Ride the Rails in Ohio’s Coal Country
All Aboard! Stepping on the old passenger car, guests on the Byesville Scenic Railway are immediately handed a paper fan since the day is sweltering hot and there is no air conditioning. But the coal miners using this car many years ago would not have had AC anyplace. Their cool spot will be discovered later in the trip.
The whistle blows and the steam engine of the Byesville Scenic Railway begins its journey down the Marietta Branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad that originally ran from Marietta to Dover back in 1872. The 1918 passenger car being used today can hold 60 people and originally was part of the Illinois Rail.
The train rails lead through the Wills Creek area from Byesville to near Pleasant City. Along the way you can see the remains of many old coal mines, bridge abutments, flowering fields, plus homes of today in the countryside of Southeastern Ohio. The Inter-Urban street car had lines running right along side the railway. These street cars were used as transportation for the miners to and from work at the mines.
The train excursion lasts approximately an hour with lots of information, history, and even some music. Water and soft drinks are available throughout the trip for a donation.
But the highlight of the trip is the interesting narrative supplied by family and friends of those coal miners of bygone days. First we hear about the history of mining in the area. The most dangerous job in the world is said to be coal mining. Coal is older than the dinosaurs and has a wide variety of uses. About the time of WWI there were nearly 3,000 mines in this area. They were all closed by 1928.
Since the miners worked an eleven hour day most often, there was little time for fun when the day ended. If perhaps there was no work that day, the miners would get together and play cards, reminisce about their life in the European countries, or tell stories of their adventures in the mines. But they didn’t want a day off as they only got paid when they worked and according to the number of tons they mined that day.
Arriving at the half way point of the trip near Pleasant City, we were told about the former Ohio Valley Glass Company that was located nearby. One of the main things produced there were the insulators for the railroad.
Next we were told the life of a coal miner by Coal Miner Dave dressed in clothes which appeared to be covered with coal dust. Even his face looked like he had just come out of the mines. As he picked his way down the aisles squatting like the miners had to do in the low mines, the passengers joined in singing “16 Tons.”
Passengers were led to imagine going down into a deep, dark coal mine with just the small light on their hat guiding the way. This was the cool spot for the miners as it was always around 54 degrees deep in the mine. But it was also damp from the underground water so clothes got wet in a hurry. Here the miners picked coal out of the sides, used explosives, and loaded the coal by hand into carts that were pulled away by donkeys. You will be surprised at the things the miners had to furnish for themselves!
The Coal Miner showed us interesting things used by the miners. Have you ever heard of Universal Toilet Paper or West Virginia Cole Slaw? Join the next excursion from Byesville to learn more about the interesting life of a coal miner.
The future of the Byesville Scenic Railway seems bright right now. With the help of local patrons and businesses, plans are to extend the rails all the way to Cumberland, OH where the WILDS is located. When there, you will be able to enjoy an excursion through the WILDS Safari and see animals not native to this part of the world.
Plans are also underway for a Coal Miner Statue to honor all the men who worked long and hard hours in the mines. Many of them came here from European countries in the late 1800s for a better way of life. The cost of the statue is approximately $38,000 and over half has already been raised. It will be a lasting memory of all coal miners who struggled to make a better life for their families.
This isn’t a one time adventure. There are special events throughout the year. Cost for adults is $12 while children (ages 3-9) are $9. Those under 3 are free. The Spirit of Halloween and Spirit of Christmas rides are favorites of young and old alike. Even Santa enjoys riding on the Byesville Scenic Railway .