The Chesapeake &Amp; Ohio Railway
Clifton Forge, VA - Hinton, WV
This is a part of our eventual self-guiding tour of CSX's ex-Chesapeake and Ohio mainline from Tidewater to Cincinnati. This segment of the tour will extend from Clifton Forge, Virginia, to just north of Hinton, West Virginia, a distance of about 85.2 miles. You'll go from city to wilderness rather quickly, and if variety of countryside is your thing, you'll be happy as a clam. This is mostly CSX's Allegheny Subdivision, with a small bit of the New River Subdivision thrown in for good measure. Beyond Lowmoor, the tour has a short gap, but has now been extended between the western edge of Covington, Virginia, all the way to the beginning of the New River Gorge segment north of Hinton.
Please note that the Williamsburg - Low Moor portion of the C&O tour is complete, a distance of about 214.9 miles. That's a lot of continuous railfan tour!
This tour segment is a portion of the much larger C&O tour, the Introduction to which is here.
As with all tours in the railfan guide, you will be able to print out this text and hit the road, but before you do, we suggest you take a long look at our tour guide page -- it's got some good tips on it.
Contents And Navigation
Loyd "Big Bass" Lowry, content provider, Clifton Forge - Hinton. Loyd is adding sites to this write-up, as time and his one-year-old child will allow.
Peter Furnee, CSX logo
Tony Hill, Webmaster and content provider, Lynchburg - Low Moor. Any first person singular pronoun refers to Tony, unless otherwise specifically mentioned.
Train Gifs. All train gifs used within this tour are from the Ed Bindler's train gifs site, which is here.
If you'd like to contribute to this, or any other tour, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and let me know what you'd like to do. We'll work together: You supply the data/info, and I'll do the HTML stuff and upload it. You'll get a chance to review the fruits of your efforts before the general public sees the finished product, so you can let me have your corrections, additions and changes.
The Railroad -- Background.
Allegheny Subdivision. not surprisingly, is very different than the relatively
The Railroad -- Geography. This entire tour segment is within the Appalachian mountains. However, there are two very different "provinces" of those mountains that we'll see, and they definitely make railfanning very different, depending on where you are. Between Clifton Forge and Alderson, you're in the Valley and Ridge Province, and as the name implies, the geography is typified by very large, long mountains, with distinct valleys between them. Where one mountain ends and another starts up is typically a gap, and thru those gaps is where streams and rivers flow, prehistoric man walked, and road and railroad builders built their legacy.
Between Clifton Forge and Allegheny, the railroad skirts the mountains via a series of gaps, but when it gets to Allegheny, it runs into the Allegheny Mountain monolith -- and it also runs out of gaps. There is a significant tunnel under Allegheny Mountain, and the railroad enters West Virginia, takes a right turn to follow the valley, and goes up to White Sulphur Springs. Between the latter and Alderson, you're still within the Valley and Ridge Province, but a check of a contour map shows you that's about to change. In fact, beyond Caldwell, the topography gradually becomes more convoluted and topsy-turvy, as we are seeing the beginning of an ancient plateau that has gradually been uplifted and carved by some of the world's most beautiful rivers. From Caldwell all the way to just south of Hinton, the C&O was built in the Greenbrier River valley, and it only leaves the valley in a few places, mostly to take advantage of significant shortcuts relative to the course of the river itself.
At Bellepoint, just south of Hinton, the Greenbrier joins the New River coming up from the south, and the railroad does a 90° turn to the north to follow the New all the way to Gauley Bridge, far to the north of this tour segment.
Railfanning considerations. This is not an difficult tour, in spite of the fact that you are deeply within the Appalachians for the entire segment. The same geography that caused the railroad builders to go thru gaps and follow valleys and rivers led the road builders to do the same. While there are a few inaccessible places (largely those "shortcuts" mentioned above), most of the time you'll be comfortably close to the railroad on decent roads. Being close to the tracks doesn't mean that you'll get broad, open shots like you would in the coastal plane. You'll have to be satisfied with less than perfect photo locations, and shadows in the early morning and late afternoon will drive you nuts. That said, however, if you are patient and check out photo locales ahead of time, you can get some great pix of CSX's big dogs attacking the mountains.
By far, railfanning in winter is much better than when the leaves are out, but if you're going to be in the mountains during cold weather, a 4 wheel drive vehicle is recommended.
Traffic patterns. The primary traffic still consists of coal loads going east. There is a set of Russell, KY - Richmond (ACCA yard) manifest trains. You'll also see unit grain, unit sulfur, and perhaps a local. As far as volume, I'm just guessing that there are probably 12-16 trains a day total, but in very hot or cold weather, the power plants to the east will generate more than normal traffic (another good reason for fanning the area in the winter).
Mapwork: Driving thru an unfamiliar mountainous area without a decent map is uncomfortable. I definitely recommend you get a DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer, study it before your trip, and copy pertinent pages for your field work. You can find information here about Railfan Maps that are available.
