January 2016 Article

This Month's Article: January 2016
Photographers of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, Part 2
In Part 1 of our article series on the Photographer's of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway we mentioned how being shown in the feature film, "Virginia" (1941) brought attention to the shortline even though the train was actually out on the C&O mainline at Howardsville for the action shown with Vulcan-built #9 (circa 1920) leading a boxcar and combine into the depot.  Shortly after WWII ended, two books then featured the N&A as rail enthusiasts got back to being 'normal' once fighting in Europe and the Pacific was over.  Archie Robertson's depiction of the backwoods shortline in "Slow Train to Yesterday" didn't feature any photograph of the diminutive locomotives on the line, but Lucius Beebe's "Mixed Train Daily" introduced a photograph chosen from 18 taken by compatriot Charles Clegg, Jr. during their winter visit before the book's publishing in 1947.  Rail photographers did descend on Schuyler and Esmont just after the release of the movie, but while photographers such as Harold "K" Vollrath, G. M. Best, D. Wallace (Wally) Johnson, James Sandridge, and Theodore Gay would make themselves comfortable taking personal still shots of Nelson & Albemarle Railway locomotives, it would be two significant rail photogs that would add photographs into their publications and one other that would bring along his motion picture camera and capture live action footage of the N&A train running through the Albemarle County countryside.  *#*   Newspaperman by trade, H. Reid (who along with Harold Vollrath, preferred to go by a letter as their nickname) would be visiting rural Virginia as part of his passion for the new hobby of rail photography.  His work was captured on many negatives with prints being made into postcards for sale. While his railroad interests were diverse, he held some high esteem for the N&A producing an early photo with caption in the November 1949 issue of "Railroad Magazine" (Volume 50, Number 2) showing Vulcan #10 near Schuyler, Virginia with an "extra" freight (on page 128).  He would next share credit with an August Thieme photo by preparing the prose for a "Trains" Magazine July 1955 issue (Volume 15, Number 9) with a single page "photo and blurb" on "Train's comin'" (page 13).  His writing expressed the feeling of the back country shown in the photograph of Vulcan #9 on Gold Mine Hill (printed as Gold Mine Crossing in the caption).  The 'hill' was actually the highest point on the line.  A few years go by and in 1963, the magazine/bulletin, "Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition" publishes an article by H. Reid in the May 1963 (Number 13/14) issue, "An Upcountry Romance:  A reminiscence of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway" (starting on page 27).  There are eight photos with four taken by "H" himself, ONE comical diagram of the shortline's realm stretching across the top of two pages, a copy of an Agent's ticket stub, and a brief map to put the 'realm' into perspective plus a locomotive roster.  The remaining four photographs are builder's photos of #8 and #12 (with misspelled lettering as "Albermarle" instead of Albemarle), and the original builder's photo of #11 as sold to the Culver & Port Clinton RR and as refurbished by Vulcan just before delivery to the N&A.  H. Reid followed that up the next year with his own book, "Extra South" published in 1964 with a second edition some years later including a "New Photo Section" with a different photograph of the #10 locomotive.  A photograph of his would also appear in the 1972 book, "A Search for Steam" by Joe G. Collias, showing #9 again but this time in Esmont.  However the book was published many years after the photo was taken as it had even been nine years since the line was shut down in January of 1963!  His photographs would appear in later books and publications, but the period between 1955 and 1972 were his prime years for having his N&A photos in the public eye.  *#*   While all of this was going on, another prolific railroader and author, Richard E. Prince, would publish a huge set of photographs by many of the previously mentioned persons and also himself in the 1973 introduction of one of his several rail line historical books.  "The Richmond-Washington Line & Related Railroads" (RF&P for those not aware) had a complete chapter on the Nelson & Albemarle Railway as a 'related railroad' starting on page 223.  While this book can be found on eBay or other booksellers sites occasionally, it is not inexpensive!  There are SEVENTEEN photographs including Builder's Photos of #9, #10, #11 (the same builder's photo taken at Vulcan before delivery to the N&A after refurbish), #12, and #14.  Included is a locomotive roster, but the section is missing mention (or photographs) of any of the GE diesel's that came to the line in the early 1950's. Five of the photo's were personally shot by Prince and include a view of passenger coaches sitting on a siding; one of the few photographs of non-locomotive subjects.  As a reference book, this one is tops for Virginia railroading and it's good coverage of steam era, N&A.  *#*   Separately, no tale of the photographers visiting the Nelson & Albemarle Railway could be complete with speaking of August A. Thieme.  A chemist by trade, his passion for capturing those last minute opportunities in photographing and filming 'steam' powered trains (and fortunately, the N&A) was tremendous.  Many of his photographs ended up in publications, but none so important as the single home movie camera-captured film from late in the steam era around August of 1948 between Esmont and Schuyler.  While much of his negatives and prints collection was sold off many years before his passing in 2010, it was the sale of his industrial line home movies to JMJ Productions in Florida that provided for the lasting view of the N&A steam-powered saddle tank engine pulling freight through the woods and fields now forever remembered on "Steam Locos on Industrial & Short Lines, Volume 2" released in 1990 (on DVD). The original home movie films included Elk River Coal & Lumber Company, Rockton & Rion, E. J. Laving Company, Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line, Shenandoah Central, Interstate Railroad, Ft. Eustis Military Railroad, Buffalo Creek & Gauley, and N&W Narrow Gauge as well as the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  The 60 minute, 60% color video is tremendous not only for the N&A, but in generally capturing an era in the late steam period where small steam plied industrial rails that would soon disappear to diesel or gasoline critters and local trucking.  It doesn't appear that this video can be purchased any longer, but auction sites may still have this show up on occasion.  *#*  While these are the primary photographers having spent the time trekking through the woods and along Route 6 in Albemarle down into Schuyler in Nelson County, there were many amateur photographers that also took pictures of the N&A either because they or a family member worked at the Soapstone Works or they lived along the rail line.    A few of those amateur photos are shared on this site as well and we continue to look for more unpublished, family photos of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway.  The prolific rail photographers of this period when the Nelson & Albemarle Railway ran under small, but notable tank engines powered by steam, were able to capture a time and place that cannot be revisited.  Long gone are the steam tankers having been scrapped starting in 1951-1952 and the railway itself since 1963.  H. Reid died at the age of 67 in October, 1992 in Norfolk, Virginia after struggling with a period of declining health.  Richard Prince would be 95 today having lived in the small community of Millard, Nebraska outside of Omaha for many years.  August Thieme passed away at his Goochland, Virginia home in May 2010 when he was 83.  The only remaining steam locomotive from the Nelson & Albemarle Railway is the original Old Dominion Soapstone #2 tank engine stored at the lumberyard in Goshen, Virginia.  It's not likely to see a restoration to operating condition (and not likely even a cosmetic refurbishing), so the photographs from these rail photographers and the many amateur photographers are the only ones that can help us visualize just what it felt like to be standing by the rail line, watching steam engines go by hauling soapstone to market or supplies to the mill and quarry.
Next month we'll continue this series with Builder's Photos by professional photographers.
Book Planning Update:  As you can probably tell by the topic of last month's, this month's and future month's of articles, we are deep into the book planning with writing for Chapter 9, Photographers and Authors.
Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles. Copyright 2016 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.