J610 Powhatan Arrow Photo

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Nov 15 09:38:50 EST 2016

When I hired as a Radford Division Brakeman in 1964, there were still men working who had hired in 1918. I pumped them all for what information could be had. Many of the old heads were on the grumpy side, especially toward some 18 year old kid who showed some enthusiasm for his job and asked about everything. 

I asked around about this particular photograph. And, if memory serves me correctly, it was 1940-hire Engineman Fred Whitaker who told me he had been the Fireman on the train the day that photograph was taken. I specifically asked if it had been an "on the fly" photograph, or if the train had been stopped, and the answer was that the train had been stopped and posed. Unfortunately, I did not delve deeper for more details. 

Fred Whitaker was a jewel. A real gentleman, and a thorough professional at his craft. He was somewhat famous amongst the workforce for being the first man every to "pull" a train through Ball's Hole (instead of braking it through Ball's Hole.) One one day I asked him about it, and he smiled and said, yes, the story was true. Then he said words to the effect that, "I thought about the break-in-two problem we were having with bunch-braking trains through the Hole, and pulling the train through there just seemed like the thing to do. So I tried it, and it worked." (Actually, N&W men did not use the term "bunch braking," so Fred used some other term, although I cannot remember his exact words.) I believe the train on which he executed this experiment was an eastbound coal train (those were the ones which gave the problem.) 

Fred hired right at the opportune time, 1940. The railroad had not hired any Firemen since 1926, so he "picked up" 14 years seniority by when he was one of the very first men hired after the Depression years. He was promoted to Engineman very quickly - probably within three or four years. By the time I came around, he was moving back and forth between the preferred freight jobs and the passenger jobs, and he retired off the passenger jobs. I broke the head end of trains he was handling several times on "the River" (Roanoke-Bluefield,) and probably several times on the Bristol Line. 

-- abram burnett 

Sent to You from my Telegraph Key 
Successor to the MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH LINE of 1844 
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