Vol. 33, No. 4 October / December 2017  Issue Select 
Issue Details
Cover Title: Steam's Last Stand
Cover Subtitle: N&W Signaling 1930-1959 Part 5, The Virginian's V&W Branch
On the Cover: In the late 1950s Blue Ridge, Virginia, attracted photographers by the droves, as fans of steam gathered to witness the might and power of N&W steam in its final hours. By 1958 there was precious little active steam to be found in the U.S., and railroads featuring large main line steam locomotives were measurable with single digits. Grand Trunk Western was still running steam in the northern U.S. and Ontario, Canada; the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range still ran articulated steam on the Iron Range in northern Minnesota; and of course the N&W was the last major bastion of steam in the East. In this view, Y6a 2161 and another locomotive pound up past the Blue Ridge station in the late 1950s. Ron Britzke takes us back to 1958 when he and his dad, uncle, and cousin made a journey to Blue Ridge to take in the sights and sounds of steam’s last stand on the N&W — the last hurrah of steam in regular freight service in Appalachia.


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Articles In This Issue
Steam's Last Stand - Ron Britzke
  Photo After passing the depot at Blue Ridge, the 2161 roars past the photographer with twin plumes of smoke rocketing skyward. Note the open derail on the siding in the foreground. (Wade Stevenson photo, N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo First in a sequence of four photographs, an eastbound coal drag nears the Blue Ridge station and the summit of the nine-mile hill above Roanoke, Virginia, as a local freight at the right prepares to make a switching move. The date is May 31, 1958, in steam’s finest hour on the N&W. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo Taken immediately after the photograph on the previous pages, the awesome bulk of Class Y6a 2160 looms over the right-of-way, its 582,900 pounds shaking the sand-whitened rails. Built in 1942, the behemoth carries 22,000 gallons of water and 30 tons of coal in its massive tender. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo The next image in the sequence shows a Class A 2-6-6-4 throwing smoke and cinders skyward. In 1958 chances were good you wore a crewcut, and standing trackside witnessing big steam action like this showed the practicality of a short haircut — combing out cinders was a chore! (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo In the fourth photo of the sequence, blasting upgrade toward a sad oblivion, paired Mallet and single expansion articulated locomotives each carry an “auxiliary tank” behind their tenders. Diesels had already appeared on the N&W and these giants were doomed. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo N&W crews were used to railfans in 1958 and this friendly wave was typical. Drifting backward toward Roanoke, Y6 Mallet 2150 represents the brutish articulated locomotives that did such yeoman service for the coal-hauling line. This was one of the Roanoke Shops’ Class of 1940 (2144–2154), and was in pusher service when the photo was taken. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo Coming and going, Y6a 2158 displays the Norfolk & Western’s long battle with the grade east of Roanoke — the last barrier on the main line before Norfolk. The ties are almost buried in sand, evidence of the daily battle for traction. Pushers were a must before the Virginian merger offered an easier route to Tidewater for the coal trains. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo Blue Ridge station basks in holiday sunlight on Memorial Day weekend in 1958. A rallying point for railfans in the waning days of steam on the N&W, it was torn down several years ago. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo Five Geeps growl past eastbound at Blue Ridge on May 31, 1958, and tell of things to come. Four Geeps were spotted the previous day in Hagerstown — the diesel invasion had begun in earnest. (Ron Britzke photo)
  Photo A continuation of the action on Blue Ridge appearing on the cover and page 3, these two photographs record the passage of pusher Y6a 2169 shoving hard on the cab of the eastbound coal train at Blue Ridge, Virginia. In the shot at right, the photographer crouched down for a near rail-level view, catching an instant in time as the magnificent Y-class articulated locomotive thunders past and goes roaring into history. (both photos Wade Stevenson, N&WHS Archives collection)
N&W Signaling, 1930-1959 / Part 5 - Glenn Fisher
