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I am one who loves to travel. I enjoy photography. I take many photos of my journeys. I also write short stories and poems.
Many towns in the United States of America were built around the railroad. Among them was the town of Chatham in the southern region of the U.S. state of Virginia. The station was built in 1918 by the Southern Railroad, and it became the main source of transportation to Chatham Hall, a girls preparatory school, and the Hargrove Military Academy. It was an active depot until passenger service was discontinued in 1965 and freight service was discontinued in 1975.
The train station went into disrepair, but it was saved and restored. It is now a Virginia Registered Landmark and houses a library and genealogical research center. The great thing about doing research here is that your visit may be rewarded with a passing train.
The Old Chatham Southern Railway Depot is located at 340 Whitehead Street in Chatham, Virginia just off Virginia Route 57 and west of U.S. Business Route 29. Chatham is part of the Virginia Rail Heritage Region.
In the southwestern region of the U.S. state of West Virginia on the border with the U.S. state of Kentucky is the small town of Matewan. It may not be a famous town, but it had a few events that took place here. The town played a role in the feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. (A movie of the same name tells the story of the feud. Kevin Costner is an actor in the film.) It was also the site of what is known as the Battle of Matewan, a battle that took place on May 19, 1920, between local coal miners and a detective agency that came to evict some coal miners from a nearby camp. Ten people died to include the mayor of Matewan. Another thing about Matewan was that it was a stop on the Norfolk and Western Railway. The railroad did play a role in the Battle of Matewan as the detectives arrived in the town by train.
The train station was a passenger and a freight station. The town had regular passenger service until 1969. The station was abandoned and was eroding, but in 2000, the train station was rebuilt.
Today, the trains no longer stop here, but you may be fortunate to the Norfolk Southern Railway roll by.
Why visit if it is no longer an active train station? Well, it now is a Visitor Center, but is also houses a museum that tells the history of the region to include the feud between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s. There is also a small model train display showing the way it looked when the trains stopped here. You can take a look at the ticket office. If you need a souvenir, you can by something in the gift shop. There is also a red caboose at the station.
The Matewan Train Station is located at the intersection of West Virginia Route 49 and Kentucky Route 1056. Parking is on site.
Now you know about Matewan, West Virginia. Take a little historic journey.
There is a small town in southern region of the U.S. state of Virginia called Pamplin City. The origin of the town and how the town got its name is unknown. It is known that a man named Thomas Merriman bought property in the region in the early part of the nineteenth century where he built a home and a shoe shop. There was also a man named Nicholas Calvin Pamplin who bought property in the region in the mid-1840’s.
In the 1850’s, a representation of the Norfolk and Western Railway approached both of them about acquiring property for the railroad. Nicholas Pamplin saw the benefit that the railroad would bring to the region, and he donated land to the railroad. For this reason, the town is named for him.
The Norfolk and Western Railway came to town, and the town grew. The main street was lined with stores, hotels, and banks, and great homes were built through the town. The town also had a clay smoking pipe factory. When the railroad declined, so did the town.
If you visit Pamplin City today, you will see a ghost town with abandoned stores. The Norfolk Southern Railway now passes through but does stop here. One of the rail lines that came to the town is now a rail trail. The old train station remains, and it houses the town offices and has a meeting room that can be rented out for parties and events.
The town of Pamplin City is located off U.S. Route 460 on Virginia Route 47 east of Lynchburg. The old train station is on Main Street, but it is not open to the public. It may look like a ghost town today, but history may come alive as you look around.
The U.S. state of West Virginia is known for its mountains and for its coal mines. The state is seldom known for its cities. Among them is the city of Beckley in the south central part of the state. Named for Alfred Beckley, it is a simple city although it is the largest city in the southern part of the state. It is the home of the University of West Virginia Institute of Technology and the Raleigh County Veterans Museum. The city’s biggest attraction is the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine. It is also in driving distance of the New River Gorge State Park and the world famous New River Gorge Bridge. Then you have the Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail. Only a little over four miles long, it is a trail that weaves itself through the city, and you can see a little artwork along the way. If you are ever in Beckley, West Virginia, you must take a stroll along the Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail.
