A Stroll Through Elkins, West Virginia

Old Train Station in Elkins, West Virginia

The city of Elkins in the U.S. state of West Virginia is in the eastern part of the state.  Although no interstates serve this city, it is a crossroads for U.S. Routes 33, 219 and 250.  (It is also possible that Interstate 66 may make its way here in the future.)  It was once a railroad hub for the West Virginia Central and Pittsburgh Railway.  When they merged with the Western Maryland Railway, luxury passenger train service came to the town.  Sadly, that all died in 1958.  What was once a railroad hub was a hub no more.

Today, the train station remains, and it is the home of the Tygart Flyer, the Cheat Mountain Salamander, and the Mountain Explorer Dinner Train, and it is also a tourist information center.  (Information on the trains is at https://www.mountainrailwv.com/.)  A rail trail follows the rail line north of the city and parallels U.S. 219 to Thomas.  A short walk west of the depot is the foundation of the old roundhouse.  (It is currently fenced off.)  You can see where the turntable once was.  A short walk south of the depot along the rail line is the West Virginia Railroad Museum.  It may not have any rolling stock, but it gives a detailed history of the history of the railroad in West Virginia.  (More information at https://wvrailmuseum.com/.)  As you walk around, you will feel that the trains never left town.

Where the Turntable of the Roundhouse Once Was.

Elkins, West Virginia is a small city with great railroad charm.  Also it is not a railroad town anymore, the people at the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad and the West Virginia Railroad Museum keep the city’s railroad heritage alive… and kicking.

Point of Rocks, Maryland

The town of Point of Rocks in the U.S. state of Maryland is a small town on the Potomac River that gets its name from a rock formation.  It is a place with a historic train station, and it is known as a great train watching spot as it is at a junction of two rail routes.  (They were original lines of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, but they are owned by CSX today.)  Once a passenger train station, it is a commuter train station for trains going to Union Station today.  The train station, built by Ephraim Francis Baldwin in 1876, is on the National Register of Historic Places, but it is not open to the public as it serves as offices for CSX.  As a railroad town, it has seen some railroad battles.

As the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was building the railroad toward the Ohio River Valley in Pennsylvania and Ohio, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal was being built to connect barge traffic between the Chesapeake Bay and the Ohio River.  Both the railroad and the canal converged at Point of Rocks.  Both wanted the passage along the Potomac River.  The result was that the passage was shared by both the railroad and the canal.  Originally constructed as a single line, a second line was constructed by tunneling through the mountain with two tunnels with the original line still on its original route around the mountain.  The tunnels are still in operation today and can be seen from the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Tow Path.

The second battle at Point of Rocks and the railroad took place during the American Civil War.  This war was led by the famous Confederate General Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson who led the Confederate Army across the Potomac River to Point of Rocks attacking the railroad line and seizing 56 locomotives and 300 rail cars.  During the war, the railroad line attacked numerous times.  Henry A. Cole was put in charge of what was known as Cole’s Maryland Cavalry who was set in the town to protect the railroad from future attacks.

Today, the main action in the town of Point of Rocks, Maryland are the trains passing through the junction.  The trains pass through safely today, and many train watchers flock here to watch them roll by.

Point of Rocks, Maryland is served by U.S. Route 15 which crosses the Potomac River.  The old train station is on Maryland Route 28 east of U.S. Route 15 beside the Marc Commuter lot.  It is wheelchair accessible.

The next time you are in Point of Rocks watching the trains, remember that it is a quiet place where the railroad brought much turmoil.

A Declaration of Railroad Independence

The place is the big city.  Carl is sitting in a seat looking out the window as the train was pulling out of the big train terminal.  He has wanted to see the country by train.  He knew that the flight to the opposite coast was faster, but he was tired of being in a cramped seat seeing nothing but the interior of a plane for six hours.  He saw the buildings and the grade crossings and, finally, the countryside.

Hours later, the train pulled up to a small town.  He looked outside and saw a beautiful lady with a backpack and her shoes in her hand.  The conductor helped her on, and the train pulled away.

Carl looked at the houses as the train pulled out of town.

“Is this seat taken?”

He glanced back and saw the lady standing in the aisle with her shoes in her hand.  He looked down at the seat next to him.  “Have a seat.”  He smiled.

“Thank you.”  She sat down and dropped her shoes on the floor.  “My name is Jenny.”

“I’m Carl.”  He smiled.  “Where are you headed?”

“Oh!”  She wiped a piece of lint from between her toes.  “I am just here to look at the countryside from the train.”

“So am I.”  Carl was full of glee.