Aerial Maps: As of the summer of 2007, I'm attempting to do more research and fact checking with aerial images, as the resolution has gotten consistently better, and the coverage has become much more complete. However, aerials are of limited use throughout much of this tour, because neither the resolution nor coverage is very good. Several "white blocks" exist between White Sulphur Springs and Alderson, for example, and nowhere is there better than a 3rd level resolution available.
Maps and Driving navigation. There are conflicts between DeLorme, MapQuest, and any other map you can get your hands on. The best way to ensure on-the-ground accurate road identity is to use the Virginia and West Virginia local road numbering system. Virtually all intersections outside of cities have a pole with numbers on them. Sometimes, you'll have to pull off and walk to the rear of the sign post facing the road you're on to verify that what you hope is VA-622 really is VA-622. Taking 120 seconds to do so can save you a lot of grief. You'll note that I try to stick with road numbers rather than names, and I'd suggest you do the same. The DeLorme is the best source for those numbers, unless you can get a VDOT or similar West Virginia map.
Abbreviations. Some phrases are used repeatedly in this tour, so I've developed some standard Frograil abbreviations:
AG. An at-grade crossing.
CR. County road. Main county roads in West Virginia are numbered thusly: CR-15. Secondary county roads that go off such a main county road are numbered thusly: CR-15/1, for example. Many rural street signs are missing, so always look for these numbers on top of stop signs or other such places.
NAG. A not-at-grade crossing. Unless I mention otherwise, these are usually not worth the time and trouble to drive to.
NARL. Not a railfan location. This is because of any number of reasons, such as lousy photo ops, dangerous, no shoulder on a NAG bridge, etc. As a general rule of thumb, it is wise to avoid NARL's.
WEBMASTER'S NOTE: I do not recommend or condone walking along the tracks, as this means trespassing or exposing yourself to danger. You will have to be creative, in some instances, to avoid trespassing while getting to the detailed locations included herein, but you will either have to be creative or not visit those sites. At no point in this tour guide, or any other tour which is part of Frograil, is it recommended that you trespass or expose yourself to danger. If you are a fool and have a leg cut off (or worse), don't come crying to me: You have been warned. Trains are big, powerful, and often surprisingly quiet. Don't end up being a statistic.
Clifton Forge -- US-220Business Overpass. From 3rd Street in Iron Gate, get back on US-220, and head into Clifton Forge. Make sure you take the US-220Business exit, and not the bypass. Some incidental information is in order here:
In the eastern edge of Clifton Forge, the original C&O main line, now operated by the Buckingham Branch Railroad, and the James River Subdivision join to head west as the Allegheny Subdivision. The junction itself is at JD Cabin. The presence of steep hillsides, the Jackson River, heavily forested countryside, and road limitations make getting to JD virtually impossible without blatant trespassing. From the VA-629 exit on I-64, you can go south towards US-220, and get a good view of the area at 60mph, but that's not very satisfactory, obviously. Incidentally, this road does not exist on MapQuest, but it does on the ground. From US-60Business heading east out of town, you can wend your way to Golf Course View Road and the crossing of the Charlottesville line, but you'll have to hoof it along the tracks for at least 2/3 mile to get to the junction. That would be 2/3 mile of blatant trespassing. IMHO, it isn't worth the trouble or risk to get to JD Cabin, so let's forget it and move on.
There is one other thing to consider, however, involving JD Cabin. At that point, the 2 westward lines meet, but their mile points don't match. Indeed, the James River Line's MP at JD is CAB 229.4, and the end of the North Mountain Sub is CA 276.0. From now on, all west bound mile points will be the original C&O CA mile points. So far on this tour from Richmond's Rivanna Junction, we have come 229.4 miles, and we're ready to head west with mile points starting at CA 276.0. Bring 'em on!
US-220Business swings 90° from northwest to southwest, and parallels the Jackson River and the tracks (on the far shore of the river, of course) into Clifton Forge. There's really nothing fancy about Clifton Forge -- it used to be a railroad town and still is, but your Webmaster thinks the town looks much cleaner and perkier than it did 10 years ago. There are nice looking places to eat in town, and relatively few boarded up buildings. Someone is doing something right and working hard.
When US-220Business swings 90° to the north to go over the river and the tracks, continue straight and find a place to park. Walk out to the bridge on the west side of the road. There is a nice sidewalk on the west side of the bridge, and nothing at all on the east. For morning shots of trains departing eastward, this is a very fine down-on photo location.
Clifton Forge -- Museum Area. Get back to your car and go over the river and tracks via US-220Business. Follow the signs to take a right to head thru town. At your first stop light after the turn, there will be a car wash on your left. Take a left here (it's less than a 90° turn), and head towards the Sav-A-Lot food market. On your left will be a very large open area followed by several yard tracks. Further behind you to your left are some interesting historic cars: C&O blue bay window caboose (#3168), a sort of baggage-dorm car (#458), etc. When I was there, there were several folks working away in the area. I've called this area the "Museum Area", although I don't think it's formally a museum.
There are actually parking signs for "Public Parking" about 40-50 yards back from the tracks, so you'll not have trouble seeing the action, although a minor telephoto lens will be a help. The area of the museum itself is much closer to the tracks, although all areas are dead north of the tracks, so maybe you should put away the camera and just enjoy the show. Even though only a few trains a day come off the old main line, those few add substantially to the enjoyment of the traffic west of JD Cabin.
