The C&C's system primarily contributed coal and lumber traffic. However, the most important connection was at Dundon with the Buffalo Creek & Gauley Railroad, a short line chartered in 1904 as a division of the Elk River Coal & Lumber Company. The line was envisioned to stretch some 104 miles from Dundon to Huttonsville. However, ultimately only 18.6 miles were completed as far east as Widen. There, the BC&G served a coal mine and also handled lumber via a mill established at Swandale, located about 12 miles from Dundon. Aside from coal and lumber the BC&G also served an unlikely business deep within the hollers of West Virginia, the Cressmont Dairy. Finally, at Avoca, just a few miles east of Dundon, the BC&G interchanged with another Elk River Coal & Lumber operation, a small logging line that extended southeastward along the Lilly Fork, utilizing Climax and Shay steam locomotives.
These geared machines would travel via trackage rights over the BC&G to and from Swandale, delivering logs there to the mill. This operation became somewhat known among rail historians and fans for its habit of fording the Lilly Fork instead of building expensive bridges. Since steamers have no traction motors that will short-out, as is the case with diesels, the rails were simply laid through the stream. William Warden notes in his book, "West Virginia Logging Railroads," that if the water became too deep a small flatcar was often pushed in front of the locomotive. The ERC&L wasn't the only timber company to carry out this technique. However, fording was a unique and fascinating scene that is unlikely to ever be repeated in modern day rail operations.
With its sizable coal and timber traffic the Coal & Coke caught the eye of the B&O, which leased the railroad in 1917 and became its Coal & Coke Branch (it purchased the C&C outright on January 5, 1934). The new route, despite being somewhat circuitous with stiff grades, provided the B&O with a direct link to Charleston, running 188.5 miles via Grafton. It implemented a number of upgrades to the property while abandoning other short segments, including the section between Adrian and Midvale in 1941 that severed through service to Elkins but eliminated many of the line's bridges and tunnels in the process (the B&O retained trackage rights on the Western Maryland to continue serving Elkins via Belington).
Over the years traffic slowly disappeared as mines closed and timber tracts were exhausted. The B&O lost an important source of traffic via the BC&G after December 30, 1963 when the Rich Mine shut down. The BC&G took another hit in 1965 when the mill at Swandale switched to trucks, which continued delivering to the B&O at Dundon. The mid-1960s essentially ended the busy years of the short line's operations, which were then under control of the Clinchfield Coal Company. Rail service continued intermittently until early 1985 when things finally ceased permanently. By then, the Coal & Coke Branch was also seeing little use except for the remaining interchange at Dundon. After this ended the rails fell silent. The section from Hartland to Charleston was subsequently sold to Conrail, which used it to serve mines near the capital.
The remaining segment would have almost certainly been abandoned if not for the efforts of Bill Bright. He was a successful businessman who had founded the Bright of America greeting-card company. In 1990 he sold the operation to focus on other endeavors which included railroads, coal, timber, real estate, and ski resorts. While his Elk River Railroad purchased nearly 62 miles of the old B&O line the actual business lay along the former BC&G at Avoca where coal from Pittston Coal's mine at nearby Vandalia was loaded. Bright had the old BC&G property held under a different name as the Buffalo Creek Railroad. However, this was essentially a paper title only as everything was under common ownership and ran as the Elk River Railroad. In the March, 1998 issue of Trains Magazine noted West Virginia writer and journalist Bob Withers presented a wonderful piece on the short line entitled, "The Railroad That Refuses To Die."
It was an uplifting and exciting article that detailed the revived operation with a strong, solid future ahead. Mr. Bright had grand visions for the Elk River, so much so that a great deal of money was spent rehabilitating 56 miles of the ex-B&O and 3 miles of the old BC&G. This work upgraded the property to FRA Class II standards with light engines able to reach 14 mph and loaded trains 10 mph. The motive power included two hand-me-down GP10's, #1-2, GP8 #3, and GP9's #4-5. After a few bumps in the road service commenced on May 9, 1996 where trains worked their way from the Gilmer interchange to the load-out at Avoca. Once the 90+ cars were full the coal was transferred to CSX and moved to American Electric Power's Mitchell Plant at Cresap, West Virginia.
Interestingly, Elk River management even considered rebuilding 6.6 miles of the old logging grade running along the Lilly Fork to serve the Vandalia mine directly. However, the idea was ultimately scrapped given the expense and discovery of coal closer to Avoca. Other hopes, though, were realized including the purchase of an additional 29.8 miles of the old B&O from Hartland to Falling Rock. While out-of-service at the time the trackage would have provided the Elk River Railroad a southern outlet to Conrail, thereby reaching Charleston. It was ultimately never restored. With operations at Avoca humming along and the likelihood of Consolidation Coal opening a mine near Duck, which would ship on the ELKR at Villa Nova, it seemed the short line would blossom into a successful, profitable operation. There was also talk of other businesses shipping by rail and the addition of public excursions.
Diesel Locomotive Roster
|EMD||GP10||1||1957||Ex-IC GP9 #9337, rebuilt as GP10 #8337|
|EMD||GP10||2||1954||Ex-IC GP9 #9060, rebuilt as GP10 #8060|
|EMD||GP8||3||1952||Ex-Wabash GP7 #475, rebuilt by Precision National as GP8 #1750 for Illinois Terminal|
|EMD||GP9||4||1959||Ex-N&W GP9 #872|
|EMD||GP9||5||1959||Ex-N&W GP9 #885|
Alas, barely a year after Mr. Withers' article came out mining operations at Avoca ceased in 1999, which all but shutdown the railroad. There remains plenty of coal in Clay County but when and/or if it is extracted and shipped by rail remains to be seen. It is certainly a possibility and/or if other sources of freight were ever found trains would likely roll once more as the entire line is still under ownership by the Elk River Railroad. Today, its only source of traffic is the storage and repair of rail cars at the small yard in Gassaway, which also stores the company's remaining locomotives although it is said that only a few units are actually operational. For now, things remain relatively quiet but perhaps one day the sound of diesels humming along the banks of the Elk River will once again be heard. For more reading about the old Coal & Coke line please click here.
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Elk River Railroad