“Well then.”  She grinned.  “It looks like I will not be taking this journey alone after all.”

Together, they enjoyed their journey.

The Depot Grille: Lynchburg, Virginia

The Old Freight House in Lynchburg, Virginia, home of the Depot Grille

The city of Lynchburg in the U.S. state of Virginia is a city that has much history, and much of the city’s history is dependent on the railroad to include how the railroad was a major contributor to the Confederate Army to win the battle against the Union Army in the American Civil War.  When you visit Downtown Lynchburg today, the railroad still runs through although they are CSX Trains now.  While you are there, you may notice a little restaurant called the Depot Grille.

Now some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  Is this one of those restaurants where the founders came up with this crazy idea of a railroad name and tried to make it some kind of a railroad place?”

The answer is no.  This restaurant is a railroad themed place that has a history with the railroad.

When you arrive, you will see that it looks like an old train freight depot.  Why?  Because it was an old train freight depot.  You enter the restaurant, and you see the bar, and you see the interior.  You see the different photos of the trains, and you see a model train designed by a retired Norfolk and Western Railway worker on display.  There is also a small private room that display vintage railroad photos.

Some of you are saying, “That is very nice, but I have been to many restaurants that have photos of trains.  There is nothing special about this place.”

Yes, there is.  The kitchen is not your typical kitchen.

Two Old Box Cars Which Houses the Kitchen

Some of you are saying, “It is a kitchen.  You cook food in the kitchen, and you wash dishes in the kitchen.  There is nothing special about this kitchen.  It is just like any other kitchen in a restaurant.”

Yes, they cook food and wash dishes in this kitchen just as they do in any other restaurant kitchen.  What is special about this kitchen?  It just happens to be in two old boxcars.  Yes, the same boxcars you see on trains except these remain here because without them, the Depot Grille would not have a place to cook food or wash dishes.  The boxcars were used by the Georgia Northern Railroad before being decommissioned and, instead of scraped, were brought here to the Depot Grille.

Opened in 2004, the Depot Grille has been a staple in Downtown Lynchburg.  Along with great food and service, you may see something very special.  How often do you get to have a nice meal and get rewarded by a passing train?  Yes, CSX will gladly compliment your meal.

The Depot Grille is located at 10 Ninth Street in Lynchburg, Virginia next to the waterfront and the active CSX rail line where you also get a view of a fountain that shoots up from an old bridge support situated in the James River.  It is minutes from U.S. Business Route 29 and Virginia Route 163.  Please note that you will need to navigate a steep declining street to the restaurant, but it is worth the drive.  The restaurant is wheelchair accessible, and parking is on site.  You can get information about the menu, the hours, and can how you can book a small private party at https://depotgrille.com/lynchburg/.  Be advised that when you arrive, you may find it hard to leave.  There is also a location in Staunton, Virginia that is also located in an old train freight house.

So, welcome to Lynchburg, Virginia, a city that was saved by the railroad, a city where the railroad is in the heart of the city, and a place where you can eat in a place where the railroad still has a home.

Those Old Classic Diners

Oh, yes!  You remember the days when you went to that old classic diner.  You were hungry and wanted to eat.  So you went to the nearby diner.  You ordered that burger and fries.  You ordered that chocolate milkshake.  You ordered that banana split.  The waiter took your order.  The chef cooked it or made it.  The waiter brought it out, and you enjoyed every bite.  When you were done, you left hoping to return for that next great meal.

Some of you are saying, “You know?  This is nice.  I can reminisce those days of going to the diner.  There is one question.  What does this have to do with the railroad?”

That is a good question.  The diners today are more different than the ones from years ago with that classic look.  Did you know that many of those old diners were built out of old passenger rail cars and old streetcars?  The passenger or streetcar was brought in.  The seats were taken out, and tables and chairs were put in.  Some had a counter with seats where you were able to see your meal cooked to order.  To the rail fan, it felt great to be having a great delicious meal in a piece of railroad history.

The next time you head to that diner, remember where many of those old diners began… with a piece of railroad history.

The Cass Scenic Railroad, Cass, West Virginia

The Cass Scenic Railroad at the Station

In the east-southeastern region of the U.S. state of West Virginia is a little town of Cass.  Established in 1901 on the Greenbrier River, the small town was a booming company town for the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company that had a paper mill in the town.  Joseph Kerr Cass was the vice president and cofounder of the company, and it is he who the town is named after.  The town is surrounded by mountains and forests, and the lumber was used at the mill to make the paper.  How was the lumber brought to the mill?  It was brought by the train.  The town was served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, but a special rail line was built haul in the lumber from the mountain.  In 1960, the mill closed.  The town was no longer booming.  The town of Cass, West Virginia became another ruined town.

