January 2015 Article

This Month's Article:  January 2015
The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway
The Nelson & Albemarle Railway, much like it's parent company, evolved over the years as the soapstone company merged, reorganized, progressed.  In February of 1917, the Old Dominion Soapstone Company was merged into the Virginia Alberene Corporation - adding two locomotives to the N&A roster:  Old Dominion #1, a Vulcan constructed (#675) 0-4-0T that was sold in 1920 to SI&E (as N&A #2 becoming their #1600) and Old Dominion #2, also a Vulcan constructed (#1436) 0-4-0T that was technically sold in April 1935 to Alberene Stone Corporation but was actually out-of-service on it's home rails of the former Old Dominion Soapstone Company in Damon, Virginia. Here the story has a sidebar as much of the history of locomotives on the N&A have gaps in their disposal or simple scrapping.  For those sold to SI&E, we have Tom Lawson, Jr. to thank for his great compilations in the book, Locomotives of the Southern Iron & Equipment Company published in 2008 from the work of C. William Witbeck to collect and identify the records gathered from that rebuilder.  N&A Locomotives that were scrapped did not appear to get any noted paperwork though they may have been included in scrap metal shipments (there were few noted suppliers providing scrap services to the N&A).  However, there is documented evidence from the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway courtesy of The Whippany Railway Museum on the sale of Old Dominion #2 by the Alberene Stone Corporation of Virginia in the form of an offer letter to J. W. Powell of the VBR from C. E. Deane, Purchasing Agent, on May 18, 1942.  Not only did the letter describe the locomotive in great detail (for $600 FOB Schuyler), it offered five 6-yard dump cars (for ballast use) at $100/each and four sets of Trucks (4 wheels each) at $75.00 per set.  This was a good deal for the VBR - $1400 for an entire train to use on their roadbed improvement project.  The actual purchase was made during June of 1942 with J. W. Powell of the VBR writing to the director, Bureau of Locomotive Inspection of the ICC on June 23 of that year asking for an expedited inspection of the locomotive so that it could quickly be put into service to meet the urgent need to support their gravel train operations.  The Virginia Blue Ridge assigned number 4 to the locomotive but used the engine for just under 18 months.  Quickly the VBR also arranged to sell the no longer needed locomotive to a Tanning Extract Manufacturer, Leas & McVitty, Inc. of Buena Vista, Virginia.  In a letter to the VBR's H. D. Vaughn on December 22, 1943, T. D. Snyder, Assistant Manager of the Extract Plant, confirmed a verbal offer of $2500 for the saddle tank locomotive that was examined by Mr. Ewing of Leas & McVitty on Monday, December 20, 1943. 
They expected delivery of the working locomotive by Friday of that week (Christmas Eve).  Virginia Blue Ridge used the locomotive for only a short time, yet profited by upgrading their line to handle increased and heavier loads on their railroad and gain $1900 in the eventual sale of the engine.  The remainder of the history of Old Dominion #2 is relatively well-known (with the exception of when she lost her signature saddle tank).  Taken out of service by the late-1950's, Old Dominion #2 was sold to an individual, Charles Watson,  who displayed the static engine in front of a motel in Marion, Virginia, a small community between Bristol and Roanoke but closer to Abingdon. 
Noted rail collector, Wil Harris of Goshen, Virginia would eventually purchase Vulcan #1436 and store it in static condition (albeit quite poor) in his lumber yard at North Fork Lumber next to Lima Shay #949 (narrow gauge) which he had purchased in 1996 (Wil also now owns Shay #918 since May of 2013).  The Virginia Blue Ridge mostly ignored the fact that they had numbered the Vulcan #1436 as #4 and gave their next engine the same number when purchased in February of 1947, a Baldwin 0-6-0 locomotive acquired fourth-hand from the War Assets Administration. It took the research of the Whippany Railway Museum to capture this unique link to the Nelson & Albemarle Railway in a series of articles written by Steven P. Hepler in 2012.  You can read about the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway on the museum's web presence at http://www.whippanyrailroadmuseum.net and the link to the N&A is found in section 5 of his articles. 
Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles. Copyright 2015 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.