliam in
the Branchline book appears to show a siding coming off the main just
before a crossing of the creek and continuing under the tipple. After the
creek crossing at least a couple other side track branch off of the main
and then recombine with that first line just past the tipple near the next
creek crossing. This recombined siding continues to parallel the main past
a third creek crossing and then rejoins the main. Therefore, the empty
supply run could pull hoppers through the side tracks past the tipple, drop
them on the track East of the tipple, and then re-enter the main in a
trailing points move. To pick up loads, I assume he would drop back down
below the start of the side tracks, enter moving forward and couple onto a
cut, then back them down the main.
Like Algoma, Ashland and Crumpler were stub-end, but the empties were
pulled up the branch to Jones Siding, run around there, then shoved ahead.
Ashland was delivered first, leaving the loads for pick up on the way back
down from Crumpler.
Crumpler, aka Zenith, was steep with five, ten-car delivery tracks that
made it particularly tedious and dangerous. With no radios to stop him, the
rear brakeman rode the drawhead and jerked the angle cock open to stop. The
middle brakeman made the cut while the rear brakeman set brakes, watching
for the next cut to get on and stop them. Tipplemen, called "droppers",
would help set brakes. Every load had brakes on and if they were set out on
the main track, every brake had to be put back on.
My impression of this is the following: The run would back out of Ashland
with a remaining 50 empties for Crumpler. It would shove these cars past
the sidings filled with loads below the tipple and someone would set
switches for the first storage track. The “rear brakeman”(was this
designated by where he rode relative to the motion of the train upon its
original departure) would mount the front of the hopper furthest from the
locomotive to give him clear view of the end of the storage track. The
engineman would then start shoving on the other end of the 50 empties until
the rear brakeman “shot the air” to indicate the first ten empties were in
position. He would then set the manual brakes on the 10 hoppers to be left
in this storage track while the middle brakeman uncoupled the remaining 40
hoppers, I am guessing that it would take a few minutes for the locomotive
to pump the air back up in the remaining cars to release the brakes so that
he could drop them down past the switch into the second storage track.
Meanwhile, as you mention, the rear brakeman would be woking his way down
the spotted 10 car cut setting hand brakes and watching the next storage
track over to see when he needed to board the “front” of the next cut to be
spotted. It sounds like he would not have a chance between shoves to set
the brakes on all 10 cars if the operation required help from car
“droppers”, being thus named because to fill cars at the tipple they would
cut cars loose from a string in the storage track and by riding the cars
and using the hand brake, they would “drop” them down under the tipple by
gravity to fill them. SIDE QUESTION: If siding space were available, would
it have been better/safer to set the whole empty string off and then shove
10 at a time up into the storage tracks?
Loads were usually blocked at the tipples and both east and west loads were
set out on Elk Ridge and North Fork storage tracks, the main track, or in
the yard upon returning to Eckman.
I take it from this that the tipple would position loads on their storage
tracks in groups of East-bound and West-bound cars. However, I assume that
in the process of pulling loads from multiple storage tracks at multiple
operations these groups of cars would end up fairly randomly positioned in
the final string stored at Elkridge or North Fork. I would further
speculate that when these strings were collected and taken to Eckman, a
significant amount of switching work was required to break them down so
that like groups could be combined into complete East-bound or West-bound
The North Fork mine run became First Vivian out of Bluefield when Eckman
closed in 1951. "V1" would leave Bluefield with a 2000 in reverse, a cab on
the pilot, and usually ran light. Empties were waiting on the Elk Ridge and
North Fork storage tracks and Byrd Yard as before, but west loads were set
off in Eckman Yard and it returned with east loads. If it was running close
on time (16 hours) or Bluefield was (usually) unable to take short trains,
the east loads were set off at Flat Top Yard and it ran light on to
Relating to my speculation above, how did the run sort or maintain the
sorting of the East-bound and West-bound blocks?
Sometimes the daylight job put empties in at Algoma, but the loads would
store there until the night job could pull them. Occasionally, North
Fork/V1 would deliver Dan's Branch, but time-slipped.
Non-coal work included an occasional boxcar to the company store at Algoma.
84 would set off refrigerator cars of meat on the North Fork Middle Track
about 1am every Monday morning for the North Fork Passenger Run to spot at
the Wilson, Armour and Swift packing plants. After the passenger run was
cut off, V1 would get called early at 4am (usually 8am) to spot the cars.
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