The Ruins of the Saw Mill

Or did it?

Looking Over Cass

In 1963, the state of West Virginia bought the railroad, and the Cass Scenic Railroad was born.

The Cass Scenic Railroad Arriving at the Depot

Some of you are saying, “I know the story.  The train comes, picks up people, they go to a place and come back.  It is the same old same old.”

Well, this same old same old is one of the most popular train rides in the United States of America, and it has attracted many people from foreign countries.

Some of you are saying, “Yes, but you see the West Virginia scenery.”

Passengers Admiring the Scenery

You do, but it is not just the beautiful exceptional beauty of the West Virginia mountains and forests that attract people to the Cass Scenic Railroad.

You arrive in Cass.  You get your tickets.  Then you wait.  You hear a while.  You see the steam.  The train is coming.  You see it coming around the bend but wait.  The locomotive is going backwards and is pulling the train.  The train pulls into the station.  Things are strange.  You board the train.  The train pulls away from the station, but the rail cars are in front of the locomotive.  What is happening?

The train departs from the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway tracks, and you see the ruins of the old paper mill ( burned down in 1882) and the water tower that is still used to add water to the locomotives.  You pass through the yard and by the shops where the railroad equipment is repaired.  Then, you are out of the town.  You arrive at the first railroad crossing, and you feel the power of the whistle, but the train is still pushing the cars up the mountain.

Some of you are saying, “This is very strange.  Why does the train push the cars instead of pull them like other trains?”

As you ride along, the tracks get steeper.  The locomotive pushes the cars is because the tracks get steep.  If the locomotive pulled the cars and the cars accidentally detached, they would roll down the tracks with little ability to stop them and to keep them from derailing which results in a huge mess.

Anyway, you continue up the mountain until you reach the first switchback.  What is a switchback?  Because of the steepness of the mountain, the tracks could not be built continuously up the mountainside.  With the switchback, the train pushes the cars past the switch.  (A switch, also called an interlocking, is where trains go from one track to another.)  The tracks are switched, and now the train pulls the cars up the steep grade.

Some of you are saying, “Wait a minute.  I thought the locomotive had to push the cars up the mountain.”

In this situation, the locomotive, or locomotives if there is more than one, pulls the cars up.  It arrives at another switchback, and it pushes the cars again.  You then arrive at Whitaker Station.  What is Whitaker Station?  It was and old logging camp, and some of the old logging equipment to include those that ran on the rails is on display.  There is also a picnic area and a snack bar.

Whitaker Station, an Old Logging Camp

Some of the trains stop here and return to Cass, but you did not come to ride the Cass Scenic Railroad just to go part of the way.

You continue up the steep mountain grade passing through the forest.  You occasionally pass by an overlook and get a great view of the valley below.  After a long ride, you come upon a spring.  It is here where the locomotive gets water.  Once the locomotive is filled, it continues to push the cars up the mountain.  It keeps pushing until, you reached the spot.  What is the spot?  It is Bald Knob, the third highest point in the state of West Virginia.  The tracks end here, but when you walk over to the overlook, the views are never ending.

The View from the Overlook at Bald Knob

Sadly, it is time for the train to return to Cass.  You board the train, and the locomotive carries the weight of the cars as it goes down the mountain.  You arrive in Cass.  The trip is over.

Looking to the End of the Line

The Cass Scenic Railroad is part of the Cass Scenic Railroad State Park and is owned by the West Virginia State Rail Authority, and it is operated by the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad who also owns and operates the New Tygart Flyer, the Cheat Mountain Salamander, and the Mountain Explorer Dinner trains out of Elkins, West Virginia, and it also operates the Durbin Rocket which has been relocated to Cass from the town of Durbin, West Virginia and runs along the old Chesapeake and Ohio Railway line north of Cass along the Greenbrier River.  You can ride the train to Whitaker Station, Bald Knob, and select trips to the site of the town of Spruce Knob, a town that was only accessible by train.  The state park along features the original general store that is open during the operating season.  It features a museum that tells the story of Cass and the railroad during the days as a company and logging town.  You can see the old mill (now in ruins).  If you need to spend the night, some of the old company workers houses are available to rent.  There is also the Greenbrier River Trail that runs along the old route of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway south of Cass.  The trail takes you across the old railroad bridges and through the original tunnels, and you will get many great views of the Greenbrier River.  Please be advised that the region is in a wi-fi free zone due to the nearby Green Bank Radio Observatory making your cell phones and iPhones useless.

