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2019-05-12 – Airstream Caravan Travels – Springtime in Kentucky; Big South Fork Scenic Railway – Day #18

Our first excursion in the London area was to the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, about one hour south of here, in Stearns, KY, near the Tennessee border.  This is also adjacent to the Daniel Boone National Forest…

Stearns, KY, is another one of the many small, thriving, towns which died in the 1950s.  At one time Stearns was a bustling industrial town of 10,000 – 15,000 people.  Today there are fewer than 1,600 people here.  The only remnants of the town, besides the few houses, are the Big South Fork Scenic Railway, along with the few remaining buildings that were once operated by the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company.

Stores adjacent to the train depot:

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This building now houses the museum; it once was the headquarters office building of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company; it also housed the telephone exchange and the local bank…

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The train was awaiting our arrival…

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We had a lovely drive again, through miles and miles of tree-covered hills as far as the eye can see… After we arrived and procured our train tickets, we toured the museum.  There was the usual assortment of memorabilia plus photos showing the once-thriving town…

We enjoyed our box lunch, then waited for the train…

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And here it is!

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The cars may be vintage, but they are nicely finished inside… Soon we were underway.  The train’s planned destination was the Blue Heron Mining Community – a National Park Interpretive Center.

Blue Heron, or Mine 18, is an abandoned coal mining town.  It was a part of the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company’s past operation in what today is the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the National Park Service.  Most of what we know about life at Blue Heron, and the other Stearns coal towns, has been handed down through oral history.  Blue Heron mine operated from 1937 until it closed in December
1962.  During that time hundreds of people lived and worked in the isolated community on the banks of the Big South Fork River.  Their story is the focus of this interpretive tour of the Blue Heron Community.

When the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company abandoned Blue Heron in 1962, the buildings were either removed or they lapsed into decay.  There were no original buildings standing when the town was “re-created” as an interpretive center in the 1980s.  Consequently, the town was restored in an “open-air” museum format, and new structures were constructed on the approximate site of several of the original buildings. These new structures are open, metal shells of buildings, and are referred to as “ghost structures.”  Each ghost structure has an audio-tape station with recorded recollections of some of the people of Mine 18.

Unfortunately, recent winter storms damaged the train tracks, so Blue Heron is no longer reached by the railroad.  Big South Fork Scenic Railway is now the railroad to nowhere.  We rode about 1/2 hour, enjoying the scenery…

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Some passengers took a nap…

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Plenty of green…

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And wet… The train announcer told us that yesterday the creek was running slow and crystal clear… Remember the rain we had last night?

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And then the train stopped, and we backed up for 1/2 hour until we returned to the depot.  Some caravanners drove on to Blue Heron, but we, and others, returned to the campground…

There were many happy hours groups at several of the Airstreams this evening.  Some Airstreamers were happier than others…

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And an enjoyable time was had by all…

2019-03-15 – Airstream Caravans Travel – Day 3 – Bisbee, AZ

Once again we awoke to sub-freezing temperatures.  But between the fireplace, the heat pump, and the furnace we were able to keep warm and keep the pipes from freezing…

We began the day with a tour of the Queen Mine…

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We were outfitted with hard hats, miner’s lights, and safety vests… We mounted the mine tourist train and headed into the mine…

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About 700 feet into the mine we dismounted and walked up some wooden stairs to a large cavern…

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We were told about the various jobs going on in the mines at any one time.  Our tour guide worked in the mines for about 15 years, starting two days after he graduated from Bisbee High School…

 

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We were told about the various ways to make the holes for the dynamite and how these methods changed over the years, from hammering a steel spike in 1915 to pneumatic drills in the 1960s… Every few years improvements were made to efficiency and safety…

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Sometimes the shoring seems a little improvised…

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These are the ore cars and the chutes from above where the ore is dumped…

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The supervisors traveled up to 10 miles per day around the mines, mounted on these rail-cycles…

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After another train ride we dismounted at the 1,500 mark and walked down a cross-tunnel…

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There are fire doors every 500 feet or so…

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Next was the lesson on where to drill holes and how to set off the dynamite to get the largest cavity possible…

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Finally we saw a typical 11-man elevator cage…

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And the porta-potty…

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Tour over, we walked back to the train and we were returned to fresh air…

After lunch we spent more time walking about the town. We visited The Bisbee Mining Museum, and enjoyed browsing the many vintage, antique, and junk shoppes…

This evening we returned for an anniversary dinner – It has been 51 years since our first date… The town was lit up and it was a beautiful sight…

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We had asked all over town for recommendations for the best fine dining, white tablecloth restaurant.  Every person we asked stated, without hesitation, “Roka”.

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They were right.  Great service, interesting, innovative food, and a lovely bottle of Turley wine…

And an enjoyable time was had by all…

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