clearing the right of way

nw-mailing-list at nw-mailing-list at
Wed Aug 30 05:31:43 EDT 2006

Thanks for the clarification Mr. Burnitt!
And here I thought the N&W put a lot of effort into keeping the right of way cleaned off good because they wanted to! In the old photographs, the right of way is cleared off, unobstructed, and the fences were neatly kept.
It took me several cuts with a brush cutter and quite a bit of roundup to get the strip behind my house cleared off. And, it is still a lot of work to maintain it. Of course, I want to do it. I hate brush and briars anyway and I always have. I kept them cut down everywhere I've ever lived.

They cleared out the west end McMullin siding bed so good that I can see the old signal footers again. There is a private crossing here for a stock yard, and I imagine that is why they cut this area so clean so they can have an unobstructed view of trains. The vegetation was blocking a lot of the visibility there.

Ben Blevins

nw-mailing-list at wrote:
What many people don't realize is that, in the days of steam, the sulphuric acid in the cinders took care of a lot of the railroad's "vegetation control" issues.

The proof is in the old photographs. Not a lot of vegetation grew near a heavily used, double track railroad. One of the great illustrations of this is in the 1940's N&W photograph which was published in the AAR give-away package. It shows a "big steel gang" working at the east end of the Christiansburg Middle Track, and the whole top of the mountain is bare... and it ain't from cultivation, either !

One thing the railroad's did have to keep "cut down" was the river banks. This was critical so that the engine crew (and especially the head end brakeman in his dog house on the tank) and the rear end crew, in the cupola, could watch their trains for hot boxes. Roller bearings, of course, took care of this problem.

By the 1980s, many of the great photo spots were gone... overtaken by vegetation, and most of us have seen photos of trains travelling through what appeared to be a tunnel through the overhanging trees.

Oh, I should add that old Tom Kegley, a 1906-hire (?) told me that when working the branches, he intentionally left his boiler blow down cock cracked so that it discharged a stream of steam and scalding hot water "about the size of a drinking straw." This kept the grass killed between the rails and "the section men really appreciated it, because they had to grub that stuff out by hand," said Tom.

-- abram burnett

From: nw-mailing-list at
To: NWHS mailing list <nw-mailing-list at>
Subject: clearing the right of way
Date: Tue, 29 Aug 2006 12:15:38 +0000

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