The Rathole Division

For a while now I’ve been trying to determine exactly when the old railroad bed between Wilmore and High Bridge was abandoned. As I noted on the doubling the tracks page of my High Bridge history, I thought it was in 1929. I found a new source that seems to confirm that date.

The article 90 Years to “Daylight” in the August 1963 issue of Ties: the Southern Railway System Magazine is a fascinating look at the history of the section of the Cincinnati, New Orleans & Texas Pacific (CNO&TP) Railway that gained the nickname the “rathole division”:

“That nickname once aptly characterized the middle section of the CNO&TP, where 27 tunnels helped the line traverse 160 miles of rugged mountain country between Wilmore, Ky., and Emory Gap, Tenn., and kept an assortment of civil engineers busy almost from the day the line opened for traffic.

Tunnels were numbered 1 through 27 (running from north to south). They ranged in length from 3,992 feet (tunnel No.2–Kings Mountain) to 189 feet (tunnel No.6). Trains traveled underground for five miles through these 27 tunnels.

Tunnel openings were designed to be approximately 15* feet wide and 20 feet high at the top of the arch. Some of the arches appeared almost round, some resembled flat topped triangles, others were more jagged in appearance. The blasting techniques of the 1870’s left something to be desired.

Trains thundered through the tunnels for almost a decade before the next abandonment about 1930. This was tunnel No.1 and it too was bypassed as a result of installing double track, this time near Wilmore, Ky.…”

There’s also a beautiful cover picture of High Bridge on the April 1948 issue and a two page spread of High Bridge in 1905 in the January-February 1981 issue.