VIRGINIA BLUE RIDGE RAILWAY
© Steven P. Hepler 2012
|VBR No. 8 and No. 9 arrived in Piney River on August 15, 1958. Both engines came from the U.S. Army Transportation Corps at Fort Eustis, VA where they had been numbered 618 and 616 respectively. They had been constructed in 1942 by the American Locomotive Company and were originally numbered 4038 and 4023. The renumbering into the Army 600-series occurred in 1954. VBR locomotives 5, 8 and 9 were identical standard Army switch engines, built to United States Railroad Administration specifications for the war effort. Hastily painted into the VBR standard black with yellow trim upon arrival at Piney River, one could still make out No. 8's original Army numbers on her cab and number plate.
|On June 21, 1959 the VBR hosted it's second public steam excursion, operated once again for the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. This trip was billed as a “Photographer's Special” and had a relatively small number of participants. The NRHS trip committee requested a boxcar, two gondolas, and the VBR's ex-Southern Railway wood caboose as the train consist. The locomotive assigned to pull the train on this day was No. 8. The VBR borrowed two low-sided gondolas from the Southern and installed wooden benches for the riders. The boxcar was employed as a “baggage car” for the photographer's luggage. The group traveled from Washington to Lynchburg, VA via a Southern Railway train on Saturday, then rode a chartered bus to Piney River on Sunday morning. The “Photographer's Special” made two trips to Tye River with plenty of photo stops along the way. At the end of the day, the riders detrained at Tye River where the VBR had pre-arranged with the Southern for the Northbound “Tennessean” to make a special flag stop to pick up and return the excursion group to Washington. This was the last full-fledged “fan trip” the VBR would operate, and as with the earlier venture in 1957, the railroad had gone to considerable effort to accommodate these excursions. Only on one or two other future occasions did the VBR allow a few passengers to ride the track car or perhaps the caboose.|
|No. 8 continued to operate in VBR freight service until early-1963 when she was stored "serviceable" as the railroad began its move to convert to diesel power.|
|In late-1965 No. 8 was sold to Vernon Seeley, Chairman of the Board of the Delaware Otsego Railroad and shipped to Oneonta, NY shortly thereafter. It was renumbered “2” and was placed in tourist excursion service on the “DO Line” on August 3, 1966. At the same time, the Delaware Otsego had also purchased a number of spare parts for their engine for which they never paid the VBR. There still exists a thick file folder documenting the lawsuit brought by the VBR in 1967-'68 against the “DO Line” for unpaid bills. At the same time, the “DO Line” brought a lawsuit against the VBR. Evidently the VBR claimed the boiler for No. 8 was in good condition at the time of sale when, in fact, there were multiple mechanical issues.||
Photo Credit: Earle H. Gil, Sr
New highway construction forced the “DO Line” to relocate and in 1971 the operation reopened at Cooperstown, NY as the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad. Steam operations with No. 2 continued until about 1975 when the locomotive was put into storage. Some years later, with the “DO Line” having grown into a large-scale regional freight carrier, the engine was placed on display at the corporate headquarters of the Delaware-Otsego System (DOS) at Cooperstown. In 2009, the DOS sold No. 2 to Bill Miller, of Eckhart Mines, Maryland. In October of that year, the locomotive was lifted onto an excessive-weight highway trailer and trucked to Miller's heavy equipment sales facility in Eckhart Mines, where a restoration to full operation is planned. Miller is also the owner of former U.S. Army 2-8-0 No. 611 which is also stored on his property.
After No. 9 was sold (along with No. 7) in late-1963, she first operated in excursion service for the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad (NH&I) in June 1967. At that time the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway name was still painted boldly on her tender. Shortly thereafter, she emerged with a new paint job, featuring the NH&I's bright herald on the tender. In 1976, No. 9 had a “make-over” of sorts when she appeared with a larger headlight mounted in the center of the smokebox door. The bell was moved from its original position atop the boiler and was secured to the original mounting plate for the headlight. While many considered it a novel and original way to “beautify” a standard U.S. Army WWII-design 0-6-0, it was actually duplicated from a practice first conceived by the U.S. Army Transportation Corps (USATC) during the 1950's. A prime example of this can be seen in a Don Ross photo of Army 0-6-0 No. 614 (the former No. 4018) at Fort Eustis, VA on August 24, 1955. The gloss-black painted USATC 614 looks elegant with a road engine headlight and a highly-polished brass bell bolted to the top of the smokebox.
No. 9 was taken out of service in 1981, and NH&I's ill-fated attempt at rebuilding the locomotive during 1992-'93 ended in a dismal failure. Some years prior, the driving wheels on No. 9 were swapped out and replaced with those from scrapped No. 7, while 9's valve motion and running gear turned out to be an odd mix of parts from both engines. Even Morris County Central RR (MCC) 0-6-0 No. 4039 (now Whippany Railway Museum No. 4039) became the recipient of a small number of components that originally were part of No. 7. The MCC was in need of replacement spring rigging during the late-1970's, and the NH&I was happy to assist their neighbor in Northern New Jersey.
