Part Five
A wet autumn day in Thurmond.

Any time I visit the New River Gorge I almost always spend some time in Thurmond. For rail fans visiting southern West Virginia, Thurmond is certainly a must see place. Almost all of the railroad structures which crowded this narrow strip of flat land are gone. Still, there is much about this place which carries you back a hundred years to the boom times of the New River coal fields. A great deal has been written about Thurmond, much of it available on-line, and I’ll not do a history summary here. But I will touch on some of the highlights.

An east-bound grain train rolls through Thurmond.

Confederate Captain William Thurmond acquired 73 acres along the New River for $20. Subsequently, the town of Thurmond was incorporated in 1900. Not long after he had purchased the land the C&O completed its line through the Gorge in 1873. But there was virtually no growth in Thurmond for many years. The story of Thurmond is really a story of Thomas G. McKell of Glen Jean, WV. McKell had negotiated with the C&O to build a branch line up Dunloup Creek (then known as Loup Creek) which became the C&O’s Loup Creek Branch. McKell arranged for financing to construct a rail bridge over the New River to connect the new branch line with Thurmond. Thurmond quickly became a boom town and generated 20% of the entire C&O’s revenue.1

The John Bullock/Roger Armandtrout House sits trackside at the western end of Thurmond. It was featured as a boarding house in the movie “Matewan”.
A view from the front porch of the Bullock/Armandtrout House.

With the opening of the Loup Creek branch Thurmond became a center of commerce. It soon gained a passenger depot, freight station, turntable, engine house, water tank, coal and sand towers, hotels, banks, stores, restaurants and homes.1

Fresh off the plateau, coal loads cross the New on the Loup Creek Branch entering the main line at Thurmond. Often these trains pull into the Rush Run siding at the western end of Thurmond and head back east after the power runs around the train.

“The growth [of Thurmond] was so great that during the first two decades of the 1900’s, Thurmond handled more freight than Richmond, Virginia and Cincinnati, Ohio combined, and the railroad depot hosted over 95,000 passengers yearly. With 18 train crews operating out of the town, a little more than 150 people worked for the railroad, as laborers, brakemen and dispatchers.”1

For railfan photographers Thurmond is situated such that evening light is usually very nice.
The Cardinal runs through the Gorge on Sunday, Wednesday and Friday; train 50 (EB) in the morning and train 51 (WB) in the evening on each of those days. Thurmond is a flag stop so there is no agent at the station.
The west end of Thurmond as seen from the former Rend Branch (now a rail trail). The Rend Branch connected at the Loup Creek Branch and ran down river for about ½ mile before turning up Arbuckle Creek Canyon to reach the mine at Minden, WV. The distant track is the mainline and the near track is the Rush Run siding. From Thurmond downriver to Sewell it’s single track.
There is very little in the way of access roads in the Gorge so this is the method used to maintain the switch heaters. I’ve often wondered why they don’t just build a high-rail propane truck.
The old passenger depot has been restored and is well maintained. During the warm weather it is open to the public and manned by park service employees.
East-bound rolling through Thurmond with friend Jesse Smith at the controls.
West-bound empties on the main with loads sitting on the Loup Creek Branch waiting to enter the main. For photographing trains Thurmond offers many different composition opportunities.
This 1913 USGS map shows the extensive yard tracks at Thurmond during boom times. The smaller yard shown on the south side of the river is the eastern terminus of the Southside Branch (Sewell to Thurmond, now a rail trail). The Southside yard tracks are still in place, the Thurmond yard tracks are all gone and all that is left are the two mains.
If you enjoy to watch and/or photograph trains, waterfalls, nice trails, and visiting ruins then Thurmond can be a productive day trip. All these things are within one mile of Thurmond. Above, coke ovens at the ghost town of Rush Run (across the river from Thurmond).
Some of the old yard track at the east end of the Southside Branch (across the river from Thurmond).
This short spur off the Southside Branch serviced a mine here at the mouth of Arbuckle Creek. This area, especially behind me, has one of the best displays of spring wildflowers to be found in the Gorge. Also, Arbuckle Creek, to my left, has a number of great waterfalls. There is a short and steep connector trail here which takes you from the Southside Branch trail up to the Rend Trail.
One of the many great waterfalls on Arbuckle Creek.
A view of Thurmond from the Concho overlook. On this windy and cold April morning a west-bound ethanol train rolls by. The road winding up the mountain is Beury Mountain Road. It follows the ridge line for several miles taking you to Leland (which sits above Prince, WV along Meadow Creek).
With smoking brakes and the whine of dynamics a pair of CSX motors eases loads down the mountain on the Loup Creek Branch. Thurmond is behind me along this road and it goes up the mountain to Glen Jean. “Back in the day” they brought 200 loads per day down this mountain 20 loads at a time. So much coal was mined that the C&O had trouble keeping up with demand. There was even consideration given to double-tracking the Branch. The Branch originally terminated at Glen Jean (six miles from Thurmond) but an additional five miles was eventually added linking it to the old Virginian Rail Road at Pax, WV. It eased some of the burden plus shipping rates were cheaper.
R J Corman motors bringing loads down the mountain.

There used to be several eye appealing bridges along Dunloup Creek but they were all replaced a couple years ago to accommodate two-lane traffic.
Dunloup Creek has many attractive waterfalls especially nice in Spring and Autumn.
Another Dunloup Creek waterfall.

If you railfan Thurmond and use a scanner you can get a warning for both east-bound and west-bound trains. Crews traveling west usually call the signal at Claremont (about three miles east of Thurmond) and for east-bound they usually call the Rush Run signal about 1.5 miles west of Thurmond.

See you in December for Part Six of the New River Gorge!

1. See The (near) Ghost Town of Thurmond, West Virginia

Fred WolfePhotographs and text Copyright 2017

See more of Fred’s work at or find him on Facebook at Wolfelight-Images and at

7 thoughts on “The New River Gorge

  1. All I can say is “wow!” – there is some spectacular scenery in and around Thurmond. Your photos are fantastic. Where do you stay in the area?

    1. Thank you. Sometimes I stay at the Rifrafters Campground in Fayetteville but more often I’ll get a room at the Hawk’s Nest Lodge in Anstead. But, there are a number of motels in the Fayetteville area.

  2. Beautiful work. I’ve rafted in the area on the New and Gauley Rivers for most of the past 30 years. Lots of great texture along both, though much is difficult to access.

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