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Edition #73, March 1, 2008

Archeology

Photographer: Robert Kitchen

                                                                                      Photo by Robert Kitchen

Archeology

I reported to work for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad at Prince, West Virginia, in May of 1980.  Almost immediately I visited Hinton, since it was the largest terminal on the C&O’s New River Subdivision.  My first impressions of that visit were, to say the least, overwhelming.  There were two busy yards, an even busier engine terminal, a car shop with an active steam powered big hook and wreck train, and an army of clerks and officials at both the yard office and the historic station.

From a railfan’s point of view, I was in heaven!  But I was an official of the C&O, so my activities had to be confined to my employer’s needs.  I had to supervise a tie and surface gang as they worked in the east yard, and a switch replacement gang working at Avis (the west end of the east yard).

However, after the gang quit for the day, I would wonder over to the yard office to listen in as loaded coal trains arrived at CW and departed at MX, or hang out around the roundhouse to observe the hostlers putting together four or more 3000 horsepower products of EMD or GE to pull those coal trains over the road.  There was practically no place in the yard where one could not see some kind of activity.

Over the years I worked for the C&O, I spent many hours in the CTC room on the second floor of the Hinton station arranging for track time on the mainline, breathed coal smoke and listened to the constant hiss of steam as the big hook was being blocked up in preparation of a lifting the end of many a U30C after they derailed trying to negotiate the tight curves of the realigned turntable leads, walked the length of just about every yard track, stood in the (pick one: rain, snow, 105º heat) below a talkback speaker trying to explain to the yardmaster that there is no such thing as a “run through” switch stand, unloaded welded rail on the Avis lead, through the yard tracks, and on the mainline, and put on my dress whites on those October weekends when steam engines again needed servicing after pulling a passenger train into town.

Of all my time on the New River, my favorite moments occurred at Hinton, even when I had to drive 50 miles from my house, in the middle of the night, when I had the “duty”.  It was with these memories that I arrived back in Hinton in the summer of 2007.  The depot was empty, the roundhouse, turntable, and west yard were gone, and the yardmaster was working out of a cubicle in Huntington.  I did however meet up with the same Trainmaster I worked with from 1984 to 1987 back at Elk Run Junction.  He gave me the run of the yard, what was left of it, and, after driving down to CW Cabin on what would have been #4 yard track, I took this photo.  The amount of vegetation that has taken over this area and the sight of the giant coaling station towering over the trees made me think that I was an archeological explorer discovering some ancient Mayan city in the jungles of Mexico.

I wonder what our descendants will think of the sweat and toil of the hundreds of people who built these monuments to an engineering era that lasted only a few decades.  Just think if, for some reason, recorded history is lost for a thousand years, will they theorize that some coal worshipping religion flourished and built these giant concrete temples?  It makes me want to put some kind of cave art or hieroglyphics somewhere on these coaling towers to confuse the archeologists of the future . . .

©2007 - Robert Kitchen

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