LOOKING BACK With Fondness


| September/October 1995



Engine No. 1

108 Garfield Avenue Madison, New Jersey 07940

Those of you who've been reading IMA for many years may recall the January/February 1978 issue, and a reminiscence article therein called 'Sentimental Journey In Search of Steam.' There I relived my early childhood alongside the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway's tracks and in the shadow of the two steam powered sawmills that were its reason for existence. These enterprises deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia are now but a memory, for hardly a trace remains of their passing.

The line ran from Massies Mill some 15 miles to an interchange with the Southern Railway at a mainline way station known as Tie River about 20 miles north of Lynchburg. In 1915 they took delivery of a 2-8-0 consolidation type locomotive built for them by the H. K. Porter Company of Pittsburgh. That machine served the railroad until being scrapped in 1953. A factor in its longevity reportedly was the source of boiler water from a nearby mountain stream. It is the search for this elixir and its analysis that brings our story up to date.

There is probably no set age at which one's memory begins and carries on into later life. There will, however, be flashes of insight from memorable incidents going back to very early years. There are, for me, two of these mental snapshots that remain deeply embedded as related to the present story.

The railroad had provided shop facilities for engine maintenance in Massies Mill where coal, lube oil and sand were stored for use and a supply of boiler water was available. A clear flowing mountain brook called, appropriately enough, Rocky Run gurgled its way past the shop and pump house. Steam for the reciprocating steam engine belted to a centrifugal water pump had been provided by a vertical fire tube boiler until its demise. As an alternate source, a steam hose connection was inserted in the locomotive's draft blower line as a measure born of frugal operations and a nearness to corporate bankruptcy.

The night that the watchman was to try out the new scheme arrived, and my father was in attendance to see that all went well. As usual and whenever possible I was glued to his coat-tails as a sort of supernumerary. I can, in fact, remember quite a few tag-a-long incidents such as inspection trips with his Buda track car and our lunches of Uneeda biscuits, sardines and cream soda purchased at any convenient country store.