Great Bend Tunnel, also known as Big Bend Tunnel, is the place where John Henry defeated the steam drill, becoming one of the world’s great folk heroes. It is located 10 miles east of Hinton on the historic main line of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, now CSX. It is the longest tunnel on the C&O. The tunnel is straight, 6,450 feet long, and cuts off a seven-mile meander of the Greenbrier River around Big Bend Mountain.
Construction began in February 1870 at both ends of the tunnel and in two intermediate shafts, 365 and 170 feet deep, allowing work on six faces. About 800 men were employed during the three-year effort. This construction crew drilled the tunnel through hard red shale that tended to disintegrate when exposed to air, causing many rockfalls and landslides. A large but unknown number of men lost their lives. They included, by legend, mighty John Henry, the ‘‘steel-drivin’ man.’’
The tunnel was completed on September 12, 1872. It was originally lined with timber, but frequent rockfalls required that the tunnel be completely lined with brick arching. This was finally completed in 1893. A second, parallel bore was completed in 1932, and the first tunnel was closed in 1974 after 102 years of service. Today, every train traveling this route still passes under Big Bend Mountain.
This Article was written by Ron Lane
Turner, Charles W., et al. Chessie's Road. Alderson: C&O Historical Society, 1986.
Dixon, Thomas W. Jr. Chesapeake & Ohio Alleghany Subdivision. Alderson: C&O Historical Society, 1985.