West Virginia Signs

I love looking at maps. I can spend hours reading them just like a good book. The town names suggest so much more than just identifying a location. There is a history and a romance behind those names as well as your mind’s image of what that spot must look like. Makes me want to follow that blue line or that thin black line and see for myself.

Railroad location signs give me the same feeling. They are not very common in the eastern United States, I suppose because they are an expense and have been replaced by electronics. But when I see a location sign along the tracks, for me it is just like reading the title to a book. There is a lot more behind it and some of the stories are fascinating. It gives me the same feeling of anticipation as rounding a bend and seeing a green signal.

Bloomington, West Virginia – March, 1993

The B&O did it right with signs. I remember looking in a B&O shop window years ago and seeing a wooden mold for one of these concrete signs. This one is at Bloomington, West Virginia, where the Mountain Subdivision starts up Seventeen Mile Grade. Almost directly under this sign is an underpass where the Western Maryland Railway heads toward Elkins, West Virginia

Scanlon.Laurel Bank
Laurel Bank, West Virginia – August, 1987

Down near the far end of that Western Maryland line is the outpost of Laurel Bank. The railroad had a small yard there as well as a rest house for crews. No motels here, but there is a cozy two story wooden boarding house with your locomotives also sleeping right outside the door. Here, a Laurel Bank Switcher puts together his train for a run up to Spruce, highest point on a mainline railroad east of the Mississippi at 4060 feet.

Scanlon.Peach Creek
Peach Creek, West Virginia – October, 1990

Peach Creek Yard on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad is just outside of Logan, West Virginia. It was the assembly point for mine runs on a multitude of branch lines fanning out of the area. I liked to stay at a very sketchy motel near the yard and get up early. The first shifter leaving the yard was the one I’d follow that day, down the Island Creek Sub to Stirrat or up the Buffalo Sub or down along the Guyandotte River to a connection with the Virginian at Gilbert.

Matewan, West Virginia – May, 2004

The Norfolk and Western Pocahontas Division mainline is rich with history and has some of the best town names I’ve ever heard. Matewan was not only ground zero of the Hatfield-McCoy legend but also the site of the Matewan Massacre which was the opening battle of the West Virginia mine wars in the 1920s. The downtown area is still pretty much as it has been for 100 years. Incidentally, Devil Anse Hatfield, the patriarch of the clan, was actually an astute businessman. He speculated in lumber and real estate and sold some of his land to the N&W.

Scanlon. War Eagle
War Eagle, West Virginia – May, 2004

I have to admit, I know nothing about War Eagle except that it is a spot on the Poky mainline. You have to love the name though. Right along this same stretch on the Tug Fork River you can also visit Old Joe, Aught-One, Vulcan, Mohawk, Panther and Wyoming City. The drive is a memorable one, although not for the timid.

Wooden Station Sign in Qunnimont, WV wye. 5/17/75
Qunnimont, West Virginia – May, 1975

The Chesapeake & Ohio had some elegant looking location signs. Painted white with angled metal supports on a wooden post. The signs were trimmed with black painted wood frames. They had dignity, as did the other structures supporting the railroad from the board and batten depots (and outhouses) to the graceful cantilever signal bridges. Quinnimont yard supported several branch lines including the Laurel Creek Branch and the Piney Creek Branch up over the mountain and down into the Winding Gulf region.

Thurmond. West Virginia – September, 1984

This sign was well deteriorated when I came across it, painted onto a wall on the main street of Thurmond. Directly across the tracks was the Chesapeake & Ohio engine-house and coal dock. Just up the tracks is the iconic Thurmond depot, now a National Park Service visitor center. Ironically, this sign was stripped off when the movie Matewan was filmed in Thurmond. It was repainted by the movie company when they pulled out. Apparently the actual town of Matewan didn’t look enough like Matewan for them.

Kevin Scanlon – Photographs and text Copyright 2016

See more of Kevin’s work at Kevin Scanlon Photography.

The Victor Zolinsky Collection


The Trackside Photographer is pleased to present more than 150 photographs selected from the personal collection of Victor Zolinsky., a lifetime railroader whose photographs tell the story of mid-20th century railroading from an insider’s perspective.

From the end of the steam era and early generation diesels to the time of mergers and fallen flags, don’t miss these photographs.

Click here for The Vic Zolinsky Collection.

The collection may also be found on the main menu at the top of the page under "Galleries."

Birthday Finest

The town of New Canaan, Connecticut was established in 1731, and was an agricultural community with a few small shoe making businesses. Then in 1868, the expanding New Haven Railroad built a branch line of 7.9 miles from the Stamford Main Line to connect New Canaan with the outside world. At the time, the post-civil war population was 2,497. Fast forward one hundred years to 1968, and the population had grown to around 17,100, and the town was becoming an affluent and sought after place for New York executives to live with a 70 minute commute between home and work.

Although the New Haven Railroad in 1968 was in dire physical and financial condition, the centennial of the New Canaan Branch could not go unrecognized, so the town and the railroad decided to celebrate appropriately. The station building was spruced up with new paint, and for the weekend the New Haven sent two of their freshly repainted freight engines up to town to be on display for the locals to see.

