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 Crummies Creek.

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 Virginia.

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:

Track Workers

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 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