Coal load blocking

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Thu Dec 7 18:44:54 EST 2017

Mr. Powers,

Thanks, yes. The North Fork Branch was an unusual combination of being 
short, steep and good for a million tons a year. So the mine run was 
unusual in that one crew made three different trips to split up a day's 
tonnage. The biggest producer was United Pocahontas at the end and 
(very) steepest part of the branch. Every load that was not on train air 
had to be tied down, so moves were kept to a minimum. What helped was a 
tipple track arrangement that allowed blocking into the two outlet 
tracks. Ashland was the next tipple down the hill and had a similar 
arrangement. To your point, any further blocking (not always) could wait 
until Jones Siding about two miles from the junction, where conditions 
were more favorable.

I believe (help me here) C&O mine runs pulled loads "as is" and they or 
a yard job blocked them back at the terminal yard? The N&W had more 
storage tracks and smaller yards more widely scattered that were 
serviced by main line jobs to pick up blocks of loads (and set off 
empties) and no yard jobs to block those loads. This helped minimize the 
distance mine runs hauled empties to tipples and loads from tipples. 
They took time to block them at the tipple instead of at storage points 
where they just set off blocks and ran for home, if not already there.

Grant Carpenter

On 12/5/2017 12:17 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:
> Any conductor worth his salt would try to make his pick-ups to keep 
> his blocks intact. Grades and tonnage may have make that impossible as 
> he made his last pick-ups, but he would be in a position to minimize 
> switching once terrain and tonnage was more favorable.
>     WJPowers
> On 12/5/2017 10:20 AM, NW Mailing List wrote:
>> On 12/1/2017 10:26 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:
>>> Jim,
>>> Certainly no need to apologize, you are welcome, and I hope all is 
>>> well. I split up your questions by topic.
>>> On 11/26/2017 10:44 AM, NW Mailing List wrote:
>>>> Grant,
>>>> 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 insights.  Jim
>>>>> 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 movements.***
>>>>> 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 
>>>>> Bluefield.
>>>>> ***Relating to my speculation above, how did the run sort or 
>>>>> maintain the sorting of the East-bound and West-bound blocks?***
>> Loads were blocked based on which direction and how far they were 
>> going when they got to the main line--basically, east, west and short 
>> loads. Short loads could be raw coal bound for a cleaning plant, coal 
>> to be set off on a storage track until sold, or house coal to be 
>> individually billed and handled as general freight at Bluefield or 
>> Portsmouth. Blocking could begin as cars rolled from under the 
>> tipple, depending on loading order and the track arrangement from the 
>> tipple tracks to the outlet tracks. Due to main line congestion and 
>> lack of track and time, most of the blocking was completed at the 
>> tipple by the mine run and maintained in the train, with the longest 
>> block at the rear. Blocks were set off separately at the appropriate 
>> storage points for pick up by eastbound Elkhorn and westbound Tug 
>> River crews.
>> Regarding the North Fork Mine Run, Algoma load blocks were set off in 
>> Byrd Yard to allow easier access to the remaining empties on Elk 
>> Ridge and North Fork Storage Tracks. Separate blocks of loads from 
>> the two remaining trips up the branch were left on each storage 
>> track, the main track or taken back to Eckman Yard.Where V1 left 
>> (blocks of) loads depended on how much time they had and the 
>> available space. Worst case was to leave all loads on the branch main 
>> and storage tracks.
>> Grant Carpenter

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