|THE BEAR FORK RAILROAD: MEN, MACHINE AND BEAST (6/6/00)|
Tales Of Bear Fork
By Bob Weaver
The Elk and Little Kanawha Railroad sprung up about 1910 as a necessity to get logs and barrel staves from the
deep woods of the greater Bear Fork country of Braxton, Gilmer and Calhoun Counties.
Most fascinating today is the extent of the narrow-gauge railroad that came from Gassaway to Rosedale to Shock,
and then made its turn up narrow Tanner Creek and then into the back woods. Eight miles of the track extended
into Calhoun County, down Frozen to Left Hand and through a natural cut to a mill located on the right fork of
It was an engineering feat to carve the railroads and trams between and across the steepest of hillsides, bring
heavy equipment to mill sites and maintain a labor force to cut, drag, mill and transport the product out of West
The product was mostly barrel staves. Wooden barrels were used for hundreds of different products, including
many that needed exporting and the Interstate Cooperage Company, owned by industrial giant Standard Oil, went
to the task.
Much of the work force came from local residents, names well-known to us today, but some of the work force
included immigrants used to heave, lift and dig their way through the deep woods, much of it on the 28,000 acres of
the Bennett lands.
By the time World War I was over, the project was completed and much of the track had been removed.
Gilmer County historian Ron Miller, the late Harlan Stump, and dozens of other folks contributed to the research.
The Elk and Little Kanawha extended across U.S. 33/119 and
stopped at Steer Creek at the Calhoun County line, a connection with the Little Kanawha River. Early reports
indicate the railroad was to extend to Russett, where it would have connected with a proposed LK railroad that was
never built, a line proposed between Parkersburg and Burnsville.
Here we publish the first set of pictures of the railroad, men and mills who have almost been forgotten:
Laying Track into Calhoun County
One of Many Deep Cuts into Bear Fork
Engine and Flatcar Wreck
Operating a Tramcar - Bert Vanhorn on the Right
Bear Fork Mill
Mill Workers - Many were Immigrants
Trainload of Barrel Staves on Elk & LK Railroad
Teamsters Hauled Staves to Railroad
Ox Teams Dragged Out Logs
Laying Track up the Right Fork of Tanner
Elk & LK Railroad Between Gassaway and Shock
Again, we express our appreciation to Ron Miller for the loaning of these photographs he has collected from the
families who have lived in this part of the world. We will continue this series on Bear Fork, the stories and pictures
of the time. - Bob Weaver