N&W in 1911 - More about the tunnel wall

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Mon Jul 11 12:29:07 EDT 2011

Bluefield Daily Telegraph
December 1, 1911

Engineers Report That Miners Are Five Hundred Feet From Walls
Plans for Elimination of Big Hole Through the Mountain at Coaldale Many Times Discussed But No Other Way to Get Across Found
Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company engineers, mining engineers and Norfolk and Western engineers have completed an investigation of the report of the section foreman at Coaldale that he heard rappings on the inside of the tunnel, which sounded to him as though pick miners were working close to the inner coal wall of the tunnel, which is covered with brick. The engineers report that the workmen are about 500 feet away from the wall of the tunnel and that there is no danger of the tunnel wall being broken through. One of the engineers said that the companies have been keeping a close watch on the coal walls for several years to prevent them from being cut through because of the danger which might accompany such a misfortune. They do not deny that the report was made to them, but they seem to be of the opinion that some other sound was mistaken for the reported rappings by the coal miners picks on the coal.
The report which appeared in the Daily Telegraph followed the apparent discovery that workmen were too near the walls of the tunnel and the report quickly spread because of the many imaginary dangers which accompany such an occurrence. The Coaldale tunnel is built through almost a solid vein of coal and the coal recovered while the tunnel was being constructed paid for the tunnel and yielded a profit. A suit against the contracting company to recover the value of the coal taken out of the tunnel was decided against the railroad company, it being held that the contractor was entitled to everything that was found in the tunnel unless a contract to the contrary was made. For many years the tunnel was without a fan and many engineers and trainmen were overcome, and some killed, by the gasses and smoke which gathered in the 3,700 foot hole through the Coaldale mountain. A number of years ago a fan was installed which drives the smoke and gasses ahead of all east bound trains, while it is not necessary to fear while riding on westbound trains as the tunnel is kept clear of smoke easily.
The tunnel, located as it is almost on the summit of the mountain, has the steepest grade leading to it found on the Norfolk and Western in the Pocahontas region. In order to reach the tunnel with trains the engineers who built the line had to start several miles from the mouth of the tunnel to secure a proper approach from the west, while from the east it was necessary to construct a viaduct which runs over the village of Coopers fully eighty feet above the town. It was during the construction of this bridge that the ability of M. J. Caples, now vice president of the Chesapeake and Ohio, was brought to the attention of railroad men.
Many times plans for the elimination of the Coaldale tunnel have been discussed, the most plausible plan being to start a new tunnel back on the property of the Crozer Land Company which could be extended through the mountain for several miles. It is now believed that all three plans will be supplanted by the use of electricity in the comparatively near future. Electric engines will undoubtedly haul trains through the tunnel and over the hill, doing away with the present expensive plan of operating.
[In less than four years the electrification would be a reality, but it would be some 39 years before the old single-track tunnel and the electrification would be replaced by the present double-track Elkhorn tunnel.]

Gordon Hamilton
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