America’s Bloodiest Tunnel

    Dingess Tunnel
    PHOTO: Dingess Tunnel, Used by permission from Norfolk Western Collection

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    DINGESS, West Virginia — Hidden deep within the coal filled Appalachian Mountains of Southern West Virginia rests a forgotten land that is older than time itself.  Its valleys are deep, its waters polluted and its terrain is as rough as the rugged men and women who have occupied these centuries old plats for thousands of years.

    The region is known as “Bloody Mingo” and for decades the area has been regarded as one of the most murderous areas in all of American history.

    The haunted mountains of this region have been the stage of blood baths too numerous to number, including those of the famed Hatfield’s and McCoy’s, Matewan Massacre and the Battle of Blair Mountain.  Even the county’s sheriff was murdered this past spring, while eating lunch in his vehicle.

    Tucked away in a dark corner of this remote area is an even greater anomaly – a town, whose primary entrance is a deserted one lane train tunnel nearly 4/5 of a mile long.

    The story of this town’s unique entrance dates back nearly a century and a half ago, back to an era when coal mining in West Virginia was first becoming profitable.

    For generations, the people of what is now Mingo County, West Virginia, had lived quiet and peaceable lives, enjoying the fruits of the land, living secluded within the tall and unforgiving mountains surrounding them.

    All of this changed, however, with the industrial revolution, as the demand for coal soared to record highs.

    Soon outside capital began flowing into “Bloody Mingo” and within a decade railroads had linked the previously isolated communities of southern West Virginia to the outside world.

    The most notorious of these new railways was Norfolk & Western’s line between Lenore and Wayne County – a railroad that split through the hazardous and lawless region known as “Twelve Pole Creek.”

    At the heart of Twelve Pole Creek, railroad workers forged a 3,300 foot long railroad tunnel just south of the community of Dingess.

    As new mines began to open, destitute families poured into Mingo County in search of labor in the coal mines.  Among the population of workers were large numbers of African-Americans.

    Despising outsiders, and particularly the thought of dark skinned people moving into what had long been viewed as a region exclusively all their own, residents of Dingess, West Virginia, are said to have hid along the hillsides just outside of the tunnel’s entrance, shooting any dark skinned travelers riding aboard the train.

    Though no official numbers were ever kept, a countless number of black workers are said to have been killed at the entrance and exits of this tunnel.

    Norfolk & Western soon afterward abandonment the Twelve Pole line. Within months two forces of workmen began removing the tracks, ties, and accessory facilities.

    Soon, silence soon reigned in the rugged mountains overlooking the area. Gone were the whistles of locomotives and the rumble of cars.  Nothing but long, winding bed of cinders, a few decayed ties, several steel bridges remained.

    For decades the skeletal remains of Norfolk & Western’s failed railway line stood as a silent testimony to the region’s ghostly ways.

    In the early 1960’s, however, the resourceful men of the mountains commandeered the former railroad line and built upon its beds a road for motorists to travel upon.

    Unfortunately, residents of this impoverished region failed to secure funding from the state’s legislature to improve the tunnel and bridges, thus today – over half a century later – residents of this community are forced to drive atop countless one lane train bridges and a nearly mile long one lane tunnel.

    To the residents of this community, such a drive is just another part of their daily routine, however, for visitors unfamiliar with the thought of driving through a one lane tunnel with a fifty ton coal truck at the other end, such an experience can be a rush, to say the least.

    One writer said the following of his experience driving through the Dingess Tunnel:

    “Locals state that proper usage is to turn lights on, indicating that you are entering the tunnel. Drivers from the other end know not to enter if lights are on. We saw an 18 wheeler tanker go through while there, but it is a tight fit. Water drips from the top and one can barely see as it takes a while for eyes to adjust. Locals state that the roadway was dirt up until a couple of years ago and had deep holes in it. Now it is paved, but no lighting.”

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