August 2010 Article

This Month's Article - August 2010 
Publications that featured the Nelson & Albemarle Railway
Some major (and minor) publications that if you haven't seen, you should!
Having started in 1903 from the joining of the Schuyler Railway with a branch line of the C&O Railway, and lasting until 1963 when abandonment was permitted, the Nelson & Albemarle Railway was always limited in size and scope.  Because of the manner in which the early years progressed and the many brushes with extinction during bad economic times, researching those details usually relies on what company/corporate records can be found and what records there are mostly exist in the University Library in Charlottesville at the University of Virginia.  You have Garth Groff to thank for a lot of this as his research and publication of his booklet, "Soapstone Shortlines:  Alberene Stone and Its Railroads" in 1991 put a lot of the documents into the library and saved this corporate history for future generations to have access.  It's time to recognize the historical significance of publications to the ability to research and understand the background of the N&A.  So, the earliest view of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway came by way of Hollywood!  The 1941 film, "Virginia", starring Fred MacMurray and Madeleine Carroll featured a few minutes of the arrival of a train at the 'Fairview' depot.  This depot was actually the Howardsville station on the C&O James River line.  While the train and the station were slated to be at Esmont, a last minute change brought the train out onto the mainline of the C&O and kept the boxcar and combine attached though rumor has it a C&O crew managed the train.  While basically out of print, the movie can occaisionally be found online or at an auction site and the few minutes that the train is present are worthwhile to see.  Painted on the cab of #9 and on the boxcar specifically for their movie debut, is the company name, Nelson & Albemarle Railway but it really isn't that visible.  &&  Most of the time though, people look to a book published in 1945 as the starting point of anyone outside of the Commonwealth of Virginia knowing about the Nelson & Albemarle's 18 mile existence.   Archie Robertson's "Slow Train to Yesterday" had no photos, but the description of the N&A and operations could easily be visualized from his writings.  Chapter 2 of his book, titled 'Root, Hog, or Die' takes the reader to Esmont, Virginia and reminds anyone that Esmont was a backroads village.  Conductor H. C. Drumheller noted the use of a combination coach/baggage with an open platform on the rear and a round trip fare of 34 cents.  Of course, the filming of the movie, "Virginia", was mentioned and Esmont lost out on the chance to have great movie fame when the location was shifted to another nearby village because of 'lighting' issues.  A description of mainline engine #9 is included as is a full-page drawing of the author standing on the rear platform of the combine.  The meet with a two-car local of the C&O is described as is the country store alongside Warren Depot.  Engine #9 drops 2 cars of soapstone and a car of slate onto a local siding for transport by the C&O.  And the talk turns to Schuyler and the soapstone mill and the nights stay in the local one-story hotel.  The morning ride to Rockfish brings a flag stop to pick up some passengers en route before getting a ride in the locomotive cab.  Rockfish, like Warren Depot, has no turntable for reversing the engine direction, so operations pick up here as cars have to be 'poled' into the siding for the Southern Railway.  An appendix lists the mixed trains that became part of the book and this leads us to the next book, Lucius Beebe's "Mixed Train Daily".  For the first time in publication came a photograph of the Nelson & Albemarle's mainline engine and mixed train including a wood-sheathed boxcar, hopper, and the ever-present combination baggage car/passenger car.  The description of the basic nature of the N&A became very personal in this dialogue of the daily, grinding operations along the line.  The one photograph turns out to be 1 of 19 shots taken by Charles Clegg, Jr. during that trip.  This picture and the remainder of the negatives ended up in the California State Railroad Museum collection where prints of those non-published photos can be purchased from the museum (see the index in the downloadable file at the bottom of this page).  Lucius Beebe even references Archie Robertson's "Slow Train to Yesterday" in his last paragraph!  The photo outtakes from the book include shots you don't usually find and include the depot at Schuyler and photos of a ballast car in action and even chickens along the tracks with the train going by.  &&  Then suddenly, passenger service was ended on the N&A and the attendant spotlight this brought to the railroad caused much reporting of the same in both newspaper and magazine.    "Railroad Magazine" in February 1951 commented on the demise in a simple one page report which included 3 photos by W. R. Hart that appeared to be taken during December 1941, ten years earlier.  The significant event of discontinuing passenger service allowed a national magazine of interest to railroad men as well as modelers to have photo coverage along with the story.  However, the article provided no back story of the railway and while giving photos of locomotives #10 and #11, and including a photo of a long unused combine sitting idle on a siding, it gave no history, just a news item.  Twelve years would go by before a full history of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway would be included in another publication.  &&  In "Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition" Number 13-14 of May 1963, H. Reid would expand on "An Upcountry Romance - A reminiscence of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway"  Here, four photos by H. Reid as well as four builders photos of #'s 9, 10, and 11 appear.  Number 11 took the distinction of having two builders photos as the original built for the Culver and Port Clinton railway in Ohio and than as refurbished for the N&A.  It's also the first roster provided and while missing the original #1, #2, #3, and #8 it also missed a more significant used locomotive purchase in #7 that came from the Proctor Coal Company, the former "Hutchcraft" named for B. R. Hutchcraft, chief geologist and a principal in the company that developed the Jellico coal mine area of Kentucky/Tennessee, that would be a mainline engine used for many years.  It did cover the diesel purchases and this roster recognized the many companies that actually owned the equipment.  Of most interest is the cariacature of the railway, "compressing time and space into one tableu".   && Another 10 years would pass before Richard E. Prince would write a history of the RF&P railroad titled, "The Richmond-Washington Line & Related Railroads" which included as one of the related railroads, the Nelson & Albemarle in a seven page spread including 17 photographs and a new roster which was not as complete as the 1963 roster compiled by H. Reid.  There are no mentions of the dieselization or the diesels purchased in the early 50's.  Photos were from Vulcan Locomotive Works and Eleutherian Mills Historical Library (builder's photos), Harold K. Vollrath, G. M. Best, D. Wallace Johnson, James Sandridge, Theodore Gay, and Richard Prince himself.  Some of the photos date back into the 30's but some were also from photos made during the 50's.  