During the early decades of the 20th century, hundreds of short-line railroad existed across the nation, and most all were regarded by the local people as their railroad. There was something appealing about the character of a little railroad that was trying to compete with the big lines, and usually the short line’s tiny locomotives and makeshift equipment had a certain flavor to them that set them apart from the uniform look of the big railroad lines.
The Kanawha, Glen Jean & Eastern Railway was no exception. The average citizen between Glen Jean and Mt Hope, WV came to be able to identify the engineer on the KGJ&E train even before the train came in sight just by way the train’s operator blew the train’s whistle. Before long, most of the people of the era came to refer to “their” short line railroad on a first-name basis, simply referring to the line as the “KG.” The man who owned the line (William McKell) was usually referred to as Bill, and rarely called William.
With the start of the Great Depression, the KGJ&E was adversely affected, as were the majority of the railroad across the nation. Although the railroad continued to do a good business, the times called for tight money policies by the railroad’s management. As the years of the 1930’s ground by, there never seemed to be enough money available for the railroad to purchase new locomotives to replace its aging fleet.
As a result, the line’s locomotives, built during the early years of the century, were very nearly the end of their useful life by the end of the 1930’s. A veteran engineer of the KGJ&E once commented, “One of our locomotives looked so old compared to the C&O and VGN locomotives, some people probably thought it had been built during the Civil War!”
The company able repairmen of McKell’s combination railroad and mining equipment repair shops, in Kilsyth, WV, kept the KG’s old steam-breathing beasts going, until the very last moment of the line’s existence. There, refinements were added to the KGJ&E locomotives, such as small metal houses, nicknamed “dog houses,” that were attached to the rear of the tenders of the KGJ&E locomotives. These tiny enclosures gave the KG’s head brakeman a way to escape the cold rains and snows common during the winter months. The KGJ&E locomotives were rarely turned around, so on return trips from Pax, WV, the head-brakeman kept watch from the “dog house” while the engine crew backed the engine over the road to Mount Hope.
The modernization of the KGJ&E equipment never came. In 1939, William McKell died, and in 1940, the C&O rushed to buy the KGJ&E, and at the same time, the New River Company (a company half-owned by the C&O) bought the coal properties of the McKell Coal & Coke Company. Within a few years, the C&O had ripped up much of the KGJ&E tracks between Glen Jean and Mount Hope, but merged its own tracks with most of the short line’s remaining sections.
The KG’s mining and railroad repair shops in Kilsyth were gradually phased out of existence, primarily because the C&O maintained a complete railroad shop in Thurmond and the New River Company maintained a repair shop in Mount Hope. The KGJ&E Depot in Mount Hope was torn down sometime during the years of World War II.