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

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Sun Dec 4 15:40:18 EST 2022

Thank you for your post.  I’m glad you were able to confirm some of my recollections and include additional information.  I only wish you could verify what I was told about the extension of the catenary.  That would be a real gem, if true.  Like I mentioned in my original post, it’s hearsay evidence.
The same yard crewman that told me about the catenary extension also told me a couple of other tidbits that I personally observed regarding the old Roanoke Railway and Electric Company.  The company’s power plant and street car storage barn still stood in the early 1970s.  The power plant was demolished years ago.  But the old car storage barn exists to this day.
When street cars exited the trolley barn, they turned left and proceeded dircetly under the Walnut Avenue bridge to Williamson Road where they turned left and passed the Virginian passenger station to access Jefferson Street.  But before the street cars could reach Williamson Road, they had to cross a diamond over N&W’s Winston-Salem line and then cross another diamond over the Virginian.  By the early 1970s, the diamonds were long gone.
But two artifacts from Roanoke’s street car era under the Walnut Avenue bridge still existed that the crewman pointed out to me.  First, the street car tracks in-between the two diamonds were easily observable.  Second, there was an old signal light suspended under the far end of the bridge that alerted street car motormen whether to stop and stay or to proceed across the diamonds.  Although the signal light still existed in the early 1970s, it no longer worked of course.  As I recall, the signal more closely resembled a basic traffic light than a railroad signal.
About ten years ago, I went back to the Walnut Avenue bridge to see if anything from early 1970s survived.  The street car signal under the Bridge was gone and so were the tracks.  The tracks had either been subsumed by the ground or, more likely, pulled up and sold for scrap.
I’ve attached three photos that I thought might be of interest:  The two black and white photos are the result of a street car crossing the diamond under the Walnut Avenue bridge at the same time as a Virginian locomotive.  Either the motorman ran the stop and stay signal or the signal did not exist at the time and this collision was the motivating factor for its existence.
The color photo is a recent Google street view taken from Williamson Road looking under the bridge.  The Virginian tracks are in the foreground and the N&W Winston-Salem tracks are in the background.  The old street car access tracks were in-between the railroad mains in parallel with the bridge overhead.  The signal light was suspended under the bridge just beyond the N&W tracks.
Bill KingArlington, Virginia

-----Original Message-----
From: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org>
To: N&W Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org>
Sent: Sat, Dec 3, 2022 9:49 pm
Subject: Re: I Was Told the N&W Did Extend Virginian's Electrification

     It appears that no one has yet taken Mr. Bill King's questions by the horns, so I will step up to the plate and attempt an answer for him.   
   1.  The "signal shack" referred to was not a formal structure, but was simply a three-sided lean-to, cobbled together by the men to provide some relief from the wind when switching coal at the east end of the VGN Yard at Roanoke.  Trainmen are rather adroit at rigging up wind-breaks.  Most generally they used grain-doors out of box cars, which were plentiful back then, and any large pieces of plywood they may find. At Roanoke, I recall such impromptu windbreaks being located at 15th Street, at the Pull Up at 16th Street, and at the west end of the Eastbound Running Track at the Radford Division Pull In.  There may have been others.  Bluefield, Crewe and Shenandoah had them, too.   
   2.  The signal light Mr. King remembers was a standard switching signal used where an engine might get out of sight of the hand signals given by Trainmen, due to curvature or whatever.  Remember, there were no radios back then.  Having switching lights saved one or two Trainmen from having to ride the tops of cars to relay hand signals to the Engineman.  (That was not a pleasant job in cold wind and rain.  I remember coming down off a load of coal one night, where I had been stationed for about an hour during a switching move.  As I bent over to come down the side ladder on the car, I heard a coat of ice crackling on my Lee overall jacket.)   
   At Roanoke, I recall several switching signals being located at the east end of the Empty Side Yard at Shaffers Crossing, with the last one down about 19th Street; and at the west end of the Empty Side Yard at WB; and at 15th Street to provide for switching coal on the high-numbered tracks; and at the west end of the Eastbound Running Track at the Radford Division Pull In.  The Hump at Shaffers Crossing also had the very same arrangement, namely one set of hump signals for the south side of the Receiving Yard (tracks 1-10) and another set for the north side (tracks 11-20.,) controlled by the Hump Conductor at the crest of the Hump.  Bluefield and Crewe had several of them, too, for use in switching long cuts of coal.  We used the switching lights for doubling eastbound coal trains out of Bluefield... that was always a three track double.  The N&W never put things like this in the Time Table Special Instructions... you were just supposed to pick up the information by osmosis.   
   One place I worked (Enola) called eastward trains on 15 minute headways and had three departure tracks used by eastward trains doubling out.  Each of the departure tracks had a different system of lights and colors, and  their use was prescribed in the Time Table.   
   The control which Mr. King remembers was simply a rotary switch with five notches on it, as I recall.  One notch was obviously to turn the light off.  One was to signal the Engineman to move Ahead; another was for Steady; another was for Stop; and another for Back Up.      
   There was no industry standard form the aspects displayed on the switching signals, but the combinations, as I recall them,  were usually Red for Stop; Green for Ahead;  Yellow for Steady; and Flashing Red for Back Up.  (The flashing of the red for Back Up was accomplished by a flashing relay in the signal system.)  I seem to recall some place which also used a Flashing Yellow aspect, but cannot recall the details.  So, a signal arm equipped with a Red lens, a Yellow lens, and a Green lens could give all the needed indications.   
   3.  As for the question the N&W extending the catenary wire eastward at JK to provide for the movement of electric engines...  All I will say is that I was in that area frequently in 1962 and 1963, and very frequently once I went to work in 1964.  I never saw any evidence of catenary poles east of the east ladder track.  It would not have been necessary for an engine to drop east of the home signal before making a reverse move at this point, as all railroad rule books provided for making a reverse move in an interlocking on verbal permission of the Operator, in lieu of "running out the plant."  This was known as a "short move in the interlocking," and everyone understood what it meant.  I also took several photos in that area in the very early 1960s, and none of them show any catenary extending eastward past JK Tower and crossing the N&W's Winston-Salem District.   
   The only change I am aware of in that area is that the VGN's former Single Main Track was downgraded to a yard track and re-named Track A-1, shortly after the merger.  This was done because, under the Virginian labor contract, a yard crew received a small penalty payment for performing service on a Main Track.  The passenger train had been gone for some years, so there was really no need for the VGN to have a Main Track extending through Roanoke.   
   Hope some of this information helps.   
   Our Turnip Brokerage is now having its Annual Scuff and Dent Sale on Turnips.  The prices are right, so bring your wagon and load up !   
   -- abram burnett   
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