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   About the Filming
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If you are a rail fan, you will love West Virginia!  There are railroads everywhere.  The railroads, of course, have always played an important role in picking up coal and delivering it to market.  In addition to long coal trains, you'll also see lots of mixed freight trains.


The double-track Norfolk Southern [formerly Norfolk & Western] main line crosses U.S. 52 on this impressive trestle between Welch and Bluefield.




We are standing beside U.S. 52 in Kimball, West Virginia.  Ahead of us would be Bluefield; immediately behind us is a tunnel.  Once through the tunnel, the empty coal train we see here will soon pass through Welch.




The empty coal train enters the tunnel in Kimball.





This is the tunnel at Kimball taken on a different day.  That's U.S. 52 which runs between Bluefield and Welch. 





While we were stopped taking photos of the empty tunnel, we heard a train approaching from the east (from the direction of Bluefield).  The three Norfolk Southern engines soon arrived pulling at least 200 empty coal cars.  The train vanishes into the Kimball tunnel on its way west towards Welch.  As you can see, U.S. 52 is a great place for rail fans!





This is W.V. 16 at the Virginia/West Virginia border.  In the left picture, we are looking south towards Virginia. Immediately behind us, the railroad track disappears into a tunnel on its way to War, West Virginia.








U.S. 52 is the gold road passing through Welch, West Virginia.  A double-track main line of the Norfolk & Western railroad (now Norfolk Southern) runs along the road much of the way.

At one time, there was a  rail line running from Clear Fork Junction down to Coalwood.  This is shown as a straight red line on the map above.  In reality, the railroad followed the path of the Clear Fork Creek as it twisted and turned through valleys. 

According to Coalwood historian David Goad, the tipple in Coalwood was torn down in 1959, and the Norfolk & Western Railroad began removing the tracks leading to the tipple in the same year.

Note: Clear Fork Junction is not to be confused with the town of Clear Fork, West Virginia.  The town of Clear Fork is in Wyoming County north of McDowell County.  (It's at the very top of the map above between Uno and Rock View.) Clear Fork Junction is simply a point of the railroad where the two railroad lines met.

A separate rail line ran from the Tazewell, Virginia, area (off the bottom of the map), through War, West Virginia, and on to Iaeger, West Virginia.  (Iaeger is also in McDowell County.)  A short spur line went to Olga #2 mine in Caretta.  The spur line has been pulled up, but the line from Tazewell to Iaeger is still operating today.

Note that there was never an above-ground railroad connecting Coalwood and Caretta.  The coal mine, however, ran underground between Coalwood and Caretta.  Once the rail lines into Coalwood were removed, coal was moved through the mine tunnels from Coalwood to Caretta.  The coal was then loaded into the hopper cars in Caretta and shipped out.


1928 Railroad Map
Note the line from Coalwood to Clear Fork Junction.
Click picture to enlarge.




Number 4501, which is the locomotive used in the filming of October Sky, sits in a shed at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga in August 2006.  The locomotive is too large to be put into regular service at the TVRM.  It uses twice as much coal as other TVRM locomotives, and its turning radius is too big for the tracks on which TVRM operates.  It is therefore unlikely 4501 will ever be restored.

Railroad Filming

The steam locomotive used in the movie October Sky belongs to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Rail Transportation Management Specialists (RTMS) was hired by the movie production company to coordinate all of the railroad equipment used in the movie.  This included getting the Norfolk Southern railway to move the steam locomotive and a train of coal cars from Chattanooga to the filming locations around Knoxville.  RTMS has to insure that trains were in the right place each day, that the proper permits had been obtained, that security was available, and a thousand other things.  The RTMS web site used to have many pictures of the filming of October Sky and contains a lot of information on everything RTMS had to do for the filming.  Unfortunately, all of the October Sky material has been removed.  (We suspect there may have been copyright issues with Universal Pictures.)   http://www.rtms-movietrains.com/


Norfolk & Western Railroad


O. Winston Link
O. Winston Link is one of the most famous railroad photographers in the world.  Link's specialty was his black and white photos of the Norfolk and Western Railroad.  During the filming of October Sky, director Joe Johnston (himself a railroad buff) invited Mr. Link to join him on the set.  Remember the scene where the Rocket Boys were afraid they were about to derail the train?  That's O. Winston Link playing the engineer of the steam locomotive.


Railroad & Coal Camp Scenes
This web site has links to hundreds of old black and white photos of railroad and mine scenes.  The photos all seem to lead to the digital archives of the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.



The Removing-the-Rail Scene from October Sky
This scene was filmed near Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  See this page.


Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum