Kanawha, Glen Jean & Eastern Railway
The KGJ&E was originally chartered on November 1, 1895, with Thomas G. McKell (1845-1904) named as its President. The company originally planned to build a rail line between Glen Jean to a point on the Kanawha River at Deepwater, following a route along the banks of White Oak and Lower Loup creeks. In 1895, following a legal dispute with the Glen Jean, Lower Loup & Deepwater Railroad (GJLL&D) involving a controversy over right-of-way, the company's plans to build along the proposed route were abandoned. Instead, the KGJ&E was actually began building its rail lines "a piece at a time", all of them being built in a very different direction that originally planned.
Because of the change in the road's route, the name of the company never seemed to be very appropriate for the railroad. Rather than heading "east" from Glen Jean, as the company name suggested, the rail line was actually built in a southwest direction from Glen Jean. In addition, the word "Kanawha" remained a part of the company's name throughout its many years of operation, even though the KGJ&E never ran anywhere near its once-proposed terminus on the Kanawha River.
T. G. McKell built the first segment of the KGJ&E in the year 1900, which consisted of a siding built from a connection with C&O Railway at Macdonald to a new mine opened by McKell Coal & Coke Company at Derry Hale. In 1903, the mainline of the KGJ&E, running from Glen Jean along the banks of Loup Creek to a McKell mine in Kilsyth was completed. At Glen Jean, the KGJ&E made a connection with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway (C&O) and the GJ,LL&D Railroad. Upon the death of T. G. McKell, in 1904, the building of the line was undertaken by his son, William McKell. In 1907, the line was extended along Dun Loup Creek to serve the McKell mine located at Tamroy. A branch line of the KGJ&E was opened in 1910 that ran along Sugar Creek between Mount Hope and Pax where the short-line made a connection with the Virginian Railway (VGN). During the 1920’s, the KGJ&E constructed a short branch line along Mill Creek into the area locally known as the Garden Grounds.
But even though the KGJ&E trains didn't offer the cleanest mode of transportation, the citizens of the era were very content to have them available and they made great use of them. While the number of riders remained high, the railroad management was always on the lookout for more economical operation of their passenger service. During the 1920's, the KGJ&E replaced its passenger trains with two gasoline powered motorcars to haul passengers and baggage. In addition to the two powered units, the railroad also bought an non-powered "trailer," which could be coupled to a motorized unit to provide additional space for passengers and baggage. These small motorcar (see photo, below) resembled the trolley cars then in common use in the larger cities, but they technically were not trolley cars, as they were not powered by an overhead "trolley" wire. Despite this fact, the local folks most often referred to the KG's motorcar as "the trolley".
The KGJ&E motorcars proved to be popular with the traveling public, as they were often filled to capacity during their trips through the area's coal camps. At times, the Conductor would have the motorcar stopped while in route, to allow him enough time to complete taking up the tickets from all of the passengers before reaching the next stop. In Mount Hope, passengers boarded and debarked from the trains at the KGJ&E Station, located in the heart of the town. The KG&E Station was nestled in the tiny area of land located between what is now Stadium Drive and Pax Avenue, just a few feet away from where those streets intersect with Main Street.
During the early decades of the 20th century, hundreds of short-line railroad existed across the nation, and most all were regarded by the local people as "their" railroad. There was something appealing about the character of a little railroad that was trying to complete with the "big" lines, and usually the short-line's tiny steam locomotives and make-shift equipment had a certain "flavor" to them, that set them apart from the uniform look of the "big" railroad lines. The KGJ&E was no exception, as the trains quickly became very much a part of many of the local residents daily life. The average citizen of the area came to be able to identify the engineer on the KG train even before the train came in sight just by way the train's operator blew the train's whistle. Before long, most of the people of the era came to refer to "their" short-line railroad on a first-name basis, simply referring to the line as the "KG." The man who owned the line was usually referred to as "Bill," and rarely called "William."
With the start of the Great Depression in the late-1920's, the KGJ&E was adversely affected, as were the majority of the railroad across the nation. Although the railroad continued to do a good business, the times called for "tight money" policies by the railroad's management. As the years of the 1930's rolled by, there never seemed to be enough money available for the railroad to purchase new locomotives to replace its aging fleet of motive power. As a result, the line's locomotives, built during the very early years of the century, were very nearly the end of their useful life by the end of the 1930's. A veteran Engineer of the KGJ&E once commented, "One of our steam locomotives looked so old compared to the C&O and VGN locomotives, some people probably thought it had been built during the Civil War!"
The company able repairmen of the McKell combination railroad and mining equipment repair shops in Kilsyth kept the KG's old steam-breathing beasts going, until the very last moment of the line's existence. There, "refinements" were added to the KGJ&E locomotives, such as small metal houses, nicknamed "dog houses," that were attached to the rear of the tenders of the KGJ&E locomotives were performed. These tiny enclosures gave the KG's head-brakeman a way to escape the cold rains and snows common during the winter months. The KGJ&E locomotives were rarely turned around, so on return trips from Pax, the head-brakeman kept watch from the "dog house" while the engine crew backed the engine over the road to Mount Hope.
The modernization of the KGJ&E equipment was an event that would never be. In 1939, William McKell died, and in 1940, the C&O rushed to buy the KGJ&E, and at the same time, the New River Company (a company half-owned by the C&O) bought the coal properties of the McKell Coal & Coke Company. Within a few years, the C&O had ripped up much of the KGJ&E tracks between Glen Jean and Mount Hope, but merged its own tracks with most of the short-line's remaining sections. The KG's mining and railroad repair shops in Kilsyth were gradually phased out of existence, primarily because the C&O maintained a complete railroad shop in Thurmond and the New River Company maintained a repair shop in Mount Hope. The KGJ&E Depot in Mount Hope was reported to have been torn down sometime during the years of World War II.
Almost all of the KGJ&E's aging fleet of steam locomotives saw a brief period of duty on the C&O, but one by one, they were replaced by the C&O's more modern and larger locomotives. Only one KGJ&E locomotive, engine #200, built in 1909, survived the scrap heap. The old steam locomotive was rescued at the last moment by a Kentucky short-line railroad, the Morehead & North Fork Railroad. From there, the ex-KGJ&E locomotive #200 was sold to a railroad in Pennsylvania, the Everett Railroad, in 1964. The Everett Railroad operated the ex-KGJ&E steam locomotive for a number of years, using it to haul passengers on a tourist railroad and occasionally using it to perform freight duties. As of this writing (1999), the author has been unable to locate any information regarding the locomotive's present location or operational status. Perhaps somewhere in Pennsylvania, the locomotive that began its life in Mount Hope over ninety years ago still survives.