"Takin' Twenty" with the Virginian Brethren by Skip Salmon

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Thu Aug 5 08:37:01 EDT 2010

Last night I had the pleasure of "Takin' Twenty" with nine of the
Brethren and Friends of the Virginian Railway. Attending for the first
time in a long time was Dewey Houch, who started out on the Virginian
May 17, 1956 in Mullens as a "chain man" on the surveyor gang. He worked
his way up to Assistant Manager Material for Norfolk Southern and
retired in 1990 with 34 years service. Dewey is now working with 60
volunteers from Georgia in the Mullens area. He has gotten several
government grants for restoring old buildings and is currently working
on a church in Wyco, WV. He is trying to save the old VGN Motor Barn in
Mullens and wanting to draw attention to Southern West Virginia (VGN
territory) by saving some of the area's most precious memories.

From the last report, I got a response from our friend Ken Tanner
"Voice of the Durham Bulls" whose grandfather R. S. "Bob" Cawley was a
conductor on the VGN West End mostly out of Elmore. Ken told me about a
cabin that his grandfather retired to in Wabun, west of Salem, so he
could be close to the VGN line. This week I visited the area and saw
where the cabin was located. It was destroyed by fire but a house is now
near the spot. Ken was born in Roanoke and on that day (1-7-1939) his
grandfather got a dispatch (train order) which he hooked on his arm
somewhere west of Roanoke probably on Train #3 that said: "Bob Cawley,
you are grandfather with 6-1/2 pound boy 230 today. Yard Office, Roanoke".

Also from last week, I shared an email with the Brethren from Kevin
EuDaly, distinguished publisher of the N&WHS "The Arrow" with White
River Productions in Kansas City. Kevin said that the C&O hauled a lot
of iron ore west across Virginia from Newport News to the Great Lakes.
The ore came in from Argentina. On the C&O "a capacity load of iron ore
would barely fill the three bays on a triple hopper, so unless you were
directly overhead, they looked empty, except, of course for the
depressed springs on the trucks". Kevin remembered visiting Clifton
Forge when he was 12 and "found a large pile of iron ore pellets
(taconite) that had leaked out of a hopper. Recognizing them as valuable
slingshot ammo, I collected two grocery sacks full and hauled them back
to Missouri. I shot uncountable birds and rabbits with those pellets
scattering those pellets all about the woods in several mile radius of
Dad's current house in Kansas City". Wis Sowder remembered seeing iron
ore going west on the N&W in coal hoppers also.

For show and tell I brought two items that I have posted photos of on
this site. The first is a small button with "NWhy?" attached to a pencil
clip. In the photo the pencil clip is attached to an original VGN RWY
No. 1 pencil with no eraser. (Ken McLain said that VGN clerks were NOT
suppose to make any mistakes). Does anyone out there know the story
behind this "NWhy?". Is it related to Mr. Fishwick's new Norfolk and
Western logo? The second photo shows an early weed control device use on
rail lines....VGN?

The Jewel from the Past, like one in Billy Daniel's Dad's Hamilton 950
23 jewel is from April 15, 2004: "It was said that a certain town on the
VGN would have grown, but every time a woman became pregnant, two men
left town. Wes Sowder mentioned that while at Altavista, he sold tickets
and you could ride to Leesville for 25 cents. A green and white flag was
used to flag the passenger train".

Passed around was the September 2010 "Trains Magazine" which highlights
the use of distributed power "the way railroads run big trains". One
article "Distributed Power's Wonder Years" tells about the November 15,
1967 N&W train that "grabbed national attention by safely operating the
mother of all trains: a 500-car, 48,179 ton coal train 159 miles from
Iaeger, WV to Portsmouth, OH. N&W put three SD45s on the
point("Masters")and three more radio-controlled units("Slaves") 300 cars
back". Also in this issue is an article "Back into the fire" about
Norfolk Southern's new steam excursion program called "21st Century
Steam". The article spoke of using Southern 2-8-2 #4501 and 2-8-0 #630
as well as Tennessee Valley Railroad 2-8-0 #610. Conspicuously missing
is any mention of the N&W "J" #611 or "A" #1218.

Gibby Davis told the Brethren about his grandmother, Lucy Vivian Vaughn,
regularly riding #4 from Roanoke on his grandfather Malcom Vaught, VGN
machinist's pass to Dolphin, VA and "getting off the train and walking
up the bank to her sister's house".

When I saw the article in the September "Trains" magazine about the
historic N&W 500-car coal train, it brought back a lot of memories. I
worked in the N&W Locomotive Design section in the Motive Power Building
that year and was sent to Cocoa Beach, FL to Radiation Locotrol school.
I rode these radio controlled units as a sort of technical observer and
became familiar with the transmitted information so that I would tell
when the engineer, who was on the head end made a throttle change, air
brake application or release etc. I made the one trip just prior to the
"big one" from Roanoke to Norfolk on a 420-car coal train using the
radio controlled units. I was on the "Slave" units 240 cars of coal back
from the head end. The Road Foreman of Engines on this trip was Sammy
Noe. When we approached a road crossing, there would be cars backed up
as far as we could see. They would immediately start their cars thinking
we were a pusher engine, not knowing there were 180 more cars to come.
Once on the communication radio near Portlock, I heard someone say "Boy,
the N&W is running them coal trains really close together today".

Time to pull the pin on this one!

Departing Now from V248,

Skip Salmon


More information about the NW-Mailing-List mailing list