In 1884, Col. Wendell J. Davis, a wealthy logging tycoon built the David Timber Company Railway. This three foot narrow gauge railroad was built to haul cut timber from his large land holdings on Davis Mountain near the town of Davis, Virginia to the sprawling saw mill at Kezzeltown, Virginia. The little narrow gauge line would eventually grow in the Chesapeake Bay and Western Railroad. The new railroad proved to be a very profitable operation in more ways than one. In July 1886 the brakes failed on a loaded log train coming down the famous Nose Bleed grade. The entire train jumped the track and the locomotive dug a four feet deep furrow into the mountainside. The locomotive and six cares were a total loss, but the Colonel wasn't about to abandon the locomotive without first pulling it out of the dirt and making a personal examination to satisfy himself that it couldn't be repaired. After extracting what remained of the locomotive out of the ground, workers discovered the locomotive laid bare a vein of coal. The Colonel, knowing that the day would come when all the timber he owned would be cut, seized this opportunity and began mining his new found black gold.
His nearest market for coal was the large forge at Columbia furnace, Virginia. To reach this customer the Colonel hauled coal on his narrow gauge railroad to Keezletown where it was off loaded onto standard gauge cars of the Keezletown, Columbia Furnace & Washing Railroad (CF&W) and shipped to Columbia Furnace. Colonel Davis found new markets for his coal in the northern industrial centers and it became obvious that the narrow gauge railroad was not going to be able to handle the increased traffic. The standard gauge conversion was completed in November 1890. this included bypassing the Nose Bleed grade, making the ruling grade 3.0%. Col. Davis, quickly began buying as much mineral rights to all the surrounding land as he could finance. he had a vision of a large coal empire that included a railroad to haul coal to a sea port on the Atlantic where it could then be shipped up or down the East Coast. In spite of his successes, he was stretched to his financial limit, so to get his coal to the coast he tried to negotiate a merger with the CF&W. The CF&W owners refused all his offers, forcing him to look at other plans.