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Edition #57, July 1, 2007

Memorial To Railroaders

Photographer: Rob Kitchen

                Photo © 2006 by Rob Kitchen

Memorial to Railroaders

In May of 1980 I reported for duty as an Assistant Track Supervisor on the New River Subdivision of the West Virginia Division of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad at Prince, West Virginia.  I shared a very small office at the east end of the Prince station with the Track Supervisor, Track Inspector, Assistant Track Inspector, and Engineer of Track.  Mornings were very cramped and busy.  Phones were ringing with calls from the division office in Huntington, and, on the track phone speaker, the section foremen were calling in for their day’s work. 

Soon, the track inspectors obtained their clearance and went to the west end of the station platform to set their hi-rail truck on the track.  The Track Supervisor left to meet with the section crew at Cotton Hill.  The Engineer of Track finally was able to pry the phone off of his ear and left to meet with the Trainmaster at Raleigh to discuss track time for a tie and surfacing gang that will be working on the Piney River Subdivision next week.  I am left alone in the office to study my operating and motor car rules books.

The section houses, telegraph operators, and the Hinton dispatcher were all connected by one big party line which hummed from the speaker on the wall during the lulls between train orders and track clearances.  Somewhere, someone standing in the shade of a phone box door picked up the phone and made four quick turns on the crank.  “CW” came the reply.  CW Cabin was at the west end of Hinton yard and was the preferred choice for track and signal workers since they didn’t have any clerk duties to divide their attention.  “Signal Maintainer Christ at Sewell needs to take over the switch for about half an hour”.  Being very new I still needed to learn where Sewell was, but I was fascinated with all the activity I could listen in on.

This is before computerized dispatching and widespread radio use.  The phone line was the preferred mode of communication, and I had to learn the “rings” for all of the telegraph operators.  From east to west there was CW Cabin, Quinnimont, Thurmond, and Gauley Bridge.  There were also operators at Hinton and Handley, but they usually had their hands full getting trains out of the yards.  At one time there were operators and towers all along the mainline.  In this October, 1980 photo, you can see NI Cabin which used to control the junction of the Piney River Subdivision as it joined the New River Subdivision at Prince.

A westbound train is passing Prince station not 15 feet from my office door.  The noise is deafening and reverberates under the roof over the platform making conversation impossible until the engines pass.  Eastbound trains are even louder as they crawl by, pulling for all it’s worth trying to overcome gravity.  This westbound has a clear signal to enter the single track and will soon turn the corner and enter Stretcher’s Neck Tunnel.  I had just come from the “flatland”, and the sight of six to eight big locomotives pulling hard on a train had yet to become blasé to me.

In a few years CSX will tear down this tower, as well as numerous other monuments to the people that made railroads work.  Today trains, powered by a couple of new computer controlled high horsepower products of GE or EMD continue to pull trains past this station, replacing multiple GP-40s and the deep throated rumble of turbo charged 645s with the whoosh of EPA muffled prime movers.  Gone, also, is the yellow Chessie caboose bringing up the rear, replaced with an EOT.  Productivity is up.  More and longer trains are moving more efficiently than ever before.  Stockholders are happy.

Some people may lament the loss of steam, but, for me, a steam engine is just an inanimate object without the army of people who worked together to get goods and travelers from here to there.  Their legacy was memorialized by the toolhouses, roundhouses, depots, and towers all along the right of way, and when those disappear, only photographs can pass on their accomplishments to future generations.

Rob Kitchen

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