Fall Branch drains the general area east of Bandy Creek Campground in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.
Fall Branch drains the general area east of Bandy Creek Campground in the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area.

A few years ago, I was doing some off-trail exploring in the Big South Fork backcountry when I came upon a bit of a peculiar site: part of an axle and an old wheel hub stuck in a tree. Today, I took advantage of the gorgeous (if cold) weather to head back and try to find it again.

And did so with no problem:

A wheel and axle in a tree along a stream in the backcountry of the Big South Fork.
A wheel and axle in a tree along a stream in the backcountry of the Big South Fork.

I say it’s a peculiar site but, really, there’s nothing unusual about finding remnants of days gone by in the BSF. This country was at one point settled by subsistence farmers and, after that, it was mined and logged. Once the people abandoned the land and the federal government came in to establish the national park, a lot of stuff was left behind. And the terrain has made it undesirable for folks to retrieve a lot of it . . . which has deteriorated into worthless artifacts, anyway.

But things like this interest me because at some point, someone stuck this in the tree and passed on their way. Over time, the tree has grown around the wheel and axle, encasing it forever. Likely as not, the person who originally placed the wheel there is dead and gone. What was the backstory behind this object being placed in the tree? That’s the question — which, obviously, will never be answered — that intrigues me.

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I have always thought of the wheel as being off a mine cart. In truth, I have no clue what it is from. A Google search shows it more closely resembling a mine cart wheel than anything else I could find, but its size is likely too large for a mine cart and the size of the axle makes it appear too wide for a mine cart. Given my lack of knowledge of early 20th Century mechanics, it could be from just about anything.

It’s interesting, though, that there’s no road near where this is located. There are several old vehicles (mostly ’40s- and ’50s-era) left in the Big South Fork NRRA, but they were all abandoned near homesteads or along old roads. This wheel-in-a-tree is well away from the nearest road, and there are no obvious remnants of a road close to where it is located . . . which just adds to the intrigue of what it’s doing there in the first place.

This piece of steel has exposed to the elements for so long that it almost appears part of the tree itself. Years of rust blend with the landscape, and the same mosses that cover the tree trunk cover the wheel. In fact, I stopped to take some photos of the stream less than five feet from this — the very thing I was looking for — and it wasn’t until I had scoured the surrounding area and was ready to head to a second location that I noticed it in the tree.

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