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

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Thu Apr 22 08:50:01 EDT 2010

Last night I had the pleasure of "Takin' Twenty" with seven of the
Brethren and Friends of the Virginian Railway. We signed a Happy
Birthday card for VGN clerk Wister Sowder, who will be 84 on Saturday.
Wis is now a gentleman farmer who raises fruits and vegetables and sells
them at the Farmer's Market in Salem. Wis lives on a farm, nestled in a
hollow at the bottom of Bent Mountain, just below the Blue Ridge
Parkway. Some of the locals consider this area the south end of the
Shenandoah Valley and Wis the "Mayor of Poages Mill". As an ironic
connection, the author of the famous book that the TV western "The
Virginian" was made from, is Wister Owen...

We talked a lot about last Thursday's celebration at the Roanoke Chapter
NRHS meeting for the 100 year anniversary of the opening of the VGN
Passenger Station in Roanoke. Attending the meeting and sharing their
Virginian experiences were the following: Greely Wyatt, Electrical
Foreman at Mullens; Russell McDaniel, Master Mechanic at Victoria;
Raymond East, VGN Fireman and Engineer; Wister Sowder, VGN Clerk; Frank
Breedlove, VGN Brakeman and Conductor and Landon Gregory, VGN Operator
and Dispatcher. I brought a photo of the special cake with the Station's
photo on it that we enjoyed at the meeting, for the rest of the Brethren
to see. The Chapter members were really impressed when Raymond East told
of firing old #4, the last VGN Steam engine left, that is now in the
Virginian Museum of Transportation. Landon Gregory read to the group a
morning report that he made as operator in 1958 at Victoria to the VGN
brass in Norfolk, telling about train movements, bad orders, and general
information to bring them up to date.

To answer a question by George Weber of the NC Transportation Museum in
Spencer, where a storm damaged some buildings recently, I asked the
Brethren if they recalled a hurricane or storm disrupting service on the
VGN. Landon Gregory remembered that in 1958 while working as operator at
South Norfolk "MO" Tower , the eye of a hurricane came with an "enormous
stillness" followed by a furry that lifted the roof off a nearby
building. He said that all of the relays in the tower "started
chattering and track indicators went red which meant that all signals
were knocked out". Raymond East told of high winds causing much arcing
when the electric locomotives passed through the yard.

The Jewel from the Past like one in Kersey Harper's Hamilton 992
"Railway Special" with gold chain, bought from a 90 year old engineer,
is from July 22, 2004: "A discussion of the runaway at Kopperston was
made and all pointed to Russell McDaniel for the answer. Russell who was
at Kopperston after this happened to investigate the runaway, stated
that the Trainmaster loco had No 24 RL air brakes. The accident was
caused by the blockage of air from the "bail off" feature when a valve
stuck causing the brakes not to function properly. He said that he
thought it was unit #55 which was just out of the FM factory. Note: This
incident prompted a "recall" of all FM Trainmasters in service. McDaniel
lead the investigation and discovered the cause and passed it on to
Fairbanks Morse. Maybe Toyota could use his expertise now...

Ebay sales this time include: VGN 2-10-10-2 etching $17.77; 1925 VGN RWY
Electrification booklet $26.25; Original slide of 1960 FM #151 with
hopper train and motor car in foreground at Salem Connection $76.00.

Kersey Harper was assigned one of the Virginian Contract Supervisor jobs
from the 1959 merger and was tin shop supervisor in Roanoke Shops. He is
a very quiet man who possesses a dry sense of humor and is known in
Roanoke as quite an avid golfer. He told us about an old school that was
torn down near where he lives, and the discovery of a skeleton in a
cloak room. Nearby the bones was a trophy with the inscription: "Hide
and Go Seek Champion, 1931"....

Time to pull the pin on this one!

Departing Now from V248,

Skip Salmon


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