I know this isn’t a typical post about railroad history, but I really want to share some of my recent photos with you from an early morning adventure to Pikeville, TN in the Sequatchie Valley. (This area does have some rather interesting railroad history and I’m sure there will be a future post about that). To me, there is nothing better than starting the day very early and watching the sun cast its first golden rays out from behind a mountain still lightly blanketed with fog or across an open field covered in dew. Experiencing the sunrise is something I look forward to every morning, weather permitting, either during my long drive to work or on a relaxing ride through the country on my day off. I have a fear of wasting my life and missing out on interesting things, so I am normally awake early and eager to see what the day has in store. I hope you enjoy these photos and if you’re one of those people who find it difficult to get out of bed early, then I hope you are inspired to get out and enjoy a nice sunrise sometime soon! It will give you a renewed outlook!
Join me on a short trip to find Nemo… We’ve all seen or heard of the Disney movie “Finding Nemo” before, right? Well, all joking aside, there is a unique destination in Tennessee called Nemo and it is very much worth the time to see. It is located in Morgan County just a short drive from the town of Wartburg. I have frequented this place for several years and it is easily one of my favorite places to watch trains (known as railfanning). Some people visit for the swimming and water activities in the Emory River, while others enjoy taking their Jeeps through the abandoned railroad tunnels and along the areas numerous primitive roads. If you’re like me, however, then it’s all about the history and trains!
Nemo is along the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) mainline, which extends from Cincinnati, OH to Chattanooga, TN. It is also part of what was nicknamed the Rathole Division of the former Southern Railway. If you know anything about this area, then you can understand how it earned that name. There are plenty of ratholes, or tunnels, to be found. More used to exist, but many were daylighted or bypassed to allow for larger trains and improved efficiency. Today, Norfolk Southern operates this very active line and it’s not uncommon to see several trains pass by within an hour timespan. I personally enjoy setting up my camera and a fold-up chair near the newer Tunnel 24 and just watch trains all day. This is especially true during fall when the weather is cooler and there’s some nice color in the gorge. It’s the best!
Regardless of the reason for visiting, there’s something for everyone at Nemo. Take a look through my photos and then plan your trip.
If learning about Tennessee coal mining history while surrounded by nature sounds appealing to you, then consider adding Laurel Snow State Natural Area to your bucket list. It is only a short drive from downtown Dayton, (which is known for the Scopes Trial), to the parking area and trailhead. The history buff will be taken back by the old mine openings, railroad remnants, and reservoir. The nature lover will also feel at home since Laurel Snow is home to many pristine creeks and streams, unusual plants, breathtaking overlooks, and towering waterfalls.
The mining history of this area dates back to 1877 when Sir Titus Salt, of England, acquired 40,000 acres of land in Georgia and Tennessee. Included in this purchase was 800 acres that became Dayton Coal and Iron Company and, eventually, the Laurel Snow State Natural Area of today. In 1887, Titus Salt Jr. took over the project in Tennessee until his death at age 44 of the same year. For the next 38 years, which brought an end to the mining operations, it was under the control of British and Scottish successors. During peak production, up to 1,200 men earned their living here. Over the course of their existence, the Company built and operated 7 coal mines, 375 coke ovens, 2 blast furnaces, 17 miles of rail, and around 200 employee houses in the area.
The last time I visited Laurel Snow I was lucky enough to have a conversation with a local historian. He was eager to share his wealth of knowledge about the area with me and I was fascinated by the interesting stories he had. My favorite was probably the one about the mules. In the very original days, mules were used to pull carloads of coal out of the mines and transport them to the furnaces and ovens. Apparently, some of these mules stayed in the mines continuously and, due to the darkness, went blind. They were still able to continue their duties, despite not being able to see, because they had performed the same job for so long and could remember exactly where to go. When I heard this story it absolutely blew my mind!
Below I will give you a “picture tour” showing some of the significant places and things you will see while visiting Laurel Snow. Enjoy!