February 2012 Article

This Month's Article - February 2012

In Search of Steam - The missing locomotives, #2, #3, and #8   
The early years of the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad have been challenging to research.  There is little photographic information that directly correlates to the purchase or disposition of locomotives though many records of the early years of Virginia Soapstone, Virginia Alberene, and Albemarle Soapstone do exist in several libraries around Virginia.  Photographic evidence usually helps lead to a history of where a locomotive may have been purchased, used elsewhere, or sold, especially if detail from the builder is available to examine.  As a predecessor to the N&A, the Schuyler Railway purchased used trolley equipment from the Lynchburg Street Railway Company but on merger, the new company purchased used equipment (#1 from Richmond City Railway) that there are plenty of photographs available to document, but records of the 1st #2 (there were 2 more #2’s in the history of the N&A) are nowhere to be found.  Not even a photograph exists from the era with that locomotive.  #3 was likely also purchased used but again the lack of photographs would seem to tell the researcher that this was not a significant locomotive but one used to bring soapstone blocks up from the quarry to the mill (either Alberene or Schuyler).  The purchase of a new Porter 2-6-2T in December 1904 would primarily serve the main needs to bring supplies in and delivery soapstone products from connections with the C&O.  Used locomotives again played an important role in the N&A’s lifecycle as #’s 5 & 6 were purchased from P. McManus in Cape Charles, Virginia having served on the Manhattan Railway starting in 1883/84 until the line was electrified.  #7 having been purchased used from Proctor Coal (built in 1887) showed the need for another mainline locomotive but again the photographic evidence was documented well including disposition through Southern Iron & Equipment in 1920.  And while there would be a gap before 1920 when 2 new locomotives were purchased from Vulcan (amidst a renewed era of expanded business), #8 becomes the last mystery.

 . . . . .  Around 1905 according to at least 1 prepared roster, the N&A secured a used locomotive rumored to have a tender rather than be configured as most engines on the N&A were as tank locomotives.  The exact wording from that roster is “Unknown, said to have a tender; bought used about 1905.”  Buying used locomotives just past the turn of the century may have been much easier than you might expect.  While there were used equipment dealers like P. McManus, there were also railroads advertising to sell their older equipment.   But the best way to locate where a locomotive might have been purchased remains company records though the soapstone companies records were pretty much destroyed in the severe flood in the late 1940’s that filled the mill with mud from the Rockfish River.

. . . . .  So, to research much of this you have to look at almost ALL records you can examine and sift through many reams of paper looking for the clue that might help you discover the history that is not documented by the previous chroniclers of the N&A.  The clues might come from a resold engine or from a scrap dealer (though no idea has been gleaned on WHAT scrap dealer might have been used by the railroad).  The primary locomotive builders have been checked already (Porter, Vulcan, etc.) so the next place to turn is the smaller locomotive builders and knowing that the N&A had purchased locomotives built in the late 1880’s during the boom around 1905, the builders list of locomotives made by Norris Locomotive Works (Philadelphia) and Urial Wells Locomotive Works (Petersburg, Virginia) have been secured and will be well combed for any evidence that one of their builds might have ended up on the N&A.  In those early days there may be another answer as well.  H. L. Lane, a principal in the railroad, also had significant business in construction and his company held many small tank and other locomotives that may have been the basis for a lease of the locomotive and return on lease end which would explain the lack of dealer information on purchase or sale of an engine.  His business interests were headquartered in Esmont as evidenced by locomotive builders records found in several places. 

. . . . .  The best evidence continues to be photographic and there just aren’t enough photographs available from that era that can give us the detail and guidance to research in the right direction to find good records and positively document (with proof) the results .  The trek to hopefully find more of these details has kept the Search for Steam going and will likely be the impetus behind the next travel to Virginia to spend some hours at the University of Virginia Library, The Library of the State of Virginia (and Archives), and the Valentine Museum.  This trip has been postponed twice now due to multiple reasons, but looks to be well scheduled for July 2012.  But there is no guarantee that ANY evidence of #8 (or #2, #3) exist any longer and that is one of the more difficult to accept elements of doing research – we may never know what those locomotives looked like, who built them, where they were purchased, and when or where they were finally sold or scrapped.

. . . . .  The search will continue, and the history will still be collected. And with any luck, we’ll find #8 somewhere in an Archives stack or buried in a sheaf of papers overlooked by others before me.

Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2012 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.

UPDATE:  February 2012 Article - Just as quickly as we complete an article, more detail flows across my desk about the topic.  In this case, there is some indication of the 1st #2 being the original #1 locomotive of Old Dominion Soapstone, an 0-4-0T Vulcan built in June 1905 (builders #675) - widely suspected of  being the 2nd #1 of the N&A (possible); What is known is that the 2nd #2 was Old Dominion Soapstone #2, an 0-4-0T Vulcan built in 1909 (builders #1436) and still in existence as the last remaining steam locomotive from the N&A. The only way to sort this out will be to examine the corporate record and determine when Old Dominion Soapstone became part of the Alberene empire and how those two engines from Damon, Virginia might have been used in the greater Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  More to follow as the details continue to flow in....   A copy of the SI&E photograph of the #675 locomotive (as SI&E #1600) is available from the C&O Historical Society (COHS.org) as COHS 28055 as shown on the transfer table at SI&E.