|No. 9 was stripped down and some work was started on the boiler and firebox. The rebuild project was eventually aborted and in 1995 the engine was shoved in the weeds on a back storage track at New Hope...forgotten and eventually put up for sale.|
SMS Rail Lines' No. 9 undergoing
rebuild at Bridgeport, NJ
Whippany Railway Museum's No. 4039 undergoing
rebuild at Whippany, NJ
|After sitting and rusting away for nearly 15 years, No. 9 was sold in September 2009 to SMS Rail Lines, a shortline freight carrier based in Bridgeport, NJ. On December 8, 2009, No. 9 was trucked from New Hope, PA to the SMS shop in Bridgeport, where work immediately began on evaluating her for an eventual return to active service...pulling freight ! When No. 9 was delivered to SMS that December day, the Garden State could now boast three steam locomotives within its borders from the storied Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. No. 9 was “welcomed” to New Jersey by her former VBR stablemates at Whippany...Nos. 4039 (VBR 5) and 385 (VBR 6). Although SMS No. 9 is a good 100 miles from Whippany, restoration crews from both SMS and the Whippany Railway Museum have been assisting one another with the respective rebuilds of the iron steeds entrusted to their care. Within a few short years, the New Jersey countryside will reverberate with the stirring sights and sounds of steam power that was once so common in the far off Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.|
On November 27, 1961, VBR president Kenneth Cobb died at the age of 52. Immediately, there was much speculation about the continued use of steam on “Th' Blue Ridge”. Kenneth's younger brother, John Cobb assumed the presidency of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway on February 1, 1962. At the time, the railroad's new president was asked about the future of the VBR's stable of steam locomotives and if the railroad would make a move to convert to diesel power. He said, “We plan to keep them. We have 20 years of good steam transportation in our shop.”
|While steam was officially dead at Piney River, the VBR had taken note of the tourist railroad phenomenon and seriously considered getting into the business. Engine No. 8 had just been reflued around the time of dieselization and was held for a year or so with the thought of operating “steam excursions”. Two January 1964 letters of correspondence written by VBR President John Cobb survive, and give a hint of VBR's thinking on future steam excursions: “”We are keeping our No. 8 (0-6-0) in the event we need a steamer for tourist passenger travel in the future...we are on the lookout for three old style wooden coaches...” and: “We will not fire up our number eight locomotive until the time we elect to run for the ferroequinologists on a commercial basis, probably in 1965.” That notion passed rather quickly and No. 8 was sold without ever having been steamed again in Virginia.|
||The diesels that came to the VBR were originally built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in 1940 for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W). As fate would have it, they were actually older than the four 0-6-0 steam locomotives they were about to replace. When the Erie and DL&W railroads merged in 1960 to form the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, all of the company's combined locomotives were renumbered into the new EL numbering system.|
Click to Enlarge
VBR diesel No. 11 is being serviced in August 1963 at Piney River.
Steam engine No. 5 can be seen in the background
|No. 10 was used extensively throughout the years, making daily trips out of Piney River to the American Cyanamid facility and the aplite plants. She would then pull her heavy load of cars east to the VBR's scale house at Tye River for weighing and eventual interchange with the Southern Railway. After the VBR went out of business, No. 10 was sold in 1985 to the Union Tank Car Company (UTLX), repainted in a blue scheme and numbered “UTLX 12226”. She currently works the UTLX yard in Marion, Ohio.|
|At the end of her VBR career, No. 12 (along with sister unit No. 10) was sold to Union Tank Car Company in 1985, and became “UTLX 12227”. Today, she is still in operation, in very faded blue paint at the UTLX facility in Valdosta, Georgia.|
Cabooses - Nos. 2 & 3 The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, like every other railroad in the country employed a wide variety of equipment over the years to conduct its business, ranging from locomotives, passenger cars, maintenance equipment, and of course, cabooses. The VBR acquired its first caboose in the late-1940's from the Southern Railway (SR). Just why the VBR assigned the road number "2" to what in all likelihood was actually their first caboose is somewhat of a mystery, as none of the surviving VBR equipment files or photos suggest otherwise.
|Caboose 2 was a wooden ex-Southern Railway car of 1922 vintage that may have originally carried the road number "X2560". As the Southern began acquiring its first steel, bay-window cabooses in 1948, the old wood cars began their slow march into retirement. X2560 was sold to the Virginia Blue Ridge about that time where it became Caboose No. 2. For the next decade, it faithfully tagged along behind the VBR's freight trains as they rolled their way along the Piney River. By the end of 1960, the stress of long years on the road was apparent, forcing the VBR to retire the car from active service. It was parked on an overgrown side track at Piney River where it was eventually overtaken by plant-life. Around 1979, with old No. 2 clearly showing its age, she was purchased by an individual who trucked the by-now, very fragile car to Rapidan, VA where it was set up on a section of panel track alongside the 1887 Rapidan Depot (currently a private residence) where plans were made to eventually restore the car to its former Southern Railway glory. Unfortunately, this never happened and presently, decades after the caboose left Piney River, it continues to decay and crumble in place...Mother Nature slowly reclaiming the lumber and iron for the earth from whence it came.|
|Caboose No. 3 was another former Southern Railway caboose, this one of all-steel construction and of the bay-window configuration. Built between 1948 - 1951 as part of a batch of 131 cabooses ordered by the Southern, the original road number of this car cannot be determined at present, due to the lack of documentation in the VBR equipment files. The original SR road numbers were X3139 - X3270. When the VBR was in need of a new caboose after the retirement of No. 2 in 1960, a replacement car was purchased from the Southern. The VBR's bay-window caboose was a fairly modern piece of rolling stock of the diesel-era that looked somewhat out of place on the rural, steam-powered VBR with it's bright green paint, yellow handrails and lettering. For 20 years the steel caboose could be found at the end of the VBR's freight trains, but when the railroad shut down, the car was purchased by the Mississippi Export Railroad in Moss Point, MS where it was given the road number "38".|