High Iron In The Hills

1955 Tracks Magazine  CoverCopyright, 1955, by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. Magazines and newspapers may reprint any of the material in this publication providing proper credit is given to ‘Tracks − C&O Rwy. Magazine.’

It’s steam, steel and coal at Peach Creek. Late in a chill February afternoon, the sun, growing old, bounces a coppery reflection off the track pattern in this West Virginia coal terminal. A Steamer, flaunting a wispy banner of vapor, girds herself for the tasks of hauling her long drag to the main line. She can do it and she knows it. More about the goings on in these parts in “High Iron In The Hills.”


High Iron In The Hills

There’s magic in the mountains of West Virginia, where iron men and iron horses tap the treasure vaults of King Coal.

Down in the valleys around Logan, W. VA., you can still hear that train blow. Any number of them blow, morning, noon and night and their music is not at the dirge the old balladeers made it out to be. Along the winding “runs,” the age-old creeks which carved out this jumbled mass of hills, powerful stream locomotives hug the walls of the timbered gorges as they snake their long trains from mines to assembly yard. Their piercing whistles and the full-throated bellow of their exhausts chant a lust work-song of “coal, coal, coal.”

Here where its Source of power lies locked in the treasure vaults of the mountains, the streamer is still monarch of all he surveys. When a diesel wanders into Peach Creek yard, it stands self-consciously, a stranger in an alien world. The eight-wheeled switchers, the barrel-bellied Mallets bustle officiously past the intruder, sassing it now and then with a derisive whistle hoot or a belligerent jet-last o steam this is their stronghold.

There is magic in these mountains, the enchantment of the high iron and the high wheeler, the saga of the black giant called Coal, who slumbered beneath the earth eons before men and machines awakened him to serve a nation. There is a story in the land and its people, for this region is a paradox. Only a few miles may separate the world of sleek motor cars, TV and rakish ranch houses from that of the buckboard, the dulcimer and the log cabin. Pioneer families who braved Indians and wilderness to settle here are remembered in their descendants, many of whom live on the original homesteads. But the modern era has brought new things, new names, new ways to this land and slowly the old order is changing.

Last month, to capture some of that magic, TRACKS went into the valleys of Logan County and came of them with the pictures and story which appear on these and the following pages.

March 1955, Tracks Magazine Photos

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7 Responses to High Iron In The Hills

  1. Carlene says:

    I loved the pictures of the #5 mine at Omar. My grandfather, Estil DeHart, put in the aerial tram there and sent for his brothers from Sandy Hook, KY to help him with putting in the ventilation shaft there in Pine Creek, as well as the aerial tram at the #15 mine at Stirrat. My uncle, Glaston DeHart, remembered my grandfather meeting at a cabin there on a mountain in Pine Creek along with other men who were also union supporters and organizers. He often carried messages to the men and he remembers a secret knock on the door he always had to use before he was allowed in. He also recalled a black man the men all referred to as “Whitey” who was always at the meetings, and he was always armed. My grandfather often said Whitey was a very intelligent man and should have been elected as the first president of the local union there in Omar, but because he was black, and blacks weren’t allowed to hold office back then, my grandfather was elected as the first president. Charley Rice acted as president until the first election was held when my grandfather was elected.

  2. Ann Deditch Crabtree says:

    Thank you so much for this story Lynn. I had two uncles Allen & Arnold Browning who worked on the Peach Creek Railroad for years. I also knew Anna Harmon, my mother worked for her. A lot of memories there. My Uncle Arnold has passed away, but Uncle Allen is still living.

  3. Frances Pierce Nelson Hampson says:

    Great memories….my dad F.M. “Nig” Pierce was a machinist at the Peach Creek roundhouse for forty one years. As a young girl, I sometimes took his lunch to him, going into the roundhouse (couldn’t do that today). We also took many vacations via railroad….an experience I will always remember.

    • Brent George says:

      He coached me on a 15 year old Babe Ruth baseball all star team that won the WV state tournament. Great coach and man. Sacrificed his time for a group of boys wanting to play baseball back in the 60’s.

      • Frances Pierce Nelson Hampson says:

        He was devoted to the Little League Program,,,helped start it….I always thought the Little League field should have be named (at least partly) for him. When they came to Huntington to ask him if he minded that they named the field after Paul Hale….what was he going to say….had to bother him!!!…..did me!

  4. Diane says:

    Thank you for the story and photos. My Grandfather Alvah Lloyd Vinson was a conductor for the C&O. Moved from Peach Creek in the late 30’s to West Russell. Their house facing the Russell Yards. He could sit on his back porch and watch his caboose go through the yards and know how many times out he was. He would put an ornament on his caboose. His brother in-law was also a railroad man. James H. Testament. He worked out of Columbus, Ohio for the Cumberland- Maryland. On his vacations he would come to Russell and sit on the back porch and smoke his pipe and watch the busseling yards. We still own the home and the yards are not so busseling anymore. My brother Donald Vinson Jr. was an Engineer. He has my grandfathers mark-up block. My How things has changed………….Thanks for the memories!