The Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad was a shortline in the hills and hollows of West Virginia that was less than 20 miles in length. However, it became legendary for being the last place in the country one could still find steam locomotives in regular service and railfans and historians flocked to the tiny towns of Dundon and Widen located in Clay County to see these brutes soldiering on. Unfortunately, when the coal mines and lumber business had completely dried up in the 1960s so did the railroad and the last regular scheduled freight train departed for the B&O interchange at Dundon on February 27, 1965. While the railroad was revived twice during the 1970s and 1990s, it sat dormant and abandoned for years until 2005 when the Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad Co-Operative was formed to revive the entire railroad between Dundon and Widen for a tourist railroad.
The BC&G has proved to be a line that just won't go away. It's history dates only back to the early 20th century when it was chartered by the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company (which was organized by Joseph Garner Bradley) in 1904 to serve the company's future coal and lumber interests in the region. The railroad was initially planned to be quite an endeavor at over 100 miles in length connecting Dundon in Clay County with Huttonsville in Randolph County. Unfortunately, those ideas never materialized and the railroad only reached a short distance east of 18 miles from Dundon to Widen.
About seven years after the railroad was chartered it finished its farthest stretch eastward to Widen in 1911. That same year Rich Run Mine was opened giving the BC&G increased traffic (very early in the railroad's existence a small coal mine existed near Dundon giving the railroad an initial source of traffic). Then, in 1918 the sawmill at Swandale, located about halfway between Dundon and Widen opened. These vast sawmill operations and coal mine at Rich Run (near Widen) would prove to be the BC&G primary source of traffic for much of its existence.
Interestingly, of the BC&G's steam locomotives only four were ever purchased new, 2-8-0 Consolidation #4 from Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1926, and three Climaxes. Of note, the BC&G did roster a few diesel locomotives including; a Plymouth 44-Tonner, Whitcomb 65-Tonner, and even an Alco S1. For a complete locomotive roster please click here.
All-Time Locomotive Roster
Climax (Two Truck), E-1 Through E-3: Purchased new.
Climax (Three Truck), E-4: Purchased second-hand.
4-4-0 American #1: Purchased second-hand from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
2-8-0 Consolidation #2: Purchased second-hand from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
2-8-0 Consolidation #3: Purchased second-hand from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
2-8-0 Consolidation #4: Purchased new from Baldwin in 1926.
2-8-0 Consolidation #5: Purchased second-hand from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.
2-8-0 Consolidation #6: Purchased second-hand from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
2-8-0 Consolidation #7: Purchased second-hand from the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
0-6-0 Switcher #8: The smallest engine ever rostered by the BC&G, it was acquired in 1945 and retired just five years later in 1950.
2-8-2 Mikado #9: Purchased second-hand from the Kelley's Creek & Northwestern Railroad.
2-8-2 Mikado #10: Purchased second-hand.
2-8-2 Mikado #11: Purchased second-hand.
Shay (Three-Truck) #12: Purchased second-hand.
2-8-0 Consolidation #13: Purchased second-hand from the Kelley's Creek & Northwestern Railroad.
2-8-0 Consolidation #14: Purchased second-hand from the Kelley's Creek & Northwestern Railroad.
2-8-2 Mikado #15-#17: Purchased second-hand.
Shay (Three-Truck) #18-#19: Purchased second-hand.
Alco S1 #1: Purchased second-hand.
Plymouth 44-Tonner #20: Purchased second-hand.
Whitcomb 65-Tonner #20: Purchased second-hand.
The BC&G, along with the ERC&L's own railroading operations, also owned two Railbuses, Shays, Climaxes, and even early diesel switchers. In 1958 after mounting losses the ERC&L, including all subsidiary operations like the BC&G, were sold to Clinchfield Coal Company, which subsequently sold the mill to W.M. Ritter Lumber and leased the rail operations to the lumber company. Unfortunately, things just went downhill from that point. In 1963 Rich Run Mine finished operations and two years later the final load of finished lumber products left Swandale for the B&O interchange at Dundon. Interestingly, this was not the end of the BC&G. In 1971 the railroad was revived by the Majestic Mining Company and reopened all of the way to Widen to load out a coal mine located near there. It originally used a 65-ton Whitcomb (#20) for power and later an Alco S-2 (#2). The Majestic Mining operations lasted until 1985 at which the old railroad once again sat dormant.
But again fate saw a future for the BC&G and in the early 1990s the Elk River Railroad, Inc. was established to serve a mine at Avoca. To reach the mine the Elk River Railroad (also known as TERRI) purchased 61 miles of the B&O's former Elk River line (that originally connected Grafton with Charleston) between Gilmer and Hartland. This stretched reached the old B&O/BC&G interchange at Dundon. TERRI had purchased the entire line to Widen but only refurbished it as far east as needed (to Avoca). The coal loaded was purchased by American Electric Power (AEP) but nearly as soon as the Elk River Railroad began operations it all came to an end in the late summer of 1999 when AEP decided the coal was too poor in quality for their use.
Today, the Elk River Railroad remains "active" but has not moved a loaded train in more than ten years. It continues to earn minimal revenue by storing and refurbishing rail cars for CSX at its Gassaway yard (also where its former offices were located). Since the 1999 closing of the Avoca mine speculation has swirled of the TERRI resuming operations (including rebuilding the old B&O route all of the way to Charleston) but nothing has yet actually happened to date. Also, three of BC&G's steam locomotives survive, including 2-8-0 #4 which was pAlsourchased new. Currently #4 is under a full restoration by the North Carolina Transportation Museum and to be returned to service sometime in the future. Sisters #13 and #14 also survive, the former on display in Gaithersburg, Maryland and the latter currently stored at West Lafayette, Ohio.
In 2005 the BC&G again
found a new life. That year the Buffalo Creek and Gauley Railroad
Co-Operative was formed to refurbish the old railroad and operate a excursion train over the line. Under the organization's guidance the track was cleared and a new campground and lodge has established on the site of the BC&G's old Dundon yard. Along with the campground and lodge
the co-op was also able to acquire two cabooses for use in
excursion service and a small GE 35-ton locomotive. The dream was almost entirely self-funded from just a few
volunteers although they were able to acquire a grant from the state of
West Virginia to help in establishing the tourist line. Since then it seems little more has happened as the project has stalled
For more on the BC&G and its parent the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company you might want to consider West Virginia Logging Railroads by author Bill Warden. The book cover's the ERC&L's logging railroad operations as well as those from many other competing companies across the state during the first half of the 20th century. A book I myself own, if you enjoy logging railroad history or West Virginia railroading history itself I think you will very much enjoy Mr. Warden's book. If you're interested in perhaps purchasing this book please visit the link below which will take you to ordering information through Amazon.com, the trusted online shopping network.
Check out the website's digital book (E-book), An Atlas To Classic Short Lines, which features system maps and a brief background of 46 different historic railroads.