Some of you are saying, “It is really nice that they have a trail that honors somebody. The problem is that Beckley is not much of a railroad city. You will not see me hiking on this trail.”
You do have a point. Beckley, West Virginia does not have much in the way of railroad history, and there is only one railroad line that passes south of the downtown area. The nearest Amtrak stop is in the suburb of Prince which is eight miles from downtown. It can make you think that visiting this trail is a waste of your time.
So what is special about the Lewis McManus Memorial Honor Trail? Well, most locals commonly know it as the Beckley Rail Trail. Yes, you read rail trail. How are rail trails formed? They are formed on old railroad lines.
In 1905, the Piney River and Paint Creek Railroad was built to bring freight and passenger service to Beckley, and it served the coal mines north of the city. (One of those mines is now the Beckley Exhibition Coal Mine.) The line was later taken over by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. As the coal mines closed and passenger service declined, so did this stretch of the railroad. The line was given to the city of Beckley and made into a rail trail. The passenger station was demolished. Today, you can hike, bike, or jog on what was once a rail line to include the spur that served the Exhibition Coal Mine. You can read more at https://wvrailtrails.org/rail-trail/lewis-mcmanus-memorial-honor-trail/.
“Welcome to the village of Changeville.” The conductor said on the loudspeaker. “This is the end of the line for the Old Train. If you wish to continue your journey, you must deboard this train and walk across to the other platform and board the New Train.”
The Old Train arrived at the platform in Changeville. Passengers got off the train, and they walked to the New Train.
“All aboard!” The conductor of the New Train shouted.
The locomotive and the cars on the Old Train were starting to rust. The locomotive and cars on the New Train were very shiny. The old Train was never going to run again, but the New Train was beginning a brand new journey. They said goodbye to the Old Train and hello to the New Train.
Every Christmas Eve, Brian Stones goes to the train depot in Winterville to catch the Christmas Train at noon. He looked forward to this day every year ever since his grandfather brought him to the station, and he looked forward to this day.
This Christmas Eve was different.
Snow was falling with an inch on the ground. He arrived at the train depot to wait for the train, and he noticed a young lady, appeared to be a teenager, sitting on the bench that he normally sat on. As he came closer to he, he noticed her shabby coat. Her wool hat was dirty as were her jeans with a few rips. She had blankets wrapped around her feet. He arrived at the bench and noticed she was crying with her tears flowing down her dirty face. Her long blonde hair appeared to not have been combed.
“Hello,” he said.
She continued to cry.
“Are you O.K.?” He was very concerned.
She peeked at him.
“You do not have to be afraid.” He assured her. “I am Brian.”
“Vicky.” She puffed out. “I’m Vicky.”
“Happy to meet you Vicky,” he said.
She continued to cry.
“What’s wrong?” He was more concerned.
She turned to him. “My parents threw me out of the house and said that they never want to see me again. I have no friends because they never let me out of the house.”
“I’ll be your friend.” He assured her.
She sunk her head.
“Look! The Christmas Train will be here soon. Do you want a ride? I can get you a ticket.”
“I have never ridden a train before.” She wept. “But they will not let me on like this.”
“Don’t worry.” He assured her. “You will be welcomed aboard. Here it comes now.”
The train was approaching with its brass locomotive and silver passenger cars. It pulled up to the station. The conductor stepped off. “Welcome back, Brian. It looks like you have a friend this year.”
Vicky looked away. The conductor reached out his hand. “Come aboard. We have something special for you.”
She turned to walk away but stopped. She turned back and climbed aboard the train.
“Her name is Vicky,” Brian said. “This is her first train ride. She was rejected by her parents and has no friends.”
