That phone greeting — how many times did I dial that number and hear that? How many railfan adventures began with that phone call and that plaintive, to-the-point answer?
And my goodness, what I wouldn’t give to be able to make that phone call today and hear that voice on the other end of the line.
Growing up in the coalfields of Appalachia, Louisville & Nashville’s coal marshaling yard at Loyall, Ky., was legendary. Built in 1921 to serve the burgeoning coal mining of Harlan County and situated in the very heart of that country, Loyall Yard was the main hub of L&N’s Cumberland Valley Subdivision. As a very young boy, I wasn’t privileged to visit Loyall, but I knew that L&N’s coal trains passing through Big Stone Gap and Appalachia, Va., were either coming from or going to some far-off, awesome place called Loyall.
When the railfan press began to recognize Appalachia in books in the late 1980s, I found Loyall figuring prominently in accounts of L&N and the Clinchfield. The legend was building, growing even larger in my mind. In February 1991, on a raw, wet winter day, skipping college classes, I made my first trip to Loyall, my best friend in tow. Bereft of a map, I had no idea how to get there beyond in just a general sense. After a morning of wrong turns and deadends, we finally found ourselves at the entrance to Loyall Yard. Viewing from a safe (not trespassing) distance, I could see that the sprawling yard was abuzz; mine runs were shuffling cars, loads and empties, coal and woodchips and logs. I saw a roundhouse, a turntable, and a track of active service cabooses. There was a compact engine terminal packed full of big SDs and C30-7s, as well as U23Bs and GP38-2s in Chessie, Family Lines, L&N, and CSX colors. The legend, now realized, did not disappoint.
A Chessie-painted GP30 adds some color to a very dreary day at Loyall in the spring of 1993. A GE U18B, another GP30M, and a GP38 make up the rest of this power set awaiting their next call to duty. Eric Miller photo
Directly, a train trundled into the yard and stopped with an L&N Family Lines caboose tacked to its rear. Not wanting to risk being “run off” for trespassing, I asked a lady if I could make a photo from her backyard. As I clicked away, the caboose’s bay window slid open, and a gruff-looking fellow poked his head out.
“What’re you doing over there?” he asked.
Ugh. I was still going to get run off, even though I was in some kind lady’s yard. “Making a picture of your caboose,” I sheepishly responded.
“Why you doin’ it over there?” he asked, with a quizzical look on his face.
“Because I don’t want to trespass,” I said.
“Come on up here,” he smiled.
“On the caboose?”
“Yeah, come on up here.” In about three bounds, I was out of that nice lady’s backyard and inside a toastywarm caboose, the unmistakable scent of coffee and kerosene in the air. The conductor introduced himself as Scotty Moses and welcomed me aboard the Lynch Turn. The Lynch Turn — a flash of memory to a Ron Flanary book. After some chitchat, conductor Moses asked me why I was making pictures from someone’s backyard. I’d had bad experiences with going in other yard offices and asking permission to be on the property, so I just figured Loyall was off-limits too. Conductor Moses picked up his radio, called the yard, and told the trainmaster that “we have guests” who were “afraid of coming in the office.” The trainmaster, Damon Alred, replied that we “should come on over and see him.”
CSX agent Bill “Crow” Crouse in the Loyall yard office in 1990. Ron Flanary photo
And so we did, but only after a brief caboose ride to the north end of Loyall Yard. After walking a long way back to our car, we drove over to the yard office, walked in, and asked to see “Mr. Alred.” I was quickly corrected that he was “Damon,” and then introduced to Yardmaster Bud Huddleston and clerk Bill “Crow” Crouse. The hospitality that we received that cold, dreary February day in 1991 set the stage for a long love affair with Loyall and a long relationship with many of the men who worked there. I would later meet and befriend yardmaster Wade Hurst and clerk Theo Rowlett, and countless engineers and conductors, passing through as they went on or off duty…