Four years later, in 1977, the C&O Historical Society's Chesapeake and Ohio Historical Newsletter Volume 9, Number 9 of September 1977 tells "The Story of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway Company" instigated by a member of the society attempting to explore the old right-of-way two years earlier and about 12 years after the line's abandonment.  There are no photographs but a diagram of the area is included and this show the interconnections with the Southern Railway and the C&O.  Much of the writing is taken from newspaper reports on the N&A and of the end of passenger service and the end of steam service on the line.  Good mention is made of the previous books on the subject but no roster was provided leaving a gap in the history.  Now it's 1988, eleven years further on and Thomas W. Dixon, Jr. of C&O Historical Society fame  writes "Old Dominion Steam - C&O" which includes only a brief description in a caption to a photo of #9 taking on water at the water tank at Warren Depot on the C&O's James River line and terminating point for the N&A handling traffic on the branch to Esmont of the C&O.  It's one of only 2 photographs I can find of any action at Warren Depot, and the only photo of the water tank I've ever seen.  &&   As a precursor to his booklet, Garth Groff published "The Story of Alberene Stone and Its Railroads" in "Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette" March/April 1989.  Instead of just being about the railroad, this article covered the evolution of the soapstone industry along the Nelson, Albemarle, and Amherst counties soapstone belt.  There are several photos of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway and also many on the actual soapstone operations including a photo of one of the gang saws used to slice blocks of soapstone into workable slabs which would become counter tops in school labs or be formed to fashion a utility sink of some nature.  There is a chronology of company histories included which explains much of how locomotives of one company later became part of another. A map of the two counties where Alberene Stone had it's facilities is also provided and is based on the rail line as it existed around 1905.  &&  The National Railway Historical Society publishes the National Railway Bulletin and in the Volume 55, Number 4 1990 issue, Edgar T. Mead wrote of "Ghost Rails of the Old Dominion".  Here, many of the no-longer-operating railroads were mentioned with particular inclusion of the N&A with multiple photos and references from the H. Reid article in "Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition" Number 13-14 of May 1963.  In 1990 the Nelson & Albemarle had been abandoned for just shy of 30 years.  The photo collection printed included 5 general views of soapstone quarry areas, and bridge abutments also showing one of only two known views of the shop area during actual operations by the N&A (there are several since the line stopped running).  Some of the photos are by H. Reid, while others are from 'collections' however, they are unique in not being published before in other books.  There is also another map of the area with the railroad line shown.  Unfortunately, most of the history repeated here is in the captions to photos and the actual writing does not give enough background and detail to tell the story of this ghost rail.  &&   Enter August A. Thieme of Richmond, Virginia.  As a photographer and filmmaker, he spent much of his time taking photos and making films of trains.  So it is no surprise to find him selling his collection of film to JMJ Productions in Hollywood, Florida that was released in 1990 as "Steam Locos on Industrial and Short Lines Volume 2".  The DVD version that is now available has several minutes of many shortlines and includes significant mainline action shots of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  I place this in with the publications for one main reason - if you read about something like a saddletank engine and a combine rattling down the tracks and through the woods you can visualize what that might have been like in your own imagination.  This film helps you really get that visualization in your head.  One of only 3 filmings known of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway (the other's being the movie "Virginia" and a short industrial clip from "Producing America's Buried Treasure" made by the Georgia Department of Industry and Trade in 1959), this is the longest of the action you will find.  It cannot be described well enough in words and I recommend you get a copy to view it yourself.  &&  Garth G. Groff has many interests and of those, the Sacramento Northern was a major one.  However, Garth lives and works in Charlottesville, Virginia so it's only natural to gain an interest in a more local, small shortline and want to write about it.  It's my understanding that he really wanted to write a much larger work and had collected a huge amount of reference material and I'm sure arranged with his employer, the library at the University of Virginia to become the repository for those corporate records that might otherwise disappear into private collections or worse yet, end up being thrown away.  In 1991 it was novel to self-publish a book/booklet, but Garth created his own personal publishing company and set about to tell the stories of "Soapstone Shortlines: Alberene Stone and Its Railroads".  This was much more than just the companies that evolved through the years by way of mergers and failures and rebirths, but a history of a people and communities that subsisted with very little and found working for the mill or the railway a way to get ahead in life.  My own Father was one of those persons who worked in the gang saw room at Schuyler in his first real job.  There are 31 photos included here with many of the mill operations, the people from the mill, the railroad, and one shot of #5 and #6 locomotives which are very rare indeed.  The most important thing is the roster which is highly detailed and the most inclusive of all of the rosters published.  Even this roster, though, does not tell us where the 1st #2 and 1st #3 and #8 locomotives came from, where they were used, and when they were scrapped (or sold).  It will come to finding a document that talks about their use or sale or scrapping to know that history.  But what it does tell is more accurate and much more complete than others.  You'll find a copy of the rosters available for download off the MAIN page of this site at the bottom of the screen.  This booklet is relatively hard to find now, but when I picked up my first copy at the Walton's Museum in Schuyler, Virginia around 1992, it was in abundance.  On occasion, this publication will turn up on an auction site and is well worth bidding on to acquire.   &&   Next month we'll pick up with the more recent publications since the 1991 issuance of Garth's work that really told the best story of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  There will be some small, but significant items that help both the railfan as well as the modeler.
Please note any comments on "This Month's Article" in the comments section of either the MAIN page or the sidebar archives section. 
For your convenience and as reference to this month's article, the roster from "Soapstone Shortlines:  Alberene Stone and Its Railroads" is presented here for your use.  Copyright 2010 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.