A must-shoot structure behind the museum area is the ex-C&O freight station. It is a beautiful, simple, classic structure, and is a fine structure to model.
Clifton Forge -- Terminal Office Area. Get back on US-220Business heading west, and drive until the road splits into 2 parallel one-way streets. Note that almost all buildings on these streets look well kempt and even prosperous. Continue to the end of the westbound one-way lane, and loop back to head east on the eastbound lane. The large, 3-story CSX office building will be on your right, and you need to take the right turn just before that building. This is a very congested area, so be alert and aware of where you are.
On CSX timetables, Clifton Forge is not technically a terminal, but for all other intents and purposes, it certainly is. The large office building proclaims itself as the terminal offices, and that's that. When you enter the street into this area, the terminal offices will be on the left, followed by the CSX parking lot. Both are totally off-limits to railfans. There is a CSX "hotel" on your right, with the crew van parking area in front of it. There is a single row of parking spaces between the crew van parking area and the tracks. After looking around a bit, this seems to be the only legally safe place to park, as I think it's also available to Amtrak customers. There is excellent yard/engine action visible here, but you're looking right into the sun, the area is very busy with CSX personal and equipment, and you really don't want to spend any extra time here. Spend 10 minutes taking in the scene and leave.
Webmaster's Note: This was to be the end of this segment of the tour, but I had an unexpected half-hour available, so I continued west for a spell. Here we go...but before we leave Clifton Forge, there is one spectacular place you should be aware of, especially if you're thinking about using this Tour as part of a vacation -- Douthat State Park.
Douthat is a CCC-era gem, and one that is still one of the premier state parks I've ever visited. It has campgrounds (primitive to urbane), a lodge, cabins, a restaurant, beach area on a 50-acre mountain lake, plenty of regularly stocked trout, and 45 glorious miles of hiking trails. Sherry and I went up and down 4.5 miles worth of trails, and 'bout wore ourselves out -- and enjoyed every step of it. If you're thinking about centering a family vacation around the JRL and Clifton Forge, this is the place to stay.
Selma. Continue west via US-220Business, which will shortly approach I-64. Before joining I-64, however, take a left onto Selma-Lowmoor Road, go over the several tracks, and find a place to park (not an easy task). Walk back to the overpass, and stay on the west side of the road. There is a wide sidewalk on the west side of the overpass, and nothing on the east, so this is obviously a morning location. Movements eastbound into the yard are great photo ops here, and you can enjoy the action, but never forget where you are: Selma - Lowmoor Road is a 2-lane, very busy road.
Selma -- West. Continue west on Selma - Lowmoor Road, and you'll come to a place where there is plenty of parking to the right. Park and walk to the edge of the railroad area. You should be able to see the MP CA 280 marker just to your right across the tracks. You're far enough west that you probably won't be bothered by standing strings of hoppers, but these can sometimes be a problem. When a train is coming, get up to the tracks, take your shots, and get back to your car. You're probably not trespassing, but why take a chance? This is a fairly quiet area, but one should still be unobtrusive.
Lowmoor. This is a good location, but you've got to be rather innocuous. Continue west on Selma - Lowmoor Road, and enter the Lowmoor area. On your right will be a great big honking C&O classic signal mast with no fewer than 2 arms and 5 signal targets. To see it is to love it. To your right is a string of houses and cars parked in front of them. You do NOT want to park in front of those houses. The locals take their parking areas seriously. Instead, continue to the Midway Christian Church, and park there. Walk across the street to the tracks. The best you'll get is an S2, N4 location, but a shot of the signal mast is worth it, believe me. There is a yard limits sign here, also, and this is officially, the beginning of the Clifton Forge yard eastbound.
Lowmoor -- Flange Greaser. This may be an unflattering name for the best railfan location in the Clifton Forge area. Continue west on Selma - Lowmoor Road, and you'll see a Westvaco facility on your right, followed by an older, impressive 4-5 story brick industrial building. Just past the latter, look for an opening into the tracks area. You'll find yourself in a large, open trailer van parking/turn around area. Even though the interstate is close by, Selma - Lowmoor is a busy road, and there are any number of industrial noises in the area, this is a relatively quiet, enjoyable railfan location. It's private, so park way off to the side, get out the lawn chairs and coolers, and relax. The big dogs of the mountains will all parade in front of you. This is where we'll temporarily end our tour. And oh, yes, there is a flange greaser here.
As to the name: DeLorme calls this "Lowmoor", MapQuest says it's "Low Moor", the highway signs from I-64 say "Low Moor", and Google returns a fairly equal number of hits for both spellings. However, the clincher for me is that opposite this site, on the south side of Selma - Lowmoor Road is another road going off at an oblique angle. The local elementary school is on the latter, and on the front of the school is "Lowmoor Elementary School", and that's good enough for me.