Brian boarded the train, and the conductor came up behind him. The train began to pull away from the station. The conductor grabbed Vicky’s hand. “Come. We have something special for you.”
She pulled her hand away.
“Go. You will love it.” Brian assured her.
She went with the conductor to a woman dressed in green. “This is Mindy. She has something special for you.”
Mindy pointed to a closet. “Step in.”
Vicky was confused.
“Don’t worry. It will be fine.” Brian assured her.
Vicky paused, but then she stepped into the closet. Mindy closed the door.
“What is happening.” Vicky was afraid. “What is…”
Mindy opened the door. Vicky stepped out. Brian smiled. She could not believe her eyes. Her hair was nice and neat. Her wool hat and coat was clean. Her jeans were dark blue with no rips. She felt something. She looked down and saw her bare feet touch the carpet. “I have never felt carpet with my feet before.” She had tears roll down her face.
“Now you can enjoy the ride,” Mindy said.
The conductor took them to their seat. Brian was amazed as Vicky looked out the window seeing the winter scenery. She had a bright smile on her face.
Night came, and the trees had lights on them. Vicky was overwhelmed with excitement.
“And you do not want to get on the train,” Brian said.
They rode into the morning. Brian and Mindy were sitting in the seat. Mindy approached carrying a bag. “We will be arriving at the station soon. It is cold outside, and I have something very important for you.”
Vicky wondered about what was going to happen next.
“Give me your foot.” Mindy commanded her.
Vicky reached out her foot. Mindy reached into the bag and pulled out a sock. She bent over and put the sock on Vicky’s foot. Tears rolled down her face. “I had never worn good socks before.”
She took out a boot. “Now let me put this on you.”
Mindy put the boot on her foot and laced it up. “Now I will need you other foot.”
Mindy put the sock and boot on her other foot. The train arrived at the station.
“Right on time,” the conductor said.
“Glad to be on the train again, and glad to have a new friend to ride with.”
Brain and Vicky climbed off the train.
“I hope to see you next year.” The conductor waved.
“Merry Christmas.” Brian smiled.
The train began to pull away, and they watched as it went out of sight.
“Thank you very much. It was so much fun, but I have no place to go.” Vicky was very worried.
“I have a room at my house.” Brian assured her. “Come home with me.”
Covington is a town in the western central part of the U.S. state of Virginia. One of the town’s attractions is Main Street Park. It is only six acres which sits along the Jackson River. It has a playground, a pool, a gazebo, a picnic shelter, and, very important, restrooms. Whenever you are in Covington, Virginia, make a visit to Main Street Park.
Some of you are saying, “This is a simple park just like any park you would see in any town. There is nothing very interesting about the park.”
Covington, Virginia is named after General Leonard Covington. He fought during the War of 1812 and became a war hero. He was also good friends with U.S. Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Through the years, growth in the town was slow. That changed in the 1890’s when there was a population boom. What caused the boom? The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway brought passenger service to the town, and it was the fourth largest freight paying station on the railway.
This brings us back to Main Street Park. As you arrive at the park, you see the park’s main attraction. What is the main attraction? The first thing you see is Number 701 of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. The ‘G-5’ class steam locomotive with the two ‘leading’ wheels (thirty-three inches in diameter) and eight ‘driving’ wheels (fifty inches in diameter) and the coal car, sixty-seven feet eight inches in length and fifteen feet and three inches tall, is fenced in and is under a shelter. It was built in 1911 in Richmond, Virginia by the American Locomotive Company (commonly known as ALCO) for the Hocking Valley Railway in Ohio, and it is the last surviving locomotive of that railroad after the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway took over the rail line. The total weight is 400,000 pounds. It could hold 20,000 pounds of coal and hold 7,500 gallons of water. The locomotive continued to pull passenger and freight trains until 1954, a total of 850,000 miles, and it was brought to Covington to be rehabbed and to be put on display for many generations to enjoy.
