From the early 1900's, the Chesapeake and Ohio and the Clinchfield Railroad systems have always had an impact on the livelihood of many people from Elkhorn City. According to Morris "Mule" Wallace, C & O trains would deliver freight to Dunleary (end of the line) for pickup by Ott Ratliff’s ferry boat. From there, these items would come to the Praise Post Office.
At this time, according to Roy Owens, there were only a few log cabins and maybe a country store. Eventually, C & O built two bridges accross the Russell Fork River in 1912. The first was a trestle at the northeast end of town. The other for vehicle and foot traffic was behind the Haysi and Jackson Hardware and Wholesale buildings. A turnaround for a small steam engines was located near the trestle on the Elkhorn side of the river.
Clyde Mullins, a local lawyer and historian, said that around the 1920's or so there were two doctors who used those tracks to check patients in Draffin, Dunleary, and all the way to the Potter Flats. Using two bicycle-like contraptions on four heavy steel wheels, they would pedal back and forth checking with the station agent ahead of time.
Besides giving employment to local men like Roy Owens, his father and grandfather, generation to generation, the railroad also created developments of boarding houses to put up employees from out of town. Men like John Moore and Freddy Sykes built hotels with restaurants in the East End of Elkhorn. Another hotel on what is now called Patty Loveless Drive housed passengers riding the trains to other destinations. The Sykes Restaurant employed women cooks like Lilly Sykes, Ollie Hathcox and Winnie Potter. Bill "Tic" Powell’s father also had a place that served hamburgers and fish sandwiches. The fresh fish was delivered in refrigerated box cars on ice to preserve them.
Many men timbered around the turn of the 20th century sending timber to the saw mills to be sawed into lumber. The Carson By-Products Mill at the East End supplied the finished product for mining and railroads. H.A. "Taw" Owens who later worked for C.R.R. rode with other loggers on log rafts coming from the "Splash Dam" at Bart Lick, Virginia all the way to Catlettsburg, Kentucky. They built a fire on top of the sand piles for light and heat atop the shifting logs. To get back home, Roy said his grandfather and others caught a train for sixty miles then walked the rest of the way. Chances are that many have ancestors that shares in these type of logging experiences.
A lot of stories were passed on to me by early railroad men like Roy Owens and Morris "Mule" Wallace. Like the one of the little toddler that enjoyed having trains run over him as he lay between the tracks in the Potter Flats. Roy said in 1963 he got a call from an engineer, frantically notifying him, "We've run over a little boy!"
When Roy got there across the Pool Point Bridge to the engine, he crawled underneath. Just inches away from the bottom frame the boy lay unharmed. Roy pulled him out then made sure he got home. Just a few days later Roy received another frantic call from the same engineer saying they had run over the young boy again. When he pulled him out this time, miraculously still without a scratch, that was the last straw. Clinchfield's main office bought the family's house in the Potter Flats and moved the family to Centerville in Elkhorn City. Amazingly, the family didn't stay long at their new home and moved back to the Flats. I guess city living wasn't for everyone. I bet from that time on like the singer Tammy Wynette said in an interview once about her young ones, that they "kept 'em fastened to the bedpost to keep 'em from wanderin' off."
The railroad and Elkhorn City have an interwoven relationship. Like the proverbial question "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?" would the coal mines that employed local residents have thrived without trains to ship the product out or would the rail barons of the early century been able to run track through this remote countryside without the revenue from shipping the coal to eager buyers across the country. All I know is that the city of Elkhorn and the CSX railroad are still here because of their cooperation. A few local men like David Cantrell, engineer and conductor of Elkhorn City, still work for CSX. David decided when he was a little boy looking off his porch as the train rolled by across the river that someday he would drive that train. I Hope we continue to have that connection with future generations.