We now must "break" this tour, as Lowmoor is as far as I got, but "Big Bass" Loyd Lowry has begun to pick it up further west in Virginia, and has now added some sites. This part of the tour will be fleshed out steadily, but keep in mind that Loyd has a one-year-old, so he is somewhat time constrained. In August of 2007, we pick up the tour west of Covington, and south of I-64.
Moss Run -- East. At exit 10 on I-64 west of Covington, take US-60 east, and go a couple of miles.There is a small park for the hisortical "Humpback Bridge", which is well worth seeing. It is a well-engineered covered bridge. At this park, you will be right next to the tracks.
Thanks, and a tip o' the hat to Tori Morgan, who contributed this site.
Moss Run. At exit 10 on I-64 west of Covington, take US-60 west, and you'll very shortly come to WV-159. Take a left to follow it to the south. This road goes under the tracks on a NAG/NARL. At Moss Run, take a right and go west on VA-665/Moss Run Road.
Out in the middle of nowhere, this a great train watching location. Follow the road as it turns to gravel, for one-half mile, and you'll be at a large wide spot by a crossbuck-protected crossing. You have excellent photo potential in both directions, and due to the higher elevation, you canhear trains from Alleghany summit all the way to the yard limits in Covington. This is a quiet, scenic area to soak up some action. Indeed, this is a cooler and lawn chair location. Plan to meet some railfan buddies, swap some railfan lies, and enjoy a lovely part of our Country.
Westbounds will be pulling up the 1.5 percent grade with empties, and eastbounds will be in full dynamics with loaded trains.
Alleghany -- A Cabin. The apex of the grade over the Alleghanys is here, just east of the West Virginia/Virginia state line. Rather than snake around endless mountains, the engineers used the latest technology, and bored and blasted their way under the formidable Alleghany Ridge.
From Moss Run, take VA-311 for 8.3 miles to the crossroads of Crows. Take a right onto VA-311 to head back north. Continue for 3.4 miles, passing up a small, one lane dirt road on the north which goes up to the vicinity of Lewis Tunnel. Do not take this road, as you would be blatantly trespassing to do so. Just after you leave the tunnel under the mainline, turn left onto Big Ridge Road/VA-602. It's only a short distance until you're trackside. 'A' Cabin still stands, but it's nothing more than a reminder of what used to be. Walk around the gravel lot, and you will find some of the concrete ring that used to be the turntable. Hopefully, you'll see some CSX employees; if so, be sure to get permission to take photos. You'll have good views in both directions, and you can see the east portals of both Alleghany Tunnels from the grade crossing. Do not venture to the tunnels trackside, as that would be obviously trespassing, and CSX employees spend a lot of time in the area.
At least, that's my opinion; however, Tori Morgan, who has lived all her life in the area, begs to differ. In fact, she gives us an alternate mini-tour into White Sulphur Springs:"Personally, I think it is worth taking the left across the mountain to the tunnel on Tuckahoe Road. I find that underpass rather interesting since a stream passes through the tunnel alongside the road via an unusual concrete viaduct; this was built long ago by the C&O. Continuing north to White Sulpher Springs on this road, as you enter the edge of town you will pass under a high I-64 bridge. At that spot if you look left up against the hill, there's another piece of interesting engineering where the tracks come around a strong bend, passes under the interstate and immediately enters a short tunnel. The tunnel has always seemed out of place to me as it looks like they should have cut through the little ridge through which it passes. I guess the rock must have been awfully hard there, or they predicted problems with slides if they cut through it."
Back to Tony's narrative:After 2.8 miles, you'll re-join I-64. Get on and go west to exit 181 for White Sulphur Springs and US-60. Take the exit and head west on US-60. Drive 1.8 miles, and turn left into the depot parking lot. This used to be THE hotspot, with countless passenger trains shuffling big money into the Greenbrier Resort. The station is now the Hotel's Christmas shop, and Amtrak stops 6 times a week. Photos are possible from the depot platform, but this isn't the place to make a day of it.
There is a talking defect detector just east of the depot, at MP CA 312.1.
If you do your map work, you will note Surber Road running to a crossing; however, the road goes thru posted CSX property, and the viewing isn't worth it anyway: NARL.
White Sulphur Springs -- Kates Mountain Road. This overpass will give you a completely different view of the trains going thru White Sulphur Springs, and is only about 40 feet off US-60. Just southwest of the station, look for Kates Mountain Road/CR-60/32 to the left. When you see it, find a place to park, and walk out on the west side of the overpass. You'll have good photo potential in both directions.
Caldwell -- Tunnel Hill Road. Back on US-60, head west, and drive to the eastern edge of Caldwell, about 4 miles, or so. Along the way, you'll come to the area of Harts Run Road. There is an underpass of the tracks, but the tracks themselves are way, way up the hill, and you'd need a helicopter to get a decent view: NARL. You'll see a sign welcoming you to Caldwell, and within a sweeping curve to the northwest, take a left onto Tunnel Hill Road/CR-60/72. Drive 500 feet to trackside.
This, believe it or not, is an honest-to-goodness at grade crossing. There's plenty of room to park, elevation to get a better vantage point above the tracks, and there are some old tracks still imbedded in the road. These latter run into a fenced area, so it's hard to say what purpose they served. Judging by the road name, there may have been a tunnel under the mountain, which is now pierced with a rock cut for the tracks.