The Cass Scenic Railroad State Park is located in Cass, West Virginia and is main accessible by West Virginia Route 66 which is a windy road between West Virginia Routes 28 and 92 in Green Bank and U.S. Route 219 and West Virginia Route 55 in Snowshoe.  The Cass Scenic Railroad only runs from late May to late October, but there are plans to run the Durbin Rocket year-round.  If you like, you can even spend a night in a caboose.  The old houses are available to rent year-round.  You can get more information at https://mountainrailwv.com/.

The Train at Bald Knob

A ride on the Cass Scenic Railroad is a ride you will remember for a long time.  Even if the trains are not running, a visit to the town will take you back in time.

It Was a One Way Ticket

He was nineteen.  He was standing with his parents, his brother, and his sister at the train station.  As the train was pulling up, they hugged each other.  He boarded the train.  They waved as the train pulled out of the station.

What they did not know was that it was a one way ticket.

He died in battle.

For many soldiers in wartime, it is a one way ticket.  They board the train to head for battle, and they do not come back.

On this Memorial Day, we remember the men and women of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard, Navy Seals who boarded the train only to find that they had a one way ticket.

The Nurse
The Photojournalist and Soldier

A special thanks to the Everett Railroad Company in Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania, the Exchange Hotel and Civil War Medicine Museum in Gordonsville, Virginia, and the East Broad Top Railroad for supplying the models and for their service and honor of those who serve in the Armed Forces.

Fisherman’s Inn, Grasonville, Maryland

The U.S. state of Maryland is known for its abundant seafood with the Chesapeake Bay splitting the eastern half of the state in two, and some of the best seafood restaurants in the world can be found in this state.  Among these great restaurants is Fisherman’s Inn.  Located on the water, Fisherman’s Inn is a great place for seafood lovers, and it has been that place since 1930.  For beach goers, it has been a big stop while going to and from the beaches of Ocean City, Maryland, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and Chincoteague, Virginia.  The Fisherman’s Inn is a great place where you can get a great meal.

Some of you are saying, “This is great.  I love seafood, and I love great restaurants.  However, there is a big problem.  This is a restaurant.  It is not just a restaurant.  It is a seafood restaurant.  It is a great restaurant, but this place has nothing to do with the railroad.  Therefore, I will not be having a meal at this place.”

So, what is special about the Fisherman’s Inn?  It opened in 1930 in a small shack in the marsh of Kent Narrows by a man was named Captain Alex Thomas and his wife Mae.  It started with a restaurant with thirty seats.  There was also a small grocery store.  They lived upstairs with their two children, and, on occasion, rented the bedrooms to visiting anglers.  As the rooms were rented, they slept on the front porch swing.  In 1939, they built a second floor with more guest rooms.  The Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened in 1952.  This brought more visitors to the Eastern Shore.  The restaurant was expanded again when they added a screened porch with more seats for people to sit and eat.  It was later taken over by his daughter, Betty, and his son-in-law Oscar ‘Sonny’ Schulz who, in 1971, built a larger restaurant, and, three years later, bought the adjourning property where they opened the Fisherman’s Seafood Market.  After a fire that destroyed the restaurant just before Christmas in 1980, the restaurant was rebuilt and reopened months later in July of 1981.  The Fisherman’s Crab Deck opened in 1991.

What is special about his son-in-law Oscar ‘Sonny’ Schulz?  Yes, he made Fisherman’s Inn the great place it is today, but there is another special thing about him.

As you enter the restaurant, the hostess takes you to your table.  You sit, and the waiter or waitress comes, introduces themself, and take your order.  Your food comes, and you eat.  You have conversation.  You drink.  You see the décor, but you see something rolling around the ceiling.  What is it?  It is a ‘G’ scale model train rolling around.  What is special about this model train?  It was originally installed by Sonny Schulz in December of 1994.  It runs on 280 feet (85.34 meters) of track through two tunnels on a supported track that is bolted to the ceiling.  If you are afraid it might collapse, the supports are strong enough to hold a full-sized automobile.  It runs every day when the restaurant is open.  To answer your question, it does have a bell and a whistle that make sounds as it goes by.

Today, the Fisherman’s Inn is a landmark on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.  It remains in family hands with Andy, Jody, and Tracy, the sons of Oscar and Betty Schulz, and they continue to serve great, delicious food with great, friendly service just as they always have done since the day the restaurant opened, and, today, you can wave at the train as it passes by your table.  Along with the restaurant, the Fisherman’s Inn also has the Nauti Mermaid Bar, a small garden behind the restaurant that has a small pond with Koi, and a Fresh Seafood Market.  The Crab Deck Restaurant, which is behind the Seafood Market, sits on the site of a former seafood processing plant that was family owned.  It is open from during the warmer months, April to October, where hammering those crabs is what many enjoy.

