I Was Told the N&W Did Extend Virginian's Electrification

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Wed Nov 30 21:18:39 EST 2022

I have heresay evidence that the N&W did extend Virginian’s electrification, however slightly, after the 1959 merger.
Please forgive me if this missive goes on too long as I provide some background informamtion.  The recent article in The Arrow (“Just Before the Wires Came Down”) about the Virginian’s electrification on N&W operations after the 1959 merger got me thinking about events when I was a young boy in the early 1970s.
I would ride my bicycle down to South Yard in Roanoke and watch switching operations.  There was a small signal shack, without a fourth wall, on the opposite side of the old Virginian main from JK Tower, almost directly under the Walnut Avenue Bridge.  It was not manned full-time.  It was only used when cuts of cars at the extreme eastern end of the yard required switching.  Most of the time the yard crew at South Yard worked out of a larger building further west just off Reserve Avenue, almost directly under the Franklin Road Bridge.  The Signal Shack under Walnut Avenue contained an electrical box with a lever that activated a signal on the hill to the east on the bend where the Virginian main line proceeded to Norfolk.  Once a cut of cars had cleared the switch, the lever in the Signal Shack was thrown to tell the locomotive crew to stop.  After the cut of cars was stopped, the lever was further thrown to give the signal that the switch had been thrown and the locomotive crew could reverse and complete the switching move.
I became familiar to the yard crewman and they would let me throw the lever on the box for switching moves.  It was no big deal.  But for a young boy, it was exciting stuff.  Occasionally, although it was against the rules, they even let me ride in the cab of locomotives that were switching cars.  During switching operations, I distinctly remember the “Wheel Slip” warning light frequently illuminating.
Most of the yard crewman in South Yard were former Virginian employees and they frequently told me some interesting information.  For instance, they called the H-16-44 diesel locomotives “Yellow Jackets” because of the yellow and black paint jobs.  They also said that the Fairbanks-Morse diesels contained a “dead-mans” feature that they detested.  The cab crew had to constantly apply pressure to a foot pedal, requiring them to remain in their seats, otherwise the locomotive would grind to a halt.  They frequently got around this feature by resting anything heavy they could find on the pedal, thus allowing themselves freedom of movement about the cab when under way.
But most importantly, one of the former Virginian employees told me that after the merger, the N&W extended the catenary about 200 yards east of the Walnut Avenue Bridge to allow electric locomotives to observe the Searchlight block signal that faced east.  I’ve attached a current Google Maps photo showing the former locations of the Signal Shack under Walnut Avenue Bridge and the location of the Signal that it controlled.  The location of the Block Signal that the catenary was extended past is still there and I have noted it on the map.  But, of course, the Searchlight Signal has been replaced with a more modern indicator.
Bill KingArlington, Virginia
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