Once again, we are enriched by Tori Morgan's information:"Yes, this was a tunnel in my youth and at some point they cut through it, though I don't know when. The purpose of the sidings there was for a local delivery point for oil and gasoline to the local suppliers in the earlier days of the 20th century. Also, a couple of half-hoppers used to be parked here to be filled by the local scrap metal dealer (friends of mine) that you just drove past in the curves before reaching this little cutoff road. In the '70's it became too expensive for them to contract with Chessie for the small loads and since then they've struggled to haul their scrap by truck to Roanoke, VA. These sidings were also used to deliver all kinds of heavy equipment to the area as well as much of the rebar grids used to build Interstate 64 through here."
Morning light is excellent for eastbounds, and they will be in Run 8 dragging up the grade.
North Caldwell -- Side Trip. For those with adequate time to spend in the area, Tori has provided us with a nice overview of what used to be the Greenbrier Division of the C&O:As you leave Caldwell to the west on US-60 after crossing the river there is a rise and another small bridge. This bridge crosses the path of the former Greenbrier Division of the C&O (also known as The Durbin Route). If you turn right into the cement plant you can visit the remaining path there and see a well-preserved example of an early wooden station similar to the "Durbin Style".If you're so fortunate to see an individual driving either into or out of this trail under the bridge to the south, try to flag him down. He is a railroad employee andlives onproperty that is only accessible by the trail. If you get his permission (likely), you can go down the trail about 3 miles to where the Greenbrier Div.forked off the Alleghany Div.as well as to the sizable bridge where the Alleghany Division crosses the Greenbrier river. It is well worth seeing.
Back at the Caldwell US-60river bridge, if you turned onto Stonehouse Road, it takes you to the first parking lot where you can hike or bike on the gorgeous Greenbrier River Trail (a rail-to-trail state park; http://www.greenbrierrivertrail.com/) which goes 79 miles to Cass, WV (the site ofour famous scenic railroad; http://www.cassrailroad.com/) The Greenbrier Railroad was very important to the settling and industrial development of our valley between 1900 and 1925 as it transported millions of board feet of the timber and lumber cut along it's entire length to the sawmill in Ronceverte as well as mountains of pulpwood that supplied the large paper mill in Covington, VA.One thing of special note in its history was ONE tree from these virgin foreststhat filled an ENTIRE train.
Thistimber and lumberbuilt unknown numbers of structures in the eastern U.S. and some wood was valuable enough to be shipped around the world back then. Little known to most folks is the origin of a certain corporation here.... Among the dozens of small lumber companies along the Greenbrier was a company called The West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company. They became Westvaco..... derived from "West VA Co." They are now, of course, part of a worldwide corporate operation known as Mead/Westvaco.
Another famous occurence on the Greenbrier line was the shipment of HUGE parts for the 140 ft radio telescope for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Greenbank, WV (http://www.nrao.edu/). One component weighed 150 tons and another was 215 tons. A tunnel just south of Greenbank actually had to be enlarged in 1964 to allow the passage of a giant 150 ton bearing on which the entire weight of the telescope rests. Obviously, the railroad was vital to the construction of the observatory as there was no other route or method at that time to deliver these parts to the very remote town of Greenbank.
Several books have been written about this line since it was once a major connecting route for the C&O to regions north.Today this park and many areas adjacent to it are major tourist attractions, and a large source of revenue for our area as our agriculture business fades away. The line was abandoned in 1978.
Ronceverte -- Frankford Road. Once again, get back onto US-60 and head west. The underpass WV-63 underpass just south of Caldwell is a NAG/NARL. Once in Lewisburg, take a left onto US-219, and head south to Ronceverte. (Maps show a shortcut via Teaberry Road, but the road is small, winding, and dangerous, and it offers no views of the tracks until you get to Ronceverte. Just stick with US-219.) In Ronceverte, you'll approach a 4-way stop intersection, with the track ahead of you. US-219 turns to the right, but you should pass through the intersection going straight on Frankford Road, and pull into one of the gravel parking lots.
On your left you'll see the large concrete coaling tower, and on your right, the former C&O station used now by CSX MOW employees. The station is at MP CA 322.0. Stay off the tracks, and in the parking lot, and you won't be bothered. There will almost always be at least two units idling by the station, for use as helpers to the summit of Alleghany. More often than not, since AC power rules the roost, helpers aren't needed unless the rails are wet, or crews lose a unit from Hinton. The sun is good for most of the morning from this locale.
Ronceverte -- US-219 Overpass. Follow Edgar Avenue to the southwest along the north side of the tracks thru town. Pass up Cedar Street and take a right onto Locust Street. Take that one block to a left onto US-219/Main Street. This street will bend 90° to the southeast and go over the tracks. Park in any area before the roadway rises up, and hoof it onto the bridge. The east side has a broad walkway, but power lines mar the view. Don't plan on spending a lot of time on the bridge, as local police seem to not want people up there.
