|Although McKell owned coal lands with ready access to the railroad
near Thurmond, that he could have quickly
developed, McKell desired to establish new mining operations in the area located in the
region of the upper Loup Creek coalfield. With the seams of coal thicker in the plateau,
and more flat land available to build coal plants, housing for workers and other
structures, McKell wisely chose to begin development of his coal lands along the upper
area of Loup Creek rather than opening mines near the Gorge. McKell was fully aware of the
challenge his faced to accomplish his goal, for in order develop these lands, the building
of a branch line railroad extending from the C&O's bridge at Thurmond about 8-miles
into the Loup Creek plateau would be required.
1892, McKell wrote to Melvin E. Ingalls, President of the C&O, seeking his advice and
possible assistance with the building of a railroad needed to develop his coal lands.
Ingalls quickly replied to McKell, indicating the C&O's willingness to build and
operate the railroad McKell required, provided that McKell would give the company the
right-of-way required to build the line. As a result of an agreement reached between
McKell and Ingalls, the C&O began construction of the branch line later that year. By
late-1893, the rail line was completed from Thurmond to Glen Jean, and in January of 1894,
the coal-hauling branch line railroad, officially known as the Loup Creek Branch, was
completed to Macdonald. The shipment of coal via the branch
had begun a few months earlier, on November 7, 1893, when the first car of coal was
shipped from the Collins Colliery Company at Glen Jean.
The volume of passengers and coal being hauled off the
Loup Creek Branch during its first decades of existence was absolutely huge for the era.
During these very early years, even the most "modern" and powerful locomotives
were able to haul only a few railroad cars over the winding grades of the Loup Creek
Branch. By 1906, 200 car-loads of coal per day were rolling off the Loup Creek Branch, an
incredible amount of tonnage for the time. During this period, the C&O reported that
1/3 of all the coal being moved eastward on the railroad's mainline was coming off the
Loup Creek Branch. It wasn't long until this huge volume of traffic on the tiny branch
line began to present a very real operational challenge for the C&O. By the early
1900's, the C&O began expressing it's desire to double-track the branch, claiming it
could not possibly haul all of the passengers and coal, off the Loup Creek Branch, using
just a single track -- the volume was simply too great!
The C&O's expansion plan was greatly opposed by T. G. McKell, who saw the
situation quite differently than did the C&O. In McKell's mind, the C&O really
wanted to expand its line into other areas, rather than simply taking care of the customer
they already had (namely McKell's coal properties.) McKell also feared that such
expansions would in-turn allow other coal operators to begin shipping coal. Because the
C&O had informed McKell early in 1895 that they could no longer take all of the
coal McKell was able to ship from his coal leases, McKell felt that he was being unfairly
"squeezed" by the C&O. If the C&O began allowing other coal operations
to open via an expansion of its line, the C&O would then be in a position to force
McKell to sell his coal at a lower rate, since the C&O could simply threaten to take
the coal from the other coal operators if he didn't accept whatever rates the C&O
offered him. Although the C&O Railway was not "officially" in the business
of selling coal, it a common practice for the C&O and other railroads to actively
participate in negotiations for the sale of coal. Typically, the railroads exerted
pressure on the coal operators to sell their coal as the lowest rate possible.
Making matters worse from McKell's point of view was the
fact that in 1895, another railroad, the Glen Jean, Lower Loup & Deepwater Railroad
(GJLL&D) had started construction of a rail line between Glen Jean and Deepwater.
Oddly enough, this happened just shortly after the C&O had told McKell they could not
take all of his coal. With the threat of another railroad (that would haul other company's
coal) being built, McKell quickly had his lawyers draw up the papers to create his own
railroad, the Kanawha, Glen Jean & Eastern Railway (KGJ&E) so that he could built
a railroad through Glen Jean to Deepwater before the GJLL&D could complete its
railroad. If anyone was going to be hauling coal to market (and making money doing that),
McKell wanted to make sure it was him that was doing it.
It wasn't long until fist fights were threatening to erupt
in Glen Jean, between the two railroad construction crews, of the KGJ&E and the
GJLL&D, each crew insisting they had the right to work on grading the exact same piece
of land. The County Sheriff stopped the argument more than once, but the matter spilled
over into Fayette County Court, and was finally settled by the West Virginia Supreme
Court, with a ruling against McKell some years later, in 1899. The lose in court angered
McKell, but when the C&O bought out the GJLL&D, not long after the matter was
settled, McKell felt he really had reason to be angered. The C&O was now in the
position to built rail lines into many new areas of Fayette County. This expansion would
allow the opening of many new coal mines, none of which would be on McKell's coal lands.
As the C&O lines began to slowly creep into previously
undeveloped regions of the great coal fields of the plateau, many new coal mining
operations began to be opened during the early 1900's, primarily between Glen Jean and Oak
Hill. But McKell did not give up the fight, and over the years that followed, a lengthy
legal battle between McKell and the C&O began. It was not until 1915, some years after
T. G. McKell's death in 1904, that the case would be settled, with C&O losing the
argument and the McKell heirs being awarded $300,000 in damages. Even before winning the
lawsuit, the McKell clan had won another victory over the C&O, with the completion of
a branch line of the KGJ&E Railway to Pax, in 1910. At Pax, the McKell owned KGJ&E
Railway made a connection with the newly completed Virginian Railway, a railroad that was
quick to offer McKell a more favorable rate for shipping his coal than had the C&O.
The KGJ&E's connection with the Virginian effectively ended the C&O's monopoly of
the coal mines of the Loup Creek Coal Field.
But despite the competition from the KGJ&E and
Virginian, the C&O continued to haul massive quantities of coal from the mines along
the Loup Creek Branch during the 1920's and 1930's. In 1940, one year after the death of
William McKell, the C&O purchased the KGJ&E and absorbed the line as part of the
Loup Creek Branch. With the U.S. entry into World War II, in 1941, the Loup Creek Branch
was soon pressed to full capacity due to its ability to provide a steady stream of coal
needed to build tanks, guns, planes, ships and other war materials.
Following the end of the war, the importance
of coal as a fuel began to slowly decline. When the nation's railroads switched from
coal-burning steam locomotives to diesel locomotives in the late 1950's, a major market
for coal disappeared forever. By this point in time, the C&O owned practically all of
the mines along Loup Creek via its control of the New River Company. In the years that
followed, the good amount of coal continued to be moved off the branch, through the
1970's, but by the 1980's, the once huge flow of coal from the branch had dwindled to a
mere trickle. But this point in time, practically all of the coal that could be mined
cost-effectively had been removed from the mines along Loup Creek.