  Photo N&W Class A 1238 has a circus train in tow passing under the position light signals on the double track at Elliston, Virginia, on October 10, 1954. In 1954 this was double track automatic block territory. The train is in the middle track, where they had stopped to turn down retainers after descending the grade from Christiansburg. (August A. Thieme, Jr., N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Class J 601 roars past position light signals on double track in automatic block territory at Radford, Virginia, on May 11, 1951, with a six-car Train 9. Walton to Radford was double track automatic block, while Radford to Pulaski was single track CTC. (Robert F. Collins photo, N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Class J 601 rolls a passenger train past a semaphore at the “Bottom Creek curve” in January 1950. (N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Class Y6 2134 pulls loads through Landgraff, West Virginia, on August 4, 1950. This was double track automatic block territory with semaphore signals at the time, but Landgraff was in a segment of 19.6 miles between Big Four and Powhatan that was converted to CTC in 1952. This new segment of CTC was dispatched out of Bluefield. (N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo With main line signals in the distance, and a siding signal on a lineside mast, Y6b 2180 roars around a curve hauling 2nd 85 westbound at Shawsville, Virginia, on September 13, 1953. (August A. Thieme, Jr., photo, N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Class K1 108 leads a westbound at Crewe, Virginia, passing a signal controlling the main line the train is on. The small mast to the left houses a single amber lens indicating that the track closest to the photographer is unsignalled. In the semaphore era, the small mast housed a red signal. An engineer approaching this signal would know that the main signal mast was his signal even though the signal itself was located beyond the next track to his right because of the presence of the “unsignalled track” signal. (August A. Thieme, Jr., photo, N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Class K1 104 works on a local freight, shuffling cars at Chilhowie, Virginia, on August 11, 1953. The main line to the right of the locomotive is protected by a single position light mast signal. (N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Class J 603 leads Train 25 westbound at Forest, Virginia, just west of Lynchburg on August 12, 1953. The route the train is on is controlled by automatic block position light signals, while the doubletrack main line to the right is controlled by CTC signals, so this signal bridge has both CTC and automatic block signal heads on it. It is now long gone, replaced by a single mast signal located behind the photographer. (GC Corey photo, N&WHS Archives collection)
Signaling Both Tracks Both Ways on the N&W - reprint Railway Age
  Photo A westbound train rolls past the signals at the west end of the crossovers near Milepost 378. (courtesy SimmonsBoardman Publishing)
  Drawing This track plan of the CTC territory between Powhatan and Bluestone shows the signals at only the two ends of Elkhorn Tunnel. The signals at the power switch layouts are standard arrangements and are not shown on this plan. (courtesy Simmons-Boardman Publishing)
  Photo This signal bridge houses the home signals at the east end of Elkhorn Tunnel. Note the special telephone box on the post at left, shown in detail below. (courtesy Simmons-Boardman Publishing)
  Photo The phone box near the east end of Elkhorn Tunnel includes a toggle switch and a 2-inch red lens. (courtesy Simmons-Boardman Publishing)
  Photo The same signal bridge that appears at upper left was photographed from above Elkhorn Tunnel in a gentle rain on March 28, 2010. NS 8014 is in pusher service, having just shoved the train over the summit and exited Elkhorn Tunnel going east. The diagonal lower signals on two of the masts are changes from the original, and color position light signals have replaced the original position light signals that had amber lenses. Though it would be blocked by the train in this view, the phone on the pole pointed out in the Railway Age photograph is long gone. The radio era circumvented the need for trackside telephones. (Kevin EuDaly photo)
  Photo At the west portal of Elkhorn Tunnel, the original signal bridge houses signal heads much like the original installation, other than the fact that they’re now color position lights. Westbound 9863 passes under the bridge on October 22, 2010, while the south main is lined clear for an eastbound move. (Kevin EuDaly photo)
The Virginian's V&W Branch - T.R. Jr. Marshall
  Map This map from an N&W employee time table shows both the V&W Branch and later Morri Branch (both in blue). Note the original Morri Branch, later known as the Laurel Fork Branch, has yet to be rebuilt. (Tom Marshall collection)
