Switchback Mine Run on Elkhorn Branch ca.1940s

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Apr 24 12:02:32 EDT 2022


In this period leading up to the Elkhorn realignment, other changes were 
occurring: tipples closed, traffic changed, Traffic Control expanded and 
so forth. I'm not sure of the chronological order of details here and 
most will relate to the run's last years.

Based at Eckman Yard, the Switchback Mine Run was a day job that worked 
the main line east from Keystone up to Switchback. Regular motive power 
was the Class Y3 No. 2005, dispatched facing upgrade/east. Empties for 
the branch were picked up en route at Morgan, about two miles west of 
Switchback. Westbound Elkhorn jobs would set off empties there on two 
storage tracks next to the westbound main. The mine run could access 
them via a local, hand-thrown crossover from the eastbound and would 
couple them ahead of the 2005.

At one train a day, the junction at Switchback didn't rate a 
signal--just a hand-thrown, facing-point switch on the eastbound main. 
Like the local crossover at Morgan, the switch had an electric lock that 
was controlled by the operator at Bluestone Tower. Permission was sought 
by phone in a line-side box at the junction. Another line-side box held 
a register book for the conductor to register on the branch and off when 

Empties were shoved around the tipple(s) to the delivery tracks beyond, 
then loads were pulled from below and blocked for east and west. Tonnage 
declined as the three old mines on the branch were worked out. According 
to Alex in /Billion Dollar Coalfield/, Shamokin Colliery closed in 1941 
and Elkhorn Colliery in 1944, leaving Angle (Norfolk) Colliery to hang 
on into the 1950s. I believe the third leg of the wye through downtown 
Maybeury was taken up before the wye you mentioned at Elkhorn Colliery, 
so closing Elkhorn removed any means of turning the 2005. Backing out to 
return home might have reduced tractive effort, but that was offset by 
the decline in tonnage. Also, there was the speed restriction for 
backing moves, but that was raised in later years.

Then there was the lack of signaling both at the junction and on the 
main. To come off the branch headed west on the eastbound main with no 
westward signals was slow running. Later, bidirectional TC would help, 
but that was somewhat offset when the Powhatan Arrow began service. 
Depending on the schedule, the mains cleared for Nos. 25 and 26 to meet 
in this area every mid-afternoon. This was on top of the base load of 
traffic. For example, before the relocation reduced it, the eastbound 
ruling grade was two percent, so heavy eastbounds were shorter, more 
frequent, and rated both pushers and helpers on short cycles (i.e., slow 
eastbounds and lots of westbound light moves). At least with extras, 
operators could hold traffic windows open during the day for local jobs 
to work.

After getting permission from Bluestone, coming out onto the eastbound 
main set the mine run up to proceed west to the Crozer tipple across the 
main from Morgan. From the eastbound main, east loads were set off in 
the tipple's runaround for pickup by eastbound Elkhorn crews. West loads 
were then shoved across the local crossover to the storage tracks at 
Morgan where the empties had been pulled earlier. Westbound Elkhorn and 
(later) River crews forwarded the loads to Eckman/Kimball and 
Williamson, respectively.

If the eastbound main was busy, Crozer was skipped and the east loads 
went on to Eckman. If the westbound was busy, Morgan was skipped and the 
west loads went to Eckman. If time got tight on both mains, the Eckman 
operator tried to keep the Powhatan Middle Track open for them to clear up.

Edits and questions are welcome--I hope this helps.

Grant Carpenter

On 4/18/2022 8:35 AM, NW Mailing List wrote:
> Does anybody have any insight into operations at Switchback prior to 
> the late '40s realignment?  Coal loads would have to be rounded up 
> from the Angle branch, Shamokin and Elkhorn and then brought up to the 
> main West of the power house.  But how was the traffic controlled?  I 
> haven't seen any photos showing signals to stop either mainline or 
> mine movements.  How did they insure the main was clear when they came 
> up?  Also, if they "pulled" up from the bottom, the movement would be 
> pointed West.  Where did they go for assembly?  Did everything go West 
> to Byrd at North Fork or even on to Ecklmann?  Any and all thoughts 
> will be appreciated.  Not to name names, but I'm hoping Mr. Grant 
> might chime in on this one and perhaps Professor Schust.
> Thanks,
> Jim Cochran
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