Here is some additional info for fans who have time to expand upon the basic train-watching aspects of the tour, from Tori Morgan: Of possible interest to railfans is that as you go west on Edgar, you will pass Martin and Jones hardware store and cross a siding that is buried in the pavement now. Stop and look at this siding and you'll see that it actually goes INSIDE the hardware store building. Reportedly, it was the first track in the state (country??) to go inside a building for the purpose of unloading fresh produce (early 20th century). If my memory serves, Ibelieve they could fit 2 cars inside the building!
Also, in front of the depot station on a bulletin board is a list of very interesting facts about the town and its railroad beginnings (there's even a song about Ronceverte). The local signing reports that Ronceverte was incorporated in 1878, but it was actually first started as Lawrence Ford in the late 1700's. The C&O drafted and engineered the town layout and sold much of the property that the town is now built on (including my house). Though the town looks pretty empty now, it was once THE place to be in Greenbrier County and contained all the grocery stores, clothing shops, etc. Back then, the streets were clogged with cars and pedestrians!
A little more about the Ronceverte area of your tour.... looking east from the parking lots beside the tracks you will see (besides my lifelong residence just past the old Armory building) two levels of wide flat ground following the tracks east. The upper level (AG with the main lines)was at one time the Ronceverte yards, the only significant yards between Hinton and Clifton Forge. The lower level grade that you see was the path of the short lived (1900-1925) Lewisburg and Ronceverte railway that took passengers and freight up the hill to Lewisburg after climbing about 500 feet in about 4 miles. You can still follow the right-of-way up the hill past the factories you see, past the cemetary and through the housing area to the east of town. Our town has mounted an effort to restore this path as a hike/bike trail. A stop in City Hall will bring you more info about the L&R line and a visit to Rudi's Restaurant will reveal some old pictures of the town. Also, my Beech Street neighbor, Steven Cook has a video that he personally composed on the history of the L&R.
We had a yard engine here when I was young that did local car delivery and shifting and compiling trains from the 4 yard sidings and the other service sidings in town. There was a boxcar unloading platform (just west of the depot), a freight station (at the east end of the depot platform), and even the carnival for the WV State Fair was unloaded here. Actually the carnival used the L&R route up the hill until a car broke loose and ran back down the hill crashing completely THROUGH the freight house.
I grew up watching all of this, playingaround the yards,andlistening to the yard engine slamming cars around all night (some people claimed to not be able to sleep when they removed the yard engines in the 70's). Istill love sitting on my porch watching the 100+ car coal drags stop to get the pusher added to their rear-end, although as the locomotives and wagons have gotten progressively bigger and heavier over the years, the sound level and vibrations have become a little unbearable at times.
Rockland. Assuming you're in the vicinity of the foot of the overpass on US-219, go north 2 blocks and take a left onto Pocahontas Avenue. This will take you all the way out of town and become Rockland Road/CR63-2. Drive for 1.2 miles over this winding, narrow road, and the railroad will come in from the northeast. The first crossing isn't much, and parking is a problem. You'll have a few opportunities for shots if you hear the scanner buzz, as they call signals in either direction.
When you get to the end of the road, about 3.4 miles from where you started on Pocahontas Avenue, you've got a wide spot to pull off, and good views in both directions. Great morning light, and nobody to bother you are the main attractions of this locale, deep into the beautiful Greenbrier valley. There's room to park at the crossing just back from the end of the road, and there is also a flange greaser near the crossing. The crossing is at MP CA 326.5.
Fort Spring. Beyond the point where Rockland Road ends, the Greenbrier River makes 2 major ox-bow curves around the ends of mountains. The railroad builders solved this problem by simply boring 2 tunnels, and letting the railroad go almost straight across the area. Unfortunately for the railfan tourist, the highway department was more parsimonious, and we'll have to go quite a ways out of the way to continue the tour.
Retrace your way on Rockland Road, but don't go all the way back to Ronceverte. Take a left on Hillcrest Drive and go up to WV-63 and turn left to continue towards the southwest. Drive 5.2 miles and turn left on Fort Spring Pike/CR-43. Drive .8 miles and you'll cross a bridge over the river and be staring at the double track main line, slightly elevated on an embankment. There isn't a magical spot here to pull off and sit for hours, but by going left off the bridge, you'll find a gravel pull-off that you can get trackside by, and there is a church parking lot on your right, as you make a 180 turn up the hill, that allows some shot possibilities. Just be kind enough to not attempt the church on Sunday Mornings. I will mention that wintertime will allow some dramatic overlook shots further up the hill on the road, but there is nowhere to pull off, so I don't suggest doing so, but if you're energetic, you can hoof it up the hill, and leave your car behind.
Maps show a crossing to the east of this location, via Fort Springs Pike. There is one, but the tracks are about 100' below the road. They have just entered the west portal of the Fort Springs Tunnel: NARL. Another crossing, via Snow Flake Road to the west shows on maps, but Snow Flake is gated, and there is no public access.