Today, passenger trains no longer stop in Covington, but the train station remains and is a museum owned by the Allegheny Historical Society. The main line still runs through Covington and is now under the ownership of CSX.
Main Street Park is located at the southwest end of Main Street. It is open during daylight hours. Main street crosses U.S. Routes 60 and 220. Parking is available.
If you are ever in Covington, Virginia, visit Main Street Park and see the Old 701.
You may have heard of ‘The Old 97’, but what was it?
Some of you are saying, “Well, duh! It was a famous train.”
You are absolutely right. It was a famous train. You always hear about those great train journeys from those great trains that made the ride so enjoyable. Sadly, this is not one of those stories.
What was ‘The Old 97’? It was Mail Express train operated by the Southern Railroad in the United States of America that began in Washington D.C. and went to Atlanta, Georgia that consisted of locomotive Number 1102, two postal cars, an express car, and a baggage car that had a crew of eighteen.
The day was September 27, 1903. ‘The Old 97’ departed Washington D.C. an hour behind schedule after waiting for another train that arrived late and had mail to be put on the train to go to points south. It was headed to Atlanta Georgia. To make up time, the engineer speed up the train. They arrived at Stillhouse Trestle just north of the town of Danville, Virginia. The trestle was a bending trestle that bridged a ravine. The train tried to slow down… but it was not enough as the train went off the trestle and plunged into the ravine. Eleven crew members died. Seven were severely injured. Only one walked away from the wreck. It is today one of the worst train wrecks in the state of Virginia. The locomotive was repaired, and it was brought back into service, but it pulled its last train in 1935 and was scraped.
Years later, songs were written about the train, but a musician named Vernon Dalhart wrote his version of the wreck. What he do? Well, let us say that it was the first country song in American record history to sell one million copies.
If you visit the site of the wreck in Danville, Virginia today, the only thing you will see is a sign near the spot of the wreckage. The trestle no longer stands.
‘The Old 97’ is not just a song, but it is a song that remembers those who lost their lives serving people. Let us not forget those on ‘The Old 97’.
The words of the song:
THE WRECK OF THE OLD 97
On one cloudless morning long I stood on the mountain
Just watching the smoke from below,
It was coming from a tall, slim smokestack
Way down the Southern Railroad
It was 97, the fastest train
Ever ran the Southern line
All the freight trains and passengers take the side for 97
For she’s bound to be at the stations on time
They gave him his orders at Monroe, Virginia
Saying, “Stevie, you’re way behind time.
This is not 38, but it’s Old 97
You must put her into Spencer on time.”
He looked ‘round and said to his black greasy fireman,
“Just shovel in a little more coal,
And when I cross that old White Oak Mountain
You can just watch Old 97 roll.”
It’s a mighty rough road from Lynchburg to Danville,
And the lie was a three-mile grade
It was on that grade that he lost his air brakes,
And you see what a jump that she made.
He was going down the grade making 90 miles an hour,
When his whistle began to scream,
He was found in that wreck with his hand on the throttle,
He was scalded to death by the steam.
Did she ever pull in? No, she never pulled in,
And at 1:45 he was due,
For hours and hours has the switchman been waiting
For that fast mail that never pulled through.
Did she ever pull in? No, she never pulled in,
And that poor boy must be dead
Oh, yonder he lays on the railroad track
With the cart of his wheels over his head.
97, she was the fastest train
That the South had ever seen,
But she run so fast on that Sunday morning
That the death score was numbered 14.
Now, ladies, you must take warning,
From this time now and on,
Never speak harsh words to your true loving husband.
Nestled in the mountains in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is the town of Huntingdon. It is a town that is not on many traveler’s maps, but it should with museums like Isett Acres Museum and the Swigart Auto Museum. One attraction is Pottstown Park. The park is on the Juniata River which flows south of the town. Whenever you visit Huntingdon, it is a great place to take a nice stroll.
