Appalachian Coal Mines And Railroads, By Thomas W. Dixon, Jr.

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

Written by Thomas W. Dixon, Jr., a noted author of railroad operations in the Appalachians, Appalachian Coal Mines And Railroads is another of these titles that describes how such services were performed during the late steam and early diesel eras (roughly between the 1930s and 1950s). In particular there are three railroads featured in the book; the Norfolk & Western, Chesapeake & Ohio, and to a lesser extent the Baltimore & Ohio, Louisville & Nashville, and Virginian. The book goes beyond looking at just rail operations, however, and also highlights several types of tipples used to dump coal as well as the once common "beehive" coke ovens found constructed into the hillsides. Aside from just an historical perspective, modelers could find this book useful in scratchbuilding tipples and related structures.

With plenty of classic photos included any fan of Appalachian coal operations is sure to enjoy Mr. Dixon's book on the subject. In any event, Appalachian Coal Mines And Railroads opens with a foreword where the author describes what can be found in the book and three primary railroads featured (in his words); the N&W, C&O, and Virginian. He concludes the segment by thanking the organizations/individuals involved in helping with the book; Ron Flanary, Charles Castner, the C&O Historical Society, Virginia Tech, B&O Railroad Museum, and the East Regional Coal Archives located in Bluefield, West Virginia. Next up is a long introduction which begins by describing how the demand for coal first came about and how it was moved prior to the coming of the railroads; usually by manual labor, horses/mules, or early gravity systems.

From this point the author describes the railroads that reached into western Virginia, West Virginia, and eastern Kentucky to tap the lucrative coal seams located in the Appalachian Mountains. For the C&O, N&W, and Virginian they would send their tonnage either westward to power plants or eastward to the docks of Newport News/Norfolk, Virginia for export and shipment while the B&O sent its coal to several different locations; the Midwest, Great Lake ports, and the docks at Baltimore. The rest of the introduction gives readers an idea of how a mine tipple functions, coal hoppers and gondolas are loaded, shipping the product to market (in this case the docks in Virginia and Maryland), typical equipment used to haul the coal (the aforementioned hoppers and gondolas), and the intangible aurora of coal industry as a whole.

In the opening chapter of Appalachian Coal Mines And Railroads (altogether there are only three chapters for the entire book), Mr. Dixon looks at operations at the mines. In the very early days of the industry manual labor was quite common although as machines became more readily available they allowed the operation to move at a much faster pace. Since the book is primarily setup in a photo/caption presentation, you will see everything from early mining equipment to how coal was sorted and prepared for shipment. Remember, of course, that this was during the mid-20th century when mines employed much more manual labor than they do today and there wasn't quite as much mechanization in place. From a railfan's perspective perhaps most interesting here is to see how hoppers in the era were loaded and the many grades (sizes) of coal available.

The chapter also provides information on some of the types of tipples commonly used in the region. Modelers will likely find this section of the book very interesting as the author has included about six different diagrams on these structures (perfect for scratchbuilding your own) along with a track plan of one of the tipples. It should be noted that all of these plans are based from an actual tipple once found in regular use at the Kaymoor Coal Mine near Fayetteville, West Virginia operating from 1900 to 1962. Another diagram set features the Majestic Colliery Company tipple near Majestic, Kentucky, served by the N&W. The final pages of chapter one feature coke ovens and company mining towns.

Into chapter two, Appalachian Coal Mines And Railroads looks at the actual transportation of coal by rail during the period. Most often featured here is the N&W's massive and legendary Y Class 2-8-8-2s although you will also see B&O and C&O steam as well as the Virginian's famous electrics. Other areas of this chapter looks at classification yards, preparing the loads for shipment, and a more detailed look at the common hoppers of the era. Around the time of World War II many lines used anywhere from 50 to 70-ton hoppers although the Virginian was famed for its 100-tonners, allowing the line to move more coal per train.

In the final chapter of the book, which is also the shortest, Mr. Dixon's covers where you could often see the coal transported typically during that era. As I mentioned above most of the coal hauled by the N&W, Virginian, and C&O shipped off for export in southern Virginia while some went to other areas usually as fuel for power plants and residential homes. Interestingly, residential use remained big business for coal until after World War II when it feel out of favor for other, cleaner types of fuel such as natural gas and electricity. Whether you enjoy Appalachian rail operations or are just looking to construct your own model tipple for a layout you should certainly like Appalachian Coal Mines And Railroads