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

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Mon Dec 5 16:09:29 EST 2022

Does this postcard(?) picture from Pinterest show the VGN weighing 
station near the Roanoke River and on a lower level than the "Newly 
constructed Wasena Bridge (looking south)"?

Gordon Hamilton

On 12/4/2022 9:09 PM, NW Mailing List wrote:
> Herr King et al :
> 1.  There WAS no eastward extension of the catenary on the east end of 
> the VGN's Roanoke Yard, so I cannot confirm it !
> 2.  I just remembered another place where a switching signal was 
> used.   It was at the west end of VGN's Roanoke Yard, and provided for 
> engines making long pulls of coal while switching at the west end, and 
> then getting out-of-sight around the curve at 13th St.
> As I recall, the rotary switch control for this was inside the 
> building which was generally called the Scale House, which was just 
> west of the Wasena Ave O.H. Bridge. The Scale House contained the 
> balance-beam track scale which had once been used for weighing 
> railroad cars, and at one time it also housed AG Telegraph Office, 
> which handled Train Orders and the Manual Block which extended from 
> Roanoke to Salem.  My guess (without evidence) is that the N&W put the 
> switching signal in.
> The scale was no longer in service as of my hiring in 1964, as 
> evidenced by the fact that the old live rail/dead rail apparatus had 
> been removed.  And I have always wondered when AG Telegraph Office was 
> discontinued, but never found any evidence.
> 3.  Re the RR&E (Roanoke Railway & Electric) crossing immediately east 
> of the VGN's Roanoke passenger station.  Early one night in the 
> mid-1970s I was braking the head end of a Norfolk Division coal train 
> out of South Roanoke Yard.  We were delayed getting underway and I was 
> stretching my legs on the ground, on the north side (the Jefferson St 
> side) of the yard.  One of the public utilities (water? sewer?) had 
> been doing excavation at that point, and had uncovered the old RR&E 
> track.  I recall that the rail was typical streetcar "girder rail" and 
> really wish I could have obtained a chunk of it.  But there was no one 
> around with a torch to cut off a piece for me.  That old streetcar 
> rail was probably covered up again, when the job was finished.  You 
> and Mr. Ken Miller should go down there with a shovel and check... if 
> you are good at diggin', he is good at supervisin' !  :-)
> 4.  Just a comment on switching coal at Roanoke.  Not all coal was 
> created equal.  It varied by ash content, volatile content, and BTU.  
> Buyers bought coal based on these parameters.  To make things easy and 
> to keep the railroad out of the statistics business, the mines 
> assigned code names (or "classes") to the various grades of coal:  
> words like Margaret, Daisy, Moonbeam, Lucky, and so forth.  Depending 
> on what the buyers had bought, the railroad's export piers loaded the 
> ships by class.  Some ships might take all Margaret;  some might be 
> loaded 2 Moonbeams to 5 Luckys, or whatever.
> Now, somewhere along the line, all these various classes of coal had 
> to be switched and grouped together.  I can't speak for how the VGN 
> switched its coal traffic, but on the N&W, Bluefield did some weighing 
> and classifying of coal, and Roanoke did some weighing and classifying 
> of coal;  Crewe did some classifying (but I don't think Crewe had a 
> trach scale.)  And obviously the desired outcome was to have it arrive 
> at Norfolk in reasonably proper order, so that Norfolk did not have to 
> clean up  a mess, in addition to loading the coal and recovering the 
> empties.
> I never understood who, in the pecking order, decided what terminals 
> would do what part of the classifying process.  That was obvious 
> orchestrated by the Smart People in General Office Building.  I was 
> only a Brakeman, and all I got was a cut slip which told me which cars 
> (by number) went in which tracks.  As long as I got that done right 
> and didn't derail anything, I never heard anything more about it.
> You will note the word "weighing" above. Back then, charges for all 
> freight were based on weight, and each car had to be weighed.  Somehow 
> the railroads were get the ICC to agree to shipment of coal at flat 
> rates, under what was called a Shipper's Weight Agreement.  If a car 
> had a capacity of 80 tons, the shippers agreed to load it to that 
> weight and the railroads agreed to bill for hauling that weight, and 
> scales pretty much went away.  But this is all the commercial side of 
> railroading and all I did was shove boxcars around in the darkness, so 
> you will have to ask Mr. Blackstock how rates and weights and billing 
> worked.
> For better or for worse, the only export coal dumper I was ever around 
> was Pier 126 at South Philadelphia, which handled Pennsylvania 
> Anthracite exclusively. Most of the Anthracite went to Europe or to 
> Quebec Iron & Titanium Co in Canada.    Bituminous coal went to 
> Baltimore for export.  I worked as Night Trainmaster at
> South Philadelphia in 1980-1981.  We also had a massive iron ore 
> import pier,  the busiest grain export pier on the East Coast, a 
> waterfront operation (i.e. merchandise piers) and a "street running" 
> operation along Delaware Avenue, and also a hump.  It was a good 
> learning experience for a young fellow who had spent 15 years coupling 
> air hoses and throwing switches, and I was privileged to work with 
> some of the best railroaders in my career, many of whom were 
> early-1940s hires. After that, I was sent to downtown Philadelphia, 
> then to Enola, then Harrisburg.  And after that they stuck me behind a 
> desk on a Division job for the balance of my 46 year sentence.  I have 
> now been paroled for 12 years and presently report only to my Madam 
> Boss Lady.
> -- abram burnett,
> My Steam-powered Yacht is Named the SS Turnip
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