Railfanning the N&W "Pokey"

[Ray Russell, Sr asks:]

On Labor Day weekend my wife and I are going to drive down from New Jersey headed for Williamson. I would like to photograph as much of the line from Williamson to Bluefield as possible. Could use any of the following info:

1) Driving directions, not so much for how to get there, but for getting to the god spots
2) food, hotels or bed and breakfasts
3) How are the authorities in the area? Never been to jail never want to be!
4) Good hobby shops, collectibles or railroadiana.

[Ed King, spotting an easy Typo Target, zooms in for the easy hit:]
There are churches in all the towns, and many along the roads you'll be traveling.

[In a more serious reply, Gary Rolih writes:]
Since the time to your vacation is short, an easily found reference is the DeLorme West Virginia Road Atlas which identifies the most useful roads which will lead to access to trackside. Most larger bookstores, like Borders, will have these large-format paper bound books.

[Bob Moore adds:]
A toll free phone call to 1-800-CALL-WVA will get you the official state highway map, as well as a lot of other information you might need.

A few miles north of Bluefield on US Route 52 is the coal mining town of Bramwell, at one time the richest little town in America, due to all the coal barons who chose to move there. Several of the large Victorian-style houses have been restored. US 52 mostly, plays tag with the NW main in this stretch. The old NW station is still at War, W.Va. At Welch, turn north on WV 16, go about 1 mile, then turn left on County Road 7 which follows the line through Davy to Roderfield where you pick up US 52 again. The last time I was on this road it was still a narrow, twisting, winding mountain road. Iaeger is especially interesting, with the Dry Fork Branch(?) that ties
into the NW main here. US 52 leaves the main here turning north to Gilbert.

You may take County Route 1 west of Iaeger to Panther & Wyoming, turn north on County 1/1 for about 2 miles then left on County Route 13, which will take you back to US 52 (about 2 miles west of Gilbert). Further west of Gilbert on US 52 is Taylorville. Turn left (south) on WV 65, which will take you back to the main line along Tug Fork at Matewan. There WV 49 intersects. Turn left (south) to go to Edgarton. A right turn takes you along the main line to Williamson. Matewan is developing a downtown historical district based on its colorful chapter in Labor History as the scene of the 1920 Matewan Massacre.

Since it is the season, you may encounter some periodic road construction along 52 which may cause some delay. For information on highway closings & delays, call (304) 558-3758.

Driving note: Radar detectors are against the law in Virginia, in W.Va. they are OK. Unless otherwise posted, general highway speed limit in W.Va. is 55 (excluding Interstate Highways); 35 to 40 in suburban areas; most town business districts it's 25 mph; 15 in school zones. There are few towns along Route 52 where the local law is just waitin' for you to go a little too fast. Fines are doubled for exceeding posted speed limits in road work zones.

[Gary Mullins notes:]
There is a very good article on railfanning the Pokey in the August '99 issue of CTC Board. Lots of good pics, and details about routes and branch lines.

[Alex Schust writes:]
I generally agree with Bob Moore regarding the part of the line from Iaeger to Williamson, but would take a different approach from Bluefield.

I am assuming you will travel by I-81 to US 460 or I-77 to Princeton. Take US19 South through Bluefield wich will take you right by the Bluefield yards. Stay on US19 until you reach State 102. Take 102 towards Falls Mills and Bramwell. I would suggest you take a short jaunt to Pocohontas where the N&W shipped its first coal from. The track is now abandoned, but there are both a caboose on exhibition as well as the Pocohontas exhibition mine.

Before you get to Bramwell you go through Coopers which also has an exhibition caboose as well as good picture locations. Bramwell has an exhibition of old passenger cars (not necessarily N&W) as well as MOW equipment. Both Pocohantas and Bramwill offer lunch places.

At Bramwell, join US52 north and continue to Welch. You will go through Maybeury where there used to be a high trestle before the Elkhorn tunnel. The old right of way and trestle foundation can still be seen. This is where the steam loco ran off the trestle in the late 30s. At Maybeury you will go beneath the bridge leading upgrade to the Elkhorn tunnel. From this point US52 will follow the N&W all the way to Iaeger.

You will go through a lot of dying coal camp towns such as Northfork, Keystone, and Kimball. At Kimball there is a good picture spot right as you approach the town from the east (heading in the direction towards Welch)as the tracks emerge from a tunnel at town's edge.

Between Keystone and Kimball is Eckman which used to be the helper yard before electification. Nothing remains now. Someone told me there is now a B&B in Eckman in one of coal company's old club house.

At Welch, do not take the bypass but instead go through down town. Welch is another dying coal town. Look for state route 16 which will be a right turn and head toward Pineville. When State 16 makes a 90 degree right turn at the Welch Emergency hospital, go straight instead on County Route 7 towards Hemphill and Davy. This is a narrow twisting road but is used by school buses and daily commuters.

At Hemphill is Farm where there are ocassioanlly helpers sitting. The old concrete coaling station still stands at Farm also. Good picture location and lots of tunnels. Continue to Davy. When you pass through Davy turn left across the river. You will come out at Roderfield and back on US 52. Turn right and head for Iaeger.

Don't expect much in accomodations between Bluefield and Williamson. There are a variety of fast food restaurants along the way.

[Posted 31-Aug-99]

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