Main Station - New Canaan, Connecticut - 1968
Main Station – New Canaan, Connecticut – 1968

The railroad definition of a station is “a place named in the timetable”. Nothing more. It can be just a sign, or an architecturally grand structure for a big city. Within the town of New Canaan, there is another station – Talmadge Hill. This little station was originally just one step above a flag stop in stature; all the trains stopped there, but usually only a few hardy passengers got on or off.

Although it was tiny, the railroad’s Bridge and Building painters decided Talmadge Hill was deserving of a centennial celebratory sprucing up as well, so after dressing up New Canaan, they used a couple of gallons of paint to spruce up the station building.

On this day, the little building is resplendent and proud, all dressed up in birthday finest and ready to shelter any waiting passengers from the rain. Even the sign is new, announcing to everyone that Talmadge Hill Station is ready and able to serve.

Talmadge Hill Station - New Canaan, Connecticut - 1968
Talmadge Hill Station – New Canaan, Connecticut – 1968

A great deal has changed since I took this photo in 1968. In those days, the morning newpapers for the commuters were left on a bench inside the station. Alongside was an unlocked metal box, which held the nickels and dimes left by the commuters, strictly on the honor system. The following day the agent returned in the early hours with the next days papers and collected the coins from the day before.

In 1971, the station building was demolished and replaced by high level platforms, fixed seating, and lighting, and new train cars. Today, the hundreds of commuters who park in several lots surrounding the station, probably have no idea that Talmadge Hill is nearing it’s 150th birthday, but never as well dressed as it was in 1968.

Bob HughesPhotographs and text Copyright 2016


Southern Pacific mainline near Deeth, NV on September 10, 1976

While I was in high school, I used to visit the Lancaster, CA depot every Saturday. At the time, this SP depot had a semaphore train order signal and the operator let me lower the signal when there were no train orders for the next train and then raise the signal back to stop position after the train passed. This was my first experience with a semaphore signal. Later, when I was in the Navy, I traveled across the country and discovered many more semaphore signals along the Southern Pacific and several other railroads.

Southern Railway – Old Fort, NC – March 14, 1981

The operator is about to hand up train orders to the engineer on train 167. Train 167 has engines 3182, 3202, and 3052 with 112 cars.

Burlington & Rock Island – North Zulch, TX – April 5, 1980

The Burlington and Rock Island used joint trackage between Waxahatchie and Houston. Train 77, with engines 6494 and 6607, rolls through North Zulch, TX on April 5, 1980. The young lady standing next to the depot is not the operator, but my future bride. This was our first train chasing date. The depot was later destroyed when a grain train derailed at the site. Note the one signal blade is rounded and the other is square. Normally the Rock Island train order signals had rounded ends.

Milwaukee Road – Seattle, WA – February 3, 1973

It is 8:30AM on February 3, 1973 at Black River interlocking tower south of Seattle, WA. Milwaukee Road number 3 was one of the rare FP45s. The engines have finished setting out the cars for Seattle in a small yard around the curve. Leaving the rest of their train in the yard, the engines have come up to the tower to pick up train orders. After receiving the train orders, the units will move back to their train and then head south down the valley to Tacoma. Notice that on this train order signal, that both blades are square.

Burlington Northern – Skykomish, WA – April 26, 1973

BN train 90 passes the depot at Skykomish, WA on April 26, 1973. It has engines 875, 6525, and 6560. The train will pick up a helper here to get over Stevens Pass.

This collection is just a small portion  of the signals I photographed during the 70s and early 80s.

John Carr – Photographs and text copyright 2016

See more of John’s work at Carr Tracks

Bad weather

Marshall, Virginia
Marshall, Virginia

February found me along the tracks on the Norfolk-Southern B-Line between Manassas, Virginia and Front Royal, Virginia. I was scouting for good spots to photograph the Norfolk &Western 4-8-4  J-class locomotive #611 which will be steaming along this line from Manassas to Front Royal and back on June 4th and 5th, 2016. The B-Line runs through Virginia’s hunt country, and there are many interesting railroad landscapes in the small towns and farmland that line the tracks.

The B-Line dates from before the Civil War, when it was established to link the Orange and Alexandria Railroad to the Shenandoah Valley. Known then as the Manassas Gap Railroad, it became part of the Southern RR system in the 1890s.

In 1988, the B-line acquired mainline status when Norfolk Southern moved its interchange for north-south traffic from Alexandria, Virginia to Hagerstown, Maryland and re-routed traffic from the former Southern mainline across the B-Line to Front Royal.

Marshall, Virginia

My exploration of the B-Line was hampered by rain and soon a violent thunderstorm (in February!) would end my photography for the day.

Photographers, like sea captains or steam train excursion planners, have no control over the weather, and I hope that there will be good weather in June for the N&W 611 excursion. But as I stood along the tracks in the February drizzle, I began to imagine 611 appearing out of the winter mist, its headlight shining through the fog with smoke and steam billowing in the damp air.  It would be quite a sight.

Sometimes bad weather can be perfect.

Edd Fuller – Photographs and text Copyright 2016

For more about N&W’s 611, visit FireUp611.org