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

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Apr 24 07:03:52 EDT 2011

Last night I had the pleasure of "Takin' Twenty" with nine of the Brethren
and Friends of the Virginian Railway. Former Virginian Master Mechanic
Russell McDaniel brought his son-in-law Richard Hagood with him. Russell
was the center of attention telling us more details about the famous
"runaway" at Kopperston, when a brand new Fairbanks Morse Trainmaster came
down the grade and turned over at the second curve. Russell, who was
working as Assistant General Forman at Mullins at the time (Walter Grigg
was the General Foreman), was dispatched on the Kopperston run to
"troubleshoot" a report of independent brake failure on the unit. When they
reached Kopperston mine, Russell gave the air brake system a "going over"
but could not find anything wrong. The brakes then worked OK. He decided to
take the locomotive back to Mullins, and told the shop personnel to hold
the unit over until he got back the next day to check it our more
thoroughly. Returning the second day, Russell could not find the unit, and
discovered it had been dispatched to Kopperston again! "I got on the
dispatch line to order the unit out of service, when I heard engineer
"Tubby' Murdock on the line say 'Nobody's hurt, send the derrick to get it
out of the ditch'". Later Russell found out that Murdock observed the speed
to be over 60MPH when he made the ride down the grade. "Tubby" also tried
to tie up the handbrake and actually broke the handbrake chain in his
attempt. This brake failure was caused by a sticking valve in the 24-RL air
brake system and all FMs across the nation were "recalled" to correct the

I asked the Brethren their memories of the different horns on the VGN
electric locomotives. I recall the Squareheads having sort of a single note
whistle shrill, but you could hear them coming for quite a long way with
all that "clanking" of the side rods. It was agreed that the EL-2b and
EL-Cs had a three-chime diesel horn similar to the Trainmasters. Doug Bess
asked about the electric locomotive horn sounds. He has a great web site
for you to peruse: www.WVRails.com

Passed around was a photo of yours truly sitting in the engineer's seat of
the Southern #4501 when she was in Roanoke Shops in September 1977; don't
remember the occasion. This is the same steam locomotive that Johnny Cash
used on his TV movie, and was on the N&W Coalwood, WV Branch in the movie
"October Sky". Also passed was a 1952 post card showing an N&W passenger
train eastbound, just past the Big Spring Mill at Elliston, VA. Recently
two local boys were struck and killed on a trestle near the Mill, by a
westbound NS hopper train. This card shows the curve and illustrates how
important it is for all to stay off live tracks, especially bridges. This
location is just south of Lafayette on the old VGN NS Whitethorne District.

From last week I got several guesses about who was the third famous
American in the Japanese "banzai charge" mystery. Among the guesses were
Casey Jones, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, and Dizzy Dean. The
correct answer is Roy Acuff, who made the "Wabash Cannonball" and "Life is
Like a Mountain Railway" regulars on the "Grand Ole Opry".

The Jewel from the Past is from March 10, 2005: "Walter Grigg and some of
the Brethren were commenting about how much Victoria has changed since the
merger, with the only tracks in town 'now the ones holding up the VGN
caboose 342'. He mentioned that his home-town of Purdy, VA was 'worse than
Victoria'. Walter also remembered he had been given a framed photo, by the
manufacturer, of the EL-Cs when he was Assistant Superintendent Motive
Power in Princeton. He was in Roanoke at the time of the merger and when he
went back to Princeton to collect the photo, it had disappeared".

I got a great response from our discussion last week of "what if" the VGN
and NYC merger had occurred in 1911. Lloyd Lewis responded "if the
situation had been slightly different in the late fifties, why could not
the VGN have bought out the N&W?"

I watched the Spike TV premier of their documentary "COAL" last night. The
Cobolt Coal Company near Welch is mining a seam of rich coal (for steel
making) that is 20 to 42 inches high and the show is their story. It
reminded me of the film "October Sky". This movie was also about mining in
McDowell County, WV, with Homer Hickam and the "Rocket Boys". One of my
favorite parts was when Homer and the boys "released one of the N&W spur
track rails on its own recognizance". When the local switcher came by, the
famous railway photographer O. Winston Link is at the throttle in the N&W
painted #4501. "Prodigious!"

Time to pull the pin on this one!

Departing Now from V248,

Skip Salmon


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