Steam doubleheaders and pushers to Belews Creek

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Sat Feb 6 14:39:17 EST 2021

> Quite often, in steam days, time freights were pushed all the way from
> Roanoke to Winston-Salem. Even, in the diesel era, Belews Creek coal trains
> are pushed on the Punkin Vine.
> Dick Kimball

As a brand new Management Trainee in the Spring of 1977, my first
> assignment was the Shenandoah Division, my first train was the Belews Creek
> coal train, with the newest equipment, locomotives and hopper cars, on the
> railroad.  Our first stop was Starkey as I recall, the lead unit needed a
> new oil filter and mechanical forces met us and pulled out and replaced the
> biggest oil filter I have ever seen.  On we went.

I don’t remember much of anything about the trip south, we arrived at
Belews Creek and they had to decide what to do with this kid.  It was
concluded that I should come home to Roanoke on the pusher locomotive.

Now I was traveling north with a single engineer and I started asking my
questions, lots of questions.  I don’t know what I asked, but I distinctly
remember him suggesting that I might be able to take the controls when we
got a bit further up the road.  I didn’t ask for that but I certainly
wasn’t going to turn him down.  Unfortunately, the dispatcher had to put us
into a passing siding to clear for a trainload of automobile racks headed
to Winston Salem.  Even worst, the train beside us went into emergency as
an air hose parted somewhere in the train.  The lead brakeman started
walking the train to find the problem and my pusher engineer headed back
south to pick him up.  Eager to get home, we could carry the brakeman north
beside the stopped train and spot the errant hose with a flashlight as we
brought him north a whole lot faster than he could walk.  Hose spotted,
reconnected, and brakeman delivered to the head end, we headed north on our
siding to wait for the autoracks train to clear for us to proceed to
There is no doubt but that I continued asking questions, but I did not
question his control of our 3 SD unit pusher locomotives.  It did seem like
we were moving awfully fast toward that derail at the north end of the
siding, and the freight train we were waiting for was right beside us.  I
am not someone to tell someone else how to do their job, especially when
I’ve been on the job two weeks and my engineer had been there 30 years.  I
kept quiet, and got to experience what it’s like to go over a detail on an
SD40-2. The train beside us departed and the poor guy in the car, on the
wrong side of the road crossing down to the river, found 3 SD units parked
on the road crossing in front of him, he wasn’t getting home to momma
The dispatcher was called, an irrate trainmaster was sent to get us and
bring us back to Roanoke.  I don’t recall much in the way of conversation
in that ride home.  Sometime later I was called at the Safety Dept where
the Operating Dept trainees were based, I was to report to an investigation
pronto.  Instead of observing an investigation as a trainee, I testified.
 What was my name, how long had I worked for the N&W.  I was excused.  I’m
sure the engineer’s union representative wanted to ask me more, but it was
deemed irrelevant.  Never riding in the Shenandoah Division again, I doubt
the next trainee got a warm reception.
David Ray

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