Alderson. Retrace your route from the foot of Fort Spring Pike back up to WV-63, and turn left to head towards Alderson. Assuming you've been following the ex-C&O from White Sulphur Springs and Ronceverte via WV-63, come into town and turn left on WV-3 East, and cross the Greenbrier River over a large bridge, then turn right onto Railroad Avenue (WV-3 East). This is Alderson, most notably known for the prison where Martha Stewart was a guest, but it's also a great railfan location. Located at MP CA 336, and situated on a long straight stretch, Alderson has a beautifully restored C&O depot which is still a flag stop for Amtrak, C&O style signals, 3 grade crossings, and a large grassy area where you can legally watch the tonnage roll by. Be sure to check out the old town bridge, near the depot, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Shots are best in the morning for eastbounds, and evenings for westbounds. You can also get some good shots from the bridge you came into town on.
Warning! The upcoming portion of the tour is mostly one lane, and locals drive it like it's the Interstate. Save yourself a potential issue, and stay ALERT! Also, the names and numbers for several of the roads detailed in this tour beyond Alderson are from Loyd's on-the-ground research. MapQuest has several conflicts with his observations. Go with Loyd's actual research, not out-of-date MapQuest stuff.
Wolf Creek - Stay on Route 3 east for 2.1 miles, and make a right onto Route 7/1 (Creamery Road). In .4 miles you'll come along the tracks near a sweeping curve into a long straight stretch. There's plenty of pull off space from which to enjoy the view. Mornings are best for both directions.
Lowell -- South Bank Greenbrier River. After leaving Wolf Creek, drive 4.3 miles on Creamery Road, and turn right onto CR-7/Talcott Road. The road doesn't have an intersection sign, so pay attention to your mileage! Drive 2.2 miles on Talcott Road and you'll come to a T intersection at the River; turn right onto Lowell Road/CR-15. You'll see the bridges over the Greenbrier River, and shots are possible from the road during morning. One-half mile past your last turn, you'll be trackside again at grade level, with a nice pull off to soak up some action. Further up the road you'll see a detector, and signals that you can pull over at when you head on from here. Morning shots only from both locales however. As you head to your next stop, shots are possible over the farmland you'll drive past in a couple different spots.
Pence Springs. From Wolf Creek to Lowell on the south bank of the river, we traveled overland, rather than along the river and railroad. That's because there are no roads through most of that area. From Lowell, we'll go north, even though it's the opposite direction to the route we're taking. Because we need to get on the north bank of the river after visiting Lowell on the south bank, we have to go back to Pence Springs, as there is a bridge over the Greenbrier River there. Unless you want to drive a serious amount of miles and time, Loyd has laid out the best route for us.
Drive 1.6 miles north from the signal pull off at Lowell, and you'll enter the village of Pence Springs; MP 343 on the railroad. It's a quaint, former resort town, and once important cattle loading point on the C&O. In fact until 1900, the town was know as Stockyards. The Hotel and Spring house still stand, and the hotel is being rebuilt into a private boarding school. This is also the beginning of single track westward. At the grade crossing, you can shoot eastbounds in the morning, and westbounds in the afternoon.
Lowell -- North Bank Greenbrier River. Leave Pence Springs by crossing the tracks, and driving .3 miles until you meet up again with WV-3. Take a left, and you'll be in WV-3 West. Drive 2.6 miles, and you'll see a sign for a public fishing access parking lot, on the left. Pull off here, and take a stroll across the old railroad bridge. Standing tall for over 100 years, its still an impressive structure. In the evening hours you can get some good shots of tonnage crossing the new bridge, just downstream.
Talcott - Leaving Lowell, drive 1 mile to our next stop, which is probably the most famous location on the Alleghany subdivision. Talcott is home to the Legend of John Henry, and MP 348 on the railroad. Skip the first grade crossing, and cross the 2nd one. You'll find another fishing access lot, with a good view of the track. Make sure you don't miss the tunnels! The old bore (originally called Big Bend, the name of the newer bore today) is over 6000 feet long, and was where John Henry beat the steam drill, and died afterwards. The new tunnel was finished in 1932, and both tunnels are accessible by following the track down either side from the grade crossing at Dillons' Superette.
The Superette has a memorabilia room full of old railroad pictures, and is open everyday. While right against the track, both roads to the tunnel are public access -- just don't get stupid. There is also a short stub siding which is used from time to time to park MOW equipment and HBO cars. Again, shots in Talcott will be morning eastbounds, and evening westbounds.
Hilldale. From the grade crossing, take a left on WV-3, and 1.2 miles down the road you'll see a large statue of John Henry as he watches over the tunnels from a small park off WV-3. Winter evening shots are possible, but there are too many leaves during the summer for decent train shots.
Willowwood. - At the bottom of the hill, take a right onto Willowwood Road/CR-13, and follow it for .2 miles, and you'll see an unmarked dirt road. Make a very sharp right and go up the bank. If you pass the entrance to Willowwood Country Club you've gone too far. Follow the dirt road (its passable by any vehicle) for .3 miles and you'll end up trackside at a big cut. This is a great place for afternoon shots, and it's public property. Notice across the tracks by the cut, you can barely see the concrete from the face of the filled in Little Bend tunnel.