Soapstone Shortlines Roster





Construction Number

1 (1st)


Porter 1887


Ex-City of Richmond #1; to SI&E, 1920; to Pierce-Williams, 1924.

1 (2nd)



Vulcan 1905


Ex-Old Dominion Soapstone #1 (possibly 1st #2); to SI&E, 1920.

1 (3rd)


GE 1950


To Georgia Marble, 1963; to Industrial Maintenance Co.

2 (1st)


2 (2nd)



Vulcan 1909


Ex-Old Dominion Soapstone; to American Cyanamid, 1942;

to Leas & McVitty, 1945; on display at Marion, VA, privately owned.

2 (3rd)


GE 1952


To Georgia Marble, Alabama Marble Division, 1963.

3 (1st)


3 (2nd)


GE 1953


To Georgia Marble, 1963.



Porter 1904


To SI&E, 1924; to Batesville & Southwestern; to SI&E for scrap as an 0-6-0T, 1942.




Pittsburgh 1894


Ex-Manhattan Ry. 2nd #60; to Virginia Soapstone, 1905.




Pittsburgh 1894


Ex-Manhattan Ry. 2nd #56; to Virginia Soapstone, 1905.




Baldwin 1887


Ex-Proctor Coal; to SI&E, 1920; to A. F. Langford Lumber Co.


Unknown; said to have a tender; bought used about 1905.




Vulcan 1920


Scrapped, 1952.




Vulcan 1922


No disposition shown.




Vulcan 1909


Ex-Culver & Port Clinton; scrapped 1954.




Vulcan 1924





Vulcan 1926





Vulcan 1917


Ex-Rhodes Construction Co.; to Alberoyd Corp. #1;

later Alberene Stone Corp.; scrapped 1953.




Scrpped prior to 1967.

All steam locomotives were owned by the various soapstone companies. Steam engines, including mill switchers, were lettered "Nelson & Albemarle Railway" (when lettered at all). Only the 44-Ton diesel was owned by the Nelson & Albemarle. The 25 and 35-Ton diesels were owned by the soapstone company and carried their lettering.