When I was a curly-headed baby
My daddy set me down on his knee
He said, “Go to school to get your letters.
Don’t you be a dirty coal miner like me”
I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazard Holler.
Coal cars rumbled past my door
Now they stand in a rusty row all empty
Cause the L & N don’t stop here anymore.

I used to think my daddy was a black man
With scrip enough to buy the company store
Now he goes to town with empty pockets
And his face is white as February snow
I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazard Holler
Coal cars rumbled past my door
Now they stand in a rusty road all empty
Cause the L & N don’t stop here anymore

I never thought I’d live to learn to love the coal dust
Never thought I’d pray to hear that whistle roar
But God I wish the grass would turn to money
And those greenbacks  fill my pockets up once more
I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazard Holler
Coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door,
Now they stand in a rusty road of all empty
Cause the L & N don’t stop here anymore

Last night I dreamed I went down to the coal yard.
To draw my pay like I had done before.
Them kudzu vines are covering all the windows.
There were leaves and grass growing right up through the floor
Yeah, I was born and raised at the mouth of the Hazard Holler
Coal cars rolled and rumbled past my door
Now they stand in a rusty road all empty
Cause the L & N don’t stop here anymore

Hazard, Kentucky: My family’s ancestral home in Kentucky

On June 20, 1854, the name of a small settlement in Kentucky was changed to Hazard, the village being named for a heroic leader in the U. S. Navy, Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry (1785-1819), who helped defeat the British fleet in the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812. Admiral Perry died long before learning of the town and county named in his honor, but the Eastern Kentucky mountaineers who made their way north to fight with the forces of the admiral never forgot his name.

News was hard to come by during the early part of the century but word spread quickly in 1910 when it was learned that a railway was to be built from Jackson in Breathitt county to McRoberts in Letcher along the North Fork of the Kentucky River, with a station in Hazard. Most people living in the rugged terrain along this route had never seen a train. Excitement ran high when right-of-ways were acquired and work was contracted out. Hundreds of men cut through the hills and filled in valleys to supply the necessary level grade for laying track. The first train arrived in Hazard in June, 1912. Hundreds of people came out to greet its arrival and welcome in a new era of prosperity.

This is from a newspaper article written at the time:

Hurrah! The Steam Cars Arrive In Hazard:  Large Crowd Greets Engine No. 324 As She Crossed Trestle In Town Across river.


MonJune 12, 1912day, June 17th, should go down in the history of Hazard as a red-letter day.  On Saturday night of the 15th the track-laying crew of the L & N Railway Company had placed the steel rails to the lower end of town, and early Monday morning the work of laying track inside of the town limits commenced. At noon, the crew were on the opposite side of the river from the court house, and shortly after almost everybody – men, women and children – were seen wending their way to the upper side of Messer branch, their object being to welcome the steam horse, the first one to enter Hazard. The Hazard band was out in full force, and helped wonderfully in keeping up the enthusiasm of the crowd.

When the track had been laid across the trestle at Messer branch, a number of the young ladies mounted the engine and track-laying car and, in a short time, had both decorated with flowers, bunting and flags. While this work was going in, “Uncles” John Baker and Lige Cornett stood before the crowd and jointly spoke of it being a long time of waiting to see the train come in, and now that it had entered the old town they both felt like saying: Thank God, ‘tis here at last! Just at this time the band played, as a fitting climax, “Glory, Glory Hallelujah.” County Attorney W. Napier was called on, and made a short, telling talk, in which he expressed his delight in seeing the train, and then spoke glowingly of the bright future of Hazard, after over 100 years of waiting, and added: If the people wished to continue in growth and be a happy and prosperous people, it should be their aim and purpose to do all they could in giving aid to everything good – frowning on everything that was otherwise; and in so doing they might expect that Divine assistance promised to those who put their trust in Almighty God.

It was intended to have other speeches, but the crowd were too busily engaged in looking at the work of the crew as they put down the rail at the rate of on a minute. Every time one of these were placed in position, the engine moved up some sixteen feet, and thus it continued until late in the afternoon, by which time there had been laid one and one-half miles as the day’s work. As the train started back for the next day’s supplies, to start the work going further on, there was a general waving of hands and cheers from both the crew and the town folks.

The band boys, mounted upon a pile of cross-ties on a flat-car, were made as an escort to the gay assembly of young ladies, and others, as the train moved slowly on its way to upper tunnel. After reaching this point, we were given a ride back to lower tunnel, returning to town immediately afterwards. The “band wagon” was a conspicuous spot.

The BandThe number of the engine to first come to town was 324 – J. A. Donnovan, engineer, of Lexington, and J. C. Allpin, brakeman, of Jackson, with Capt. Norris, conductor, in charge. Supervisor Geo. Adams and his assistant, J. C. Nicholson, with a corps of seven foreman and 160 men, were required in the work of the day. Mr. Adams said that Monday’s work was a record-breaker, and thought it would not be a bad idea to have a lot of pretty girls looking on, as the men seemed to work more than they usually did, and he couldn’t account for it other than the crowd looking on.