Fisherman’s Inn is located at 3116 Main Street (Maryland Route 18) in Grasonville, Maryland.  It is just off U.S. Routes 50 and 301.  It is open from 11:00am to 9:00pm (9:30pm Friday and Saturday).  There is parking on site, and the restaurant is wheelchair accessible.

The next time you are thinking about seafood while driving along the Eastern Shore Region of Maryland, make a stop at Fisherman’s Inn.  It is a place where you will enjoy a great meal with great service while watching a train roll right over your table.  Sadly, the train is not accepting passengers.

Franklin Junction Historic Railroad Park, Gretna, Virginia

The small town of Gretna in the U.S. state of Virginia in the southern-southwestern region of the state is a town that is not popular with travelers.  It is a suburb of Danville, and the town’s commercial district is on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is home to historic structures like Yates Tavern (also on the National Register of Historic Places), the Gretna Theater, and Lavalette House which now houses a restaurant.

Some of you are saying, “This is nice, but does this town have anything to do with the railroad?”

A Bench Commemorating the Railroad Heritage of the Town

The town of Gretna, Virginia is a town that benefitted from the railroad.  In 1874, the Lynchburg and Danville Railroad came to Gretna.  In 1879, the railroad line was taken over by the Franklin and Pittsylvania Railroad which built a passenger and freight depot and a post office.  Many trains passed through here.  A famous train passed through here.  What was that train?  It was the ‘Old 97’.  What was the ‘Old 97’?  It was a train that had a famous wreck in Danville.

Caboose Number X 388 from the Southern Railroad

The passenger and freight depot are gone, but the trains still pass through, and is now owned by Norfolk Southern Railway.  The Franklin Junction Historic Railroad Park was erected to remember the railroad town it once was.  The park is a small park that consists of a caboose from the Southern Railroad which passed through here before the Norfolk Southern Railroad came through, and it has two benches with Number 1102 steam locomotive welded into the benches itself.  It is a small park that keeps the railroad a big part of Gretna’s Heritage.

The Franklin Junction Historic Railroad is located at 105 Main Street (U.S. Business Route 29).  It north of Virginia Route 40 and is easily accessible from U.S. Route 29.  Park is on the street, and admission is free.  It is open twenty-four hours a day.  Therefore, you can visit anytime.  If you are fortunate enough, Norfolk Southern Railroad may reward your visit by rolling on by.

Norfolk Southern Rolling Through

So, if you are taking a drive along U.S. Route 29 in southern Virginia, take a short detour through the town of Gretna.  It is a little town with a big railroad past.

The Durbin Rocket, Cass, West Virginia

Number 6, The Durbin Rocket

What is the Durbin Rocket?

The Durbin Rocket at the Station

Some of you are saying, “Oh, that is simple.  It is a rocket called Durbin that astronauts boarded and rode into outer space.”

The Durbin Rocket Blowing Off Steam

Well, that is not the correct answer.  It is not an actual rocket that is launched into outer space.  It is a name of a train that departed from the small town of Durbin, West Virginia, and it ran along the Greenbrier River ended at a picnic area before returning to the town of Durbin.  A ride on the Durbin Rocket departed from a vintage train depot that housed a small museum and gave you great views of the river.

The Train is at the Station

In 2021, the town of Durbin, West Virginia lost the rocket.  What happened?

The Old Train Station

The Durbin Rocket departs from the depot at Cass, West Virginia, the home of the Cass Scenic Railroad making its way along the Greenbrier River.  It gives you another reason to visit the historic town of Cass.  The same vintage train that pumped steam into the air in Durbin is now pumping steam next to a train that has pumped steam for a century, but the Durbin Rocket will not be climbing up to Bald Knob, but it will be taking riders along the Greenbrier River north of Cass.  The truth is that only the location has changed, but the beauty of West Virginia and the Greenbrier River remains.

The View from the Train

The Durbin Rocket is part of the Durbin and Greenbrier Valley Railroad.  The Durbin Rocket also has ‘Castaway Caboose’ where you ride in a caboose and is taken to a remote location where you spend a night in the caboose itself.  Reservations are required.  Please note that the cars are not wheelchair accessible.  You can get more information at https://mountainrailwv.com/#/.

Take a ride on the Durbin Rocket.  It may not take you to outer space, but you will see amazing scenery.  Astronaut training is not required to ride the train.