SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY


| January/February 1978



Virginia-Blue Ridge Railway first engine

Virginia-Blue Ridge Railway first engine at her coaling dock outside Tye River, Virginia in the summer of 1915.

108 Garfield Ave., Madison, New Jersey 07950

Time finally came for my father. His alloted span came to an end and as I sat at his old roll top desk dreading the job of going through his effects. I noticed a yellowed newspaper clipping dated August 1, 1963, announcing that finally the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway had changed to diesel power. I pulled it out of the cubby-hole and carefully took it out to read the story.

But, an odd thing happened. I found that I was reading the historical background leading up to the change as if I were a proof-reader. I found myself checking the dates and facts for they were all very fresh in my mind. I feel that I have lived all of them. Oddly enough the launching date for the line was within a few days of my own entry into this world. As I grew up and watched my father struggle with the roads problems as its first Superintendent, his dedication to hard work served as guidance for my own life.

So as I went on with the task of sorting out his papers I kept looking for more reminders of the making of a railroad. There were pictures and other things that told the story of those early days of railroad building. It began with the receipt of the first and only new locomotive on the Blue Ridge in March 1915. The 'one spot' was a 2-8-0 Porter with 50 inch drivers and, as I remember it, the pops let go at 125 psi. Some how, as a kid that had the envious privilege of riding in the cab I never did get so that I wouldn't be startled when they let go. But then, when you chanced a ride in the cab of the old 'number one' in the period around 1922 your nerves were cocked for the jump anyway. She spent a fair time on the ground what with the roadbed the way it was, ties with the bark still on two sides and mostly dirt ballast, if any. During the construction period there was one particularly interesting pile-up when, probably for lack of ballast, the track complete with engine just simply slid down the bank.

The original purpose of the road was to act as the common carrier which would serve two saw mills to be built to harvest the vast growth of chestnut timber in Nelson and Amherst Counties of Virginia. One of these was the Leftwich Timber Company at Woodson and the other was the Bee Tree Lumber Company at Massies Mill.

Leftwich built a standard gauge line into the mountains for getting out the logs. They used Shay locomotives, and from time to time could help out the Blue Ridge. One such occasion is very clear in my memory for it was after one of the frequent floods that 'number one' fell through the Piney River trestle carrying the head end brakeman to his death. There she was, jack-knifed in the river bed and how to get her out? One Shay to the rescue and the locomotive was pulled out one way and with the help of a Southern switcher from Monroe, the tender was pulled out the other way.