  Photo The V&W crosses West Virginia Route 97 between Maben and Saulsville at mile post 2.9. This is the first and probably only view most visitors of nearby Twin Falls Resort State Park get of the Virginian & Western Branch. (Tom Marshall photo)
  Photo Polk Gap Tunnel is 2,463.4 feet long with concrete lining. This picture from October 9, 2010, shows the west end of the tunnel and how vegetation has taken over the V&W. (Tom Marshall photo)
  Photo An unlined tunnel cut through rock is located at Milam, West Virginia. This view from June 14, 2005, shows the east end of the 242-foot-long tunnel. Milam Junction is located just beyond the west end of the tunnel. (Tom Marshall photo)
  Photo Virginian Railway founder Henry Huttleston Rogers’ namesake in West Virginia was Glen Rogers. This was once the largest coal producing mine on the Virginian Railway. The mine had a 680-foot-deep shaft that brought coal to the surface from the Beckley seam. (Aubrey Wiley collection)
  Photo This photograph from 1938 shows the load tracks and the Glen Rogers tipple. Glen Rogers loaded both hoppers and gondolas including the large class G-3 and G-4 gons. (Millicent Library collection)
  Photo The Glen Rogers company store was a modern two-story brick building that supplied the shopping needs of the community. This view from August 11, 2005, shows the deterioration of the structure which no longer has a roof or second floor. (Tom Marshall photo)
  Chart Coal production of the RaleighWyoming Mining Company is shown from 1922 to 1960 on this chart. Note that no coal was produced in 1950. (chart by Tom Marshall)
  Photo This is an example of a coal briquette produced at Glen Rogers. Briquettes were made from 1928 until 1960. (Tom Marshall photo)
  Photo Virginian 6698, a class H-4, 55-ton hopper, is shown at Glen Rogers as part of a train of “briquets” being shipped to coal dealers in Michigan. Virginian often used the spelling “briquette” in their publications. (Gerry Albers collection)
  Photo This photograph from 1938 shows the briquette plant at Glen Rogers. Slack coal from the Glen Rogers mine was used to produce briquettes. This was once the site of a Ritter company store. (Gerry Albers collection)
  Chart Coal production is shown on this chart for the Laurel Fork Branch during its active years of 1923 to 1953. During this time period there were three coal companies located on the branch. (chart by Tom Marshall)
  Photo These abandoned bridge piers at Sabine once carried Virginian track over Laurel Fork to the Bellemeade Coal Company tipple. The Laurel Fork Branch was abandoned in 1958 with much of it later rebuilt. (Tom Marshall photo)
  Map This map from the 1930s shows the proposed extension (shown in red) of the Morri/Laurel Fork Branch to Simon on the Guyandot River Branch. When the new Morri Branch from Simon Junction to Kopperston was built in the late 1930s the two lines were never connected. (N&WHS Archives collection)
  Photo Ranger Fuel Corporation 1 is the Sabine unit, photographed at General Electric in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 16, 1977. The rebuilt Alco S-2 served at the Ranger Fuel’s Sabine complex. (James P. Marcus photo, Ron Stafford collection)
  Photo This photograph from 1960 shows the relatively new tipple of the Bolt Mining Company on the Bolt Branch. (N&W photo)
  Photo N&W 8508 and 8522, both GE C-36-7s, shove a train of empties up the two percent grade and across the bridge at Mile 2.9 in route to Bolt. This rare shoving move from 1986 was due to an out-of-service switch at Bolt. (E. Roy Ward photo)
  Photo Ranger Fuel Corporation’s switcher, also No. 1 like the Sabine unit, was photographed at the Bolt mine in June 1990. This switcher is a Baldwin S-12. (Kurt Reisweber photo, Ron Stafford collection)
  Timetable This public schedule for mixed trains 7 and 8 is from December 11, 1932. The mixed train continued to operate until late 1938. (Tom Marshall collection)
  Table This table shows diesel locomotive ratings for the Virginian & Western and Laurel Fork Branches. It is based on Virginian Bulletin No. 129 dated September 8, 1954. (table by Tom Marshall)
  Letter Operational instructions were included in Virginian employee time tables for crossings with the W. M. Ritter Lumber Company. Ritter crossed the Virginian at multiple locations on the V&W and Laurel Fork Branches. (Tom Marshall collection)
  Photo Norfolk Southern 3194, an EMD SD40, leaves the Virginian & Western Branch at Virwest with a train of scrap metal. Virwest is located at the east end of Maben siding and is about three miles west of Mullens and the beginning of Elmore Yard. (E. Roy Ward photo)
Vol. 33, No. 4 October / December 2017  Issue Select