The Kentucky & Tennessee Railway at one time stretched for over 20 miles into the Big South Fork River valley and operated 12 steam locomotives. It served as the primary passage not only for timber and coal coming out of the valley, but also for the workers and supplies going into the coal and lumber camps with names like Barthell, Comargo, Blue Heron, Worley, Yamacraw, Oz, and others.
Beginning in the 1950,s the coal mines one by one played out and closed and the coal camps were abandoned. By 1976, the Stearns Coal & Lumber Co. had sold most of its holdings to the Blue Diamond Coal Co. and in 1987 the last railcar of coal left the Blue Diamond mines. A grand era had come to an end.
As the train leaves Stearns, it travels down into the Big South Fork River Valley away from civilization, along roaring mountain streams, through a tunnel and along steep cliff sides. Initially skirting National Forest Service lands, it finally enters the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area just below Barthell, the oldest coal camp on the railroad which traces its beginnings to 1902. While rolling through this remote wilderness, it's easy to believe that you're transported a century back in time, viewing the same rugged timberlands that greeted the loggers when they arrived at the turn of the 20th century. Take the journey . . .
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