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Tunnel Construction and Improvements

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The old bore at Alleghany Tunnel
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C&O H-8 No. 1659 (Allegheny class ) in April 1950. Photo by Ray E. Tobey

The Covington & Ohio was incorporated by the State of Virginia in 1850 to build a railroad through what was to become Alleghany, Virginia.  Construction of tunnels and earthen fills was underway by 1854 including the work on Alleghany Tunnel. In 1858 the work on Lewis Tunnel, the eastern approach to Alleghany, was started. Both projects were halted at the outbreak of the Civil War.

 

After the war, in 1866, the legislatures of both Virginia and West Virginia authorized the Virginia Central to contract with the Covington & Ohio to complete the work. In 1868 the Virginia Central, as allowed by the acts, passed from existence and assumed the name of Chesapeake & Ohio and construction resumed on the line.

The HO version of Alleghany Tunnel
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Photo by Bernard Kempinski

Alleghany Tunnel was relatively easy to construct and was opened in 1870. Work on Lewis Tunnel took longer because of the hard rock that was encountered. It was completed in 1873. The line was double-tracked in 1896 with gauntlet tracks serving Lewis Tunnel. The tunnel at Alleghany was originally bored to accommodate a double track, the second track being added sometime between 1903 and 1907. A staff system of signaling was used to control train movements through the tunnels.

As newer and larger engines and equipment came on the scene the C&O found a need to improve its physical plant. In 1930 the north wall at the east entrance to Alleghany Tunnel was excavated back to allow room for an entrance for second bore. Similar work was done at Lewis Tunnel. The second track through the Alleghany bore was taken up when the new tunnels at both Alleghany and Lewis became operational in 1932.

 

Foul air, smoke and gas were a continuous problem in the old Lewis Tunnel, particularly if the train stalled in the tunnel. Large exhaust fans, controlled either by track circuit or the operator at "A" Cabin, were installed in 1910-11 over the east portal to blow the tunnel clear so that the gas and smoke would always be ahead of the train. An observer on the west side of Lewis (East Alleghany) would see a large volume of smoke exit the westbound tunnel well before the engine would appear.

East Alleghany: the west portals of Lewis Tunnel
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Photo by Thomas W. Dixon Jr.

The HO Tunnels

 

The tunnels delineate the boundaries of the "stage" for the Alleghany modules - everything "east or west" of the tunnels is the "rest of the world." Since the track plan loosely depicts Alleghany after the steam era, the pre-1932 double track through Alleghany Tunnel is only justified by invoking modeler's license to do so.

 

The portals are Plaster of Paris castings from homemade molds. C&O engineering drawings published in Alleghany With An A, by John C. Paton (published by the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society) were used to determine the shape and dimensions. The lettering that identifies each tunnel was carved with an Xacto knife and straight edge. A Xerox copy of the lettering was taped over the casting to serve as a guide.

East Alleghany - Lewis Tunnel west portals
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Photo by Bob Rodriguez

Double-stack cars had not quite come on the model railroading scene when the Alleghany portal was built. Based on the dimensions and requirements of the 1930s, the HO portal serves as an unintended modular railroad bottleneck and headache for those who wish to run contemporary equipment. Usually the realization of this obstacle is the result of "experiential learning" despite the warnings issued prior to an operating session.