A barrel of cider was opened, and everybody drank to the future of the town and its people, as also to the railroad. Cigars were handed out, being the gift of the business men of town. Both of these little things, in a way, will have a good effect on the railroad men, as in no other place along the line has there been any demonstration or welcome extended like that at Hazard.

The town’s population increased seven-fold by 1920 to 4,348 and then to more than 7,000 by 1930. In these heydays hundreds of coal mines were opened and work was abundant. Men were paid salaries never heard of in the mountains prior to the arrival of the railroad. Also for the first time people in the mountains were being exposed to other cultures as foreign nationals came into this prosperous area to work and start businesses. Prior to this time virtually the entire population was made up of descendents of pioneers who came over the mountains from Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina to scratch out a lonely existence in the wilderness.

A personal account of what happened next:

During WW II one of the most desirable jobs a man could have in Kentucky and Tennessee was working on the L&N Railroad.

Practically all the men in our family were “Railroad Men”. My Dad, my Grandpa, Grandpa’s brother-in-law, Grandpa’s son, and two of my my aunt’s husbands.

The L&N passenger trains and freight trains ranged from Hazard, Leatherwood, Jenkins, Whitesburg, Jackson, Irvine, Lexington and Louisville. Their famous passenger train, “The Hummingbird” ran daily from Chicago to Louisville, to Nashville and on to New Orleans and back. I rode the Hummingbird during the War when it carried a record number of coaches filled with Service Men and Women plus regular travelers. The seats were all filled and the aisles and the vestibules were also full of passengers either standing or sitting on their suitcases or duffel bags. WWII was an exciting time for railroad travel and entirely necessary for the War Effort.

The main L&N service for us were the freight trains with hundreds of coal gondolas each carrying 16 tons of coal out of the Hazard holler to all points of the United States. There was a big demand for coal for manufacturing plants all over the U.S. The rail tracks from Hazard to Lexington had to be one of the most difficult routes in the world for a heavy coal train to navigate. All those sharp curves and up and down the mountains. All those skinny trestles across the Kentucky River. The Engineer could only see down the crooked tracks for about a quarter of a mile, night and day, rain or shine. Back then freight trains carried an engineer, a fireman, a conductor, brakeman, and flagman. The conductor, brakeman, and flagman traveled in the famous old caboose car at the rear of the train. It was equipped with a sink, toilet, bunk beds and a coal burning pot bellied stove for heat and cooking. Some times a crew might spend two or three days on a run.

Grandpa’s job was to marshall these coal trains in the Hazard yards and then send them North, every day. I can still remember, like it was yesterday, hearing the giant coal burning steam engines churning its heavy wheels with giant puffs of smoke straining to get a 120 car coal train moving up to speed. No Diesels in Hazard, yet. If you lived anywhere in town that noise was just routine. The smoke was always hovering over downtown and the smell was just as bad. After a while you paid no attention. It was our way of life.

The other exciting L&N service was the Passenger Train to Lexington. That’s the part I loved. It came in from Whitesburg every morning and continued on to Jackson and Lexington. Grandpa would get me a pass every so often during the summer and it was good on any L&N train. I used to ride to Oakdale and visit my uncle’s farm for a couple of weeks then ride the train back home. When my Dad and I rode to Lexington I remember the girls in Jackson that set up their stands and sold box lunches to the passengers for Fifty Cents. Several times we went all the way to Cincinnati to see the Reds play baseball. What an adventure that was. Equal to sledding down Baker Hill, Hazard Bulldog Basketball and Ma Combs peach cobbler. The evening train came in from Lexington around 4:30 pm carrying passengers, various newspaper bundles, Railway Express mail and packages and 20 gallon cans of fresh milk for the City.

When it was “Quittin’ time” at The L&N Railroad yards Granpa headed for the old swinging bridge across the North Fork of the Kentucky river and walked home about a mile away. He lived high up on the hill in a three bedroom house that he and his son built themselves. It was directly across the river from the railroad turn table and repair shop. On the way through the yards he picked up small pieces of coal that had fallen off the gondolas and put them in his toe sack. That would keep the fire going in the living room fireplace that night.

When he got home he would sit in a dinning room chair and Grandma would wash all the coal dust off his face and clean the cinders out of his eyes. One of the many problems with working around the old steam engines all day.

Well the song is right: “The L&N don’t stop here any more, but I’ll never forget it…

Abandoned Train Station in Hazard

The L & N refers to the Louisville and Nashville Rail Road which was discontinued in 1982

Seeking Spirit:  Combs and Messer are two of my family names…see ff…

Newton Smith’s Parents:
Samuel Smith (1809 – 1863)
Nancy Jones Smith (____ – 1870)

Elizabeth Combs Smith (1851 – 1925)*

great grandmother and grandfather: Elizabeth Combs Smith and Newton Smith