Some of you are saying, “What a nice park. It is so beautiful except for one thing. It is missing a train. Therefore, you will not see me taking a walk in this park.”
Well, Pottstown Park is a beautiful park. It features views of the Juniata River as well as an old train bridge. Yes, one of the features of this park is the old-abandoned train bridge that crosses the river at this park. The rail line once fed into the main line which is owned by Norfolk Southern Railway today. (It was originally owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad.) As you stroll past the bridge, you will notice artwork on the concrete. Sadly, the trains do not run on the bridge anymore.
Pottstown Park is located on Pennsylvania Route 26 north of U.S. Route 22. Parking is on site, and it is wheelchair accessible. There is no admission fee to visit.
A man with a business suit and briefcase arrived at the train depot. He went to the platform and saw a young woman in her 20’s standing there. He saw her looking at her phone with her ball cap, tan velvet coat, blue jeans with a tear in the knee, and her bare feet with a rose tattoo on the top of her right foot and a toe ring on her left middle toe.
“What are you doing here?” He had a disgusted look on his face.
“Waiting for the train.” She continued to look at her phone.
“You? Riding a train looking like that? How hideous.” He stiffened his nose.
“You? Riding a train looking like that? How ignorantly stupid.” She continued to look at her phone.
“How dare you speak to me that way.” He shouted at her.
“How dare you speak to me that way.” She looked up at him.
There was the sound of a train whistle.
“Well, the train is coming. I will soon be out of your crappy life,” she said.
“What was that? No steam train come here.” He was flabbergasted.
The train with a shiny brass steam locomotive pulled up to the station pulling shiny gold passenger cars. The conductor stepped off the train. “Oh Tiffany, it is so wonderful to see you again this year. Welcome aboard.”
“Wait a minute.” The man had a confused look. “You are taking this whore onto your train?”
“Who are you calling a whore?” The conductor spoke directly to the man. “This one fine, beautiful, gorgeous, flat out amazing woman. She is always welcomed on ‘The Thanksgiving Train’.”
“The what?” He was confused.
“He’s an idiot in a business suit,” Tiffany said.
“Well then!” The conductor was bold. “We need to bring him on ‘The Thanksgiving Train’ to teach this man a lesson.”
He was stunned as the conductor grabbed him, yanked him onto the train, and shoved him into a seat. Tiffany sat across the aisle and laid her bare feet across the seat. The train pulled away from the station.
“Get me off this train.” He pounded on the window.
But the train kept moving.
“Time for Thanksgiving dinner in the dining car,” the conductor said.
The man was grabbed and was pulled into the dining car and put at a table. Tiffany sat at a table across from him. A table was brought out with a baked turkey at the center. Men and women in black attire walked into the car and sat at the tables. A priest stood in the middle holding up a bible. “Let us thank God for ‘The Thanksgiving Train’.”
He bowed his head. “Almighty God, we thank thee for this train as we celebrate Thanksgiving. Let us be thankful to the engineer, the fireman, the conductor, the cook, the waiters and waitresses, and the many passengers who ride think train. In the name of God Almighty, Amen!”
A man came and began carving the turkey, and the waiters and waitresses began serving everyone.
Later that day, ‘The Thanksgiving Train’ returned to the station. Tiffany and the man stepped off the train.
“Thank you for riding ‘The Thanksgiving Train.’ See you next year.” The conductor smiled.
Tiffany waved as the train pulled away.
“Will the train run next year?” He asked.
“It runs every Thanksgiving,” Tiffany said.
“See you then,” he said.
He turned to walk away but stopped. He turned to Tiffany and said, “Thank you, and I am sorry about what I said to you. You are a wonderful lady after all.”
“See you next year.” She smiled.
They both went their way.
Wishing Everyone a HAPPY THANKSGIVING. May you enjoy the ride on ‘The Thanksgiving Train.’