Willowwood -- Gun Club Road. From our last stop, drive .3 miles down Willowwood Road, and take a right on Gun Club Road/CR-12/3. It's a short 1/10th of a mile up and over the tracks to a dirt pulloff. There's plenty of room to park, and you'll be granted good visibility in both directions from the area. Look across the tracks, and you can find the foundation of the former Hilldale station, and tower, long since past. Mornings before 11am, and evenings from 3pm until 6pm are best for lighting, due to the trees. This is MP CA 351.0. Go back out the way you came.
Wiggins -- Big Creek Crossing. Take a right back onto Willowwood Road, and drive for 1.8 miles, passing up Powley Creek and Bun Hicks roads, as they are NAG/NARL. Take a very sharp right hand turn onto Big Creek Road/CR-10). Go up and across the tracks, and there's a small, but useable dirt turn off where you can park. This spot isn't the best for visibility, but its quiet, and you can drum up some artistic opportunities here. Lighting is best in the evening for westbounds. The crossing itself is MP CA 352.8
Hinton -- Pizza Hut. Head back across the tracks, and down the way you came in, and take a right onto Willowwood to continue in to Hinton. However, before we actually get to Hinton, it's worthwhile to bring you up-to-date on Hinton as a railroad/railfan town. Once a major terminal point on the C&O, very little remains of the railroad infrastructure in the city. The roundhouse and turntable were taken out in the 1980's, along with most of the yard tracks. That said, the town is still a terminal point for the New River and Allegheny subdivisions, and every train stops in town to change crews. Unfortunately for the railfan, the town is built in a steep valley, with very few photographic opportunities. Stay far away from CSX property. The employees take trespassing very seriously around their property.
So... from back on Willowwood Road/CR-13 at Big Creek Road, drive southwest along the river for 1.5 miles, then take a right right onto WV-3. Drive for 1.2 miles, then to a right across the Greenbrier River on WV-107. There's a gravel pull off across the road from Pizza Hut that will work if you're in a hurry to photograph a train. This stretch of track is within yard limits, so eastbounds will be slowing for a stop at MX cabin, or will be already stationary. Westbounds generally occupy the leads closest to the mountain, and will be running past here for a stop near the yard office.
MX Cabin (inaccessible to the public) is technically the end of the Allegheny Subdivision, and the beginning of the New River Subdivision, and is a logical place to end this segment and begin the next. However, Hinton is not particularly easy to get to from either I-77 or I-64, and the railfanning, frankly, leaves much to be desired. Therefore, this segment will continue north to Sandstone, which is immediately south of I-64, exit 138. Sandstone is also the logical place to begin an exploration of the New River Gorge National River area. For simplicity's sake, however, we will call this segment Clifton Forge - Hinton, simply because very few folks outside of West Virginia have ever heard of Sandstone.
Hinton -- BRC Rail Car. Get back onto WV-107 and drive towards town for .5 miles, and take a right into the City National Bank parking lot. Here's the home of BRC Rail Car, a private company that inspects and repairs railcars for CSX, and other railroads. There's usually a bunch of cars parked on their various leads, and you may catch a glimpse of their 55ton bright blue locomotive. If you stay less then 15-20 minutes here, you won't get on the bad side of the bank.
Hinton -- Overhead Bridge. Head back out, and take a right onto WV-107 again. From BRC, it's a .5 mile drive down WV-107, and straight through the stop intersection, to the Overhead Bridge. Taken out of service a few years back, its open for foot traffic, and crosses over the Yard in the Avis area. Park at the "Road Closed" sign and walk up for good views in either direction. Lighting is good throughout the day, but high sun angles in the summer may cause you some trouble.
Hinton -- Station Area. From the overhead bridge, turn right, and follow the one way street for .1 miles, and turn left onto 2nd street. 2nd street joins WV-107 after 400 feet. Cross the bridge, and follow the WV-107 signs for .8 miles. Turn right at the stoplight onto WV-20 north. Turn left onto 3rd Avenue, and then left onto Summers Street. After .1 mile, you'll make a right turn onto 2nd Avenue, and you can't miss the station. Now city property, this is as close as you're legally going to get to the rails. Morning light is best here, after 9am.
Amtrak stops 6 times a week, and the waiting room is open during those times. The station is a great place to hang out and listen on the scanner, as arriving and departing trains in both directions are in constant contact with the yardmaster and the AM dispatcher in Jacksonville. You can also hear the defect detector @ mp 360.5 calling out train length, number of axles, and ambient temperature.
The station is at MP CA 357.1.
Brooks. Leave the Hinton station by going out of the parking lot, and straight onto the brick street in front of you. Take the first right, up 3rd Avenue for 2 blocks, and make a left onto WV-20 North. Stay on the latter for 4.4 miles, passing Summers County High School ( you can pull off here if something is coming). The next time you're trackside will be in Brooks. You have plenty of pull off space, and a decent view in both directions. Morning is the only time for shots though, as the sun sets directly across the river in the evening. MP 361.2
After Brooks, WV-20 takes to the mountains, and you won't see the tracks again until Sandstone, where the Sandstone - South Charleston segment begins.