A Morning in the Sequatchie Valley

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!

What could be better than a beautiful sunrise to start the day?
I have always been partial to old red barns.
One thing I enjoy is taking black and white photos that appear vintage.
I’m not certain of the history at this location, but the scenery did make a great photo opportunity.
A view of the crystal clear Sequatchie River near its head at the north end of the valley.
I thought this moss-covered tree next to the river made for an interesting shot.

Scatter Tags, Anyone?

Until just a few months ago, I had no idea coal scatter tags even existed! Most of us have at least heard of coal scrip before, which are tokens of varying denominations that could only be used to pay for items at the company store. However, scatter tags are completely different. Most are made of aluminum or cardboard and are about the size of a quarter. They were mixed in with the coal as it was loaded on rail cars at the mine. Many coal mining companies used scatter tags with their branding on them as a form of advertisement from the 1920’s through the 1950’s. This allowed customers to recognize their preferred coal source since it all looked the same.

My collection of coal scatter tags in their display case.

How I first learned about coal scatter tags is an interesting story from one of our many trips to the Harlan, KY area. As I was metal detecting along an abandoned L&N mine spur, a curious local stopped and asked what I was looking for. I told him about my fascination with the area’s history and collecting railroad artifacts. He seemed very intrigued by this and told me about finding scatter tags along the railroad as a child. I probably had a puzzled expression on my face when I asked, “scatter tags, what are those!?” I was a bit shocked that something, apparently common in the early coal mining scene, could have evaded my ears for so long. Needless to say, most of my spare time in the coming days was spent researching what they were and how to find them. I think learning about scatter tags may have started something, because now I can’t seem to get enough!

Scatter tags found in Kentucky. Note the difference in quality.

If you are serious about collecting coal scatter tags and want to obtain a displayable collection, then you are probably better off purchasing them. Luckily, they are fairly inexpensive. If you prefer to be adventurous and find them, then that is also an option. Keep in mind that the scatter tags you find will likely not be the same quality as those you buy due to their prolonged exposure to the elements. But, should you choose to look for them, make sure to consider location and equipment. Always be mindful of not trespassing on private property or putting yourself in danger when deciding where to search. Remember that just because a railroad track appears abandoned does not always guarantee that it is. Do your research first with a reputable source. For equipment, you are going to need, at minimum, a functioning metal detector and something durable to dig with. A handheld pinpointer is also a good investment as it will guide you to an object’s precise location. We use an ACE 350 and AT Pro as primary metal detectors and also a Garrett pinpointer some refer to as a “carrot.”.

Below is a gallery of individual scatter tags from my collection. In the caption, you will find each respective mine’s location.