Mountain Hollers and Coal Haulers

Wednesday, June 12, through Sunday, June 16

Location: Twin Falls Resort State Park, West Virginia

Convention photos!

Come join us this June for a weekend of fun and learn more about the Virginian Railway This year's N&WHS convention will be held at Twin Falls Resort State Park near Mullens, West Virginia.

Twin Falls State Resort Park

Twin Falls Resort State Park's is located on property donated by the N&W's Pocahontas Land Company and is near Mullens, the heart of the Virginian's operations in the West Virginia coal fields, and not too far from Beckley and I-77 and I-64.

VGN H-24-66 Trains Master

How well do you know the Virginian? We have provided a convention full of activities designed to showcase mountain railroading and coal mining at its best. We invite you to come learn more about the Virginian.

The Virginian Railway was built by Henry Huddleston Rogers in the early 1900's to gain better transportation costs for coal from West Virginia to the Tidewater. In order to disguise his intentions, the railroad was chartered in West Virginia as the Deepwater Railway after a shortline already in existence and as the Tidewater Railway in Virginia. It is not known how much this subterfuge confused N&W or C&O, but the Virginian name began to be used in 1907. The Tidewater built west from Sewalls Point on a mostly flat, water-level (along rivers) route and the Deepwater built east though the more difficult mountainous terrain to meet at the VA-WV border near Narrows, VA. Unlike the N&W, which was built by necessity to financially subscribing cities and towns along the way, the privately-funded Virginian was built in a manner to minimize grades and maximize operations, often bypassing larger cities in favor of a more direct route or a more favorable grade. While this made the Virginian one of the most profitable railroads in history with a very favorable operating ratio over the years, it makes it a little less favorable to find locations to railfan.

Bridging the Guyandotte river at Mullens
Bridging the Guyandotte River at Mullens - Clarence E. Slaton photo, Tom Salmon Collection
Jenny Gap Tunnel
The infamous Jenny Gap Tunnel - Clarence E. Slaton photo, Tom Salmon Collection

Both of our tours will pass through Jenny Gap, location of the infamous tunnel that C&O built and the Virginian ran their tracks through. In this early picture by Clarence E. Slaton, Master Mechanic of the Deepwater RR, 1905-1907, the C&O tracks are in the foreground and the Deepwater(Virginian) tracks are off to the left.

The Virginian had a reputation for doing things on a large scale. Class AE 2-10-10-2's were a good example. These engines were some of the largest and most powerful steam engines ever made.

VGN Class AE locomotives
Two Class AE 2-10-10-2's pushing at Micajah - Tom Marshall collection

The Virginian is also known for it's use of the large, 100 ton coal gondola cars, sometimes known as 'battleship' gons for their size.

VGN Battleship gon
G-4C Gondola - Photo Courtesy of Bob's Photo

In late 1959 the Virginian was purchased by the Norfolk and Western. While this brought changes and abandonments in Virginia, in the coalfields of West Virginia not much changed other than the lettering on the equipment used.

VGN train master switching at Maben
ex-VGN Train Master 165 switches Maben in 1960 - N&W photo, Tom Marshall collection

While some of the branch lines have been abandoned as coal mines closed, much of the original Virginian continues to be an integral part of Norfolk Southern today.

NS VGN Heritage unit at Tralee
Norfolk Southern VGN heritage unit 1069 at Tralee - Tom Marshall Photo

We have a Friday tour that will travel to the Beckley exhibition mine with lunch on the grounds. This mine is one of the best underground mining tours. For those who haven't visited this mine recently, in addition to the refurbished mine, there are also examples of typical coal camp structures located on the grounds that you will not want to miss. In addition to the mine tour, the bus will travel to Beckley along the ex-VGN mainline from Maben to Lester. On the return trip, the bus will follow the Winding Gulf branch to Mullens. It will also visit the Mullens caboose museum, Feller Heritage center, Elmore yard, and some of the iconic trestle locations south/east of Elmore.

Beckley Exhibition Mine
Beckley exhibition mine, Tom Marshall image

Saturday's tour visits the west end of the Virginian. The bus will leave Twin Falls and travel along the ex-VGN mainline from Maben to Page. The tour bus will be making stops along the way to highlight important locations along the Virginian, some of the large trestles the Virginian is famous for, and former coal camps. These include Slab Fork, Eccles, Lester, Sweeneyburg, Pax, Dothan, Oak Hill, and Page, although we will not have time to stop at every location. The bus will be making a stop for lunch at the spectacular Whipple Company store on the White Oak Railway/Branch, which we will also tour. On the return trip we'll make a short detour to Thurmond on the C&O. While this famous location is not on the Virginian or N&W, it is one of the most famous railroad locations in the eastern United States. It truly is a 'don't miss' destination, and our tour will be so close that we had to include it. This historic site is now preserved as part of the New River National Gorge. If you aren't familiar with Thurmond, we'll have a park ranger along to point out the sights and explain some of the history of the town.

Coal Train at Thurmond, WV
Coal train at Thurmond, Steve Summers image

For those interested there will be an alternative trip to Tamarack on Saturday, June 15th. Tamarack is a retail shop featuring West Virginia "hand-made crafts, arts and cuisine." It is l ocated in Beckley along the West Virginian Turnpike near the Harper Road exit. Tamarack serves as a showcase of West Virginia goods produced by both West Virginia manufacturers and craftsmen. The shop includes a diverse variety of products such as quilts, glass ware, jewelry, wine, books by West Virginia authors, music CDs, furniture and Fiesta Ware. The tour registration covers the transportation to and from Tamarack but does not include lunch. The Tamarack food court is managed by the world famous Greenbrier Resort. Menu items range from sandwiches to locally raised trout. This includes the Greenbrier's own fried green tomatoes.

In the case of all tours, please be aware we may have to cancel tours if there isn't enough interest or enough people to cover the tour expenses, in which case the tour fees will be refunded. Please try to reserve early to help us reach the critical tour counts before May 1. In addition, bus space may be limited, so reserving early should ensure your spot as well.

Additionally, we've lined up several interesting seminars to enhance your entertainment. A list will be posted in the Clinic section as they become set.

We are suspending the model contest for this year. Instead, we are encouraging modelers to bring models for show-and-tell. If possible, please include a sheet telling us what you did, so that the others can learn from and appreciate how you got there.

In an effort to keep costs down this year, there will not be a banquet on Saturday night. The Mullens Opportunity Center (MOC) will be having their fundraising dinner of ham, pinto beans and cornbread, fried potatoes and dessert on Saturday, June 15 at 5 PM for $12. A little background information on the dinner is that it celebrates the local coal and rail industry. We are joining the local community for this dinner. There is a $12 fee for this dinner per person and you must register for this dinner.

The Sunday morning membership meeting is not connected to breakfast (so be sure to eat before the meeting).