The dam of a farm pond I fished one day was formed partly by a portion of the roadbed of the once prosperous EK Railroad, which operated for some 60 years between Greenup and Grayson.
And not far around through the pasture I could make out the mouth of a tunnel the railroad once passed through. It’s fascinating to me to see these reminders of an era that lived and was gone before I was born. For those who knew them — actually reached out to touch them, rode them, heard the pleasant sounds they made — it seemed there was forever a longing in their hearts for the old steam locomotives.
I interviewed some of them many years ago for a newspaper story recalling the days of the EK. One of them was Mrs. Mariam Corum Oney, who was 78 at the time. She lived most of her life on Riverside Drive in Greenup in a remodeled frame house that once served as the business offices for the EK Railroad.
“I’m glad I lived in that age,” she said then. “It was an interesting age and one that was stable. There are so many changes taking place these days that I can’t keep up with them.”
She recalled that when she was a young girl growing up near the EK depot and Ohio River wharf that served it she and her friends would catch the train on Saturdays and ride it out to Three-Mile flag stop.
“The conductors – I still remember them, Will McKee and L.M. Kilgore – were the nicest people you’d ever meet. The train would stop at Three-Mile and we’d get off and buy rock candy at a little store there. Then we’d walk back.
“It was a nice way to travel, but sometimes you might get a little dirty. In the summertime we rode in the coaches with the windows up, and cinders would blow in through the windows, especially going around curves or through the tunnels.”
She said the railway company once owned all of the land that’s now Riverside Drive. Its first offices, she said, were located in a brick structure.
“It burned in 1916 and this house was built to replace it. We moved into it in 1927, right after the railroad shut down.”
In the Greenup-Riverton area, steam trains were once commonplace, and about the only mode of overland travel. Riverton, now a part of Greenup, was the birthplace of the Eastern Kentucky Railroad, which eventually stretched from the Ohio River south to Webbville, just across the Lawrence County line, a distance of 35 miles.
The EK railway originated in 1865 when it was operated by the Kentucky Improvement Co. It was reorganized in 1870 and on Feb. 28 of that year the company deeded its railroad, along with two blast furnaces and 25,000 acres of ore, coal and timber lands to the newly organized Eastern Kentucky Railway Co.
In 1889 the Maysville and Big Sandy Railroad (later to become the C&O and now CSX Corp.) opened between Ashland and Cincinnati and made a junction with the EK at Riverton.
The 23-mile section of the EK from Greenup to Grayson was abandoned in 1926. The remaining 12-mile section from Grayson on to the end of the line at Webbville gave up the ghost in 1932.
The demise was brought about by the depletion of natural resources and competition from cars and trucks.
The rails were taken up soon after the closures. Now the primeval ribbons of rail the old EK steam engines once followed through the hills and valleys of northeastern Kentucky are gone. Here and there can be seen portions of the roadbed and the gaps where the tunnels passed through the hills. State Route One now uses part of the old roadbed as its own.
At Hunnewell, off State Route 207 just south of Argillite, an old barn where locomotives were serviced still stands.
Other than that, there’s hardly a trace of the once-busy railroad where engines and cars clickety-clacked along, carrying people and goods.
But maybe those old railroads of yesterday like the EK will never really be gone. In the late Elmer G. Sulzer’s “Ghost Railroads of Kentucky,” this witness is recorded:
“… and when the moon is full and th’ fog settles in th’ valley, yew kin hear th’ little ol’ train a-puffin’. Jist like it usta, whenever it crossed th’ crick and started up the fir side of the mountain, a-carryin’ all the folks yew usta know…kindly makes a feller wonder…
“Lissen! I kin hear it now…cain’t yew?”
Reach G. Sam Piatt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 606-932-3619.