June-July 2010 Article

This Month's Article - June/July 2010
How we got here - covering research, sweat in creating articles with relevance
I'm combining June and July articles to cover how we got where we are with developing articles for this site as well as the research and sweat that goes into finding information of relevance.  It's also because I'm writing by long hand in two segments while in Mexico City and then in Sao Paulo, Brazil.  Over the last year, you've read about the Nelson & Albemarle Railway from the perspective of a fan, doling out information to share with other fans on various aspects of the shortline.  A lot of focus has been placed on locomotives, stations, the soapstone industry, as well as other businesses along the line but with less focus on day-to-day operations or the people that ran the railroad.  We even mentioned a movie appearance that left a disgruntled Esmont population.  Always there has been a focus on where to find information and where we found it (or were told where it was).  Now we'd like to use this article to tell you our process (while we are mostly away from both our information sources and access to high-speed internet).  %  Section 1 (written in Mexico City):  There have been large challenges in getting the history of the N&A published on this site.  It all started back in the 60's when my Father frequently told stories of his employment by the soapstone company in the gang saw building, slicing slabs out of blocks of fine grade soapstone quarried nearby.  It was not a pleasant job and according to one pay envelope I still have, it didn't pay much either.  In the 'country' though, any job (and especially one at the mill) was a great job!  This is what started me searching out publications on the N&A in the Virginia State Library.  The library had 2 sections; a standard libray with card catalogs and an archives.  My interest at the time had been with another small line, the Richmond & Rappahannock River Railway (29th & P Sts. Richmond) which also ran the "Seven Pines Line" and operated a couple of McKeen Motor Cars.  In 1990, I moved to Chicago and started taking trips back home to visit family.  On one of those trips I stopped at the Walton's Mountain Museum and found Garth Groff's book on the N&A.  What a discovery that was!  Over the next several years, I collected various RR books with mention of the N&A, but the supply was limited.  What I kept finding soon after was that many people wrote about the N&A but there was no centralized point of reference for all of the sources.  This led to this site being created.  While the first methodology was considered the 'armchair' approach, only knowing or listing those publications I could hold in my hands and read, the next methodology proved to be a real challenge.  During the mid-1990's an evolution of sorts took place.   Home computing and the internet brought an opportunity for research that people could accomplish (still armchair) but then share with others on that medium.  This methodology is still dependent on librarys, archives, and other record sources to digitize their holdings, but is also very dependent on the searcher's abilities to define the search parameters as well as the specific algorithm(s) that make up the search engine itself.   I personally started with Netscape Navigator as many did, but quickly evolved through Yahoo, Internet Explorer, and Google and learned to really look deeply into the breadth of documents stored on the web and separate the millions of choices into ones that really talk about the N&A, soapstone quarries, and the companies that were involved (including equipment manufacturers).   It's with that advanced search capability that I found actual film footage (digitized onto video) of the Schuyler mill showing live steam operating in a 60 second or so industrial film!  Periodically, new material shows up with reference to the N&A, but the major ones are already well known and documented.  Sooner or later though, you're going to have to make the trip to walk that old roadbed.   Mine was too late for learning much but provided a lot of personal enjoyment as my brother and I drove, hiked, and walked much of that former roadbed on a weekend.   So, initial research begins with the local, county, and regional libraries and then moves on to the state (and adjacent state) libraries.  What you don't get from researching from an armchair, however, is the detail from actual documents held by the library that aren't digitized yet (and may never be).   There is a wealth of company documents held in the stacks of the UVA Library on the N&A and author and researcher, Garth Groff, used all of these resources to create his masterpiece which truly was only a treatise on the N&A and not the full work that he had intended.  It is to Garth's credit that much of the document treasures are now held in a library instead of a private collection(s).  %   Section2 (written in Sao Paulo, Brazil):  I've always followed research protocol that calls for multiple sources to confirm the information found.  Sometimes you must rely on others to validate your research, but there are plenty of people providing good general data that ends up in both our publications listing or website listing as well as in the monthly article series.  Such is the case with the Tap Lines Steam Locomotive Builder's List Collection on DVD available from www.taplines.net and Don Hensley who runs that site for 'Shortline & Industrial Railroading in the South'.  (This was the DVD that happened to be in my laptop during my trip and fortunate for me I had plenty of time on the plane(s) to go through ALL of the listings).  Most of Don's interest is serving older steam information, but recently he was able to supply our site with updated photos of Nelson & Albemarle diesel's #1 and #2 found in Hamburg Industries paint (now TTX-Hamburg but former N&A #1) and in former N&A parent colors in the Gannt's Quarry site at Sylacauga, Alabama (former N&A #2).  He also has a comprehensive amount of more recent industrial diesel data, so check out the www.taplines.net website for more information.  The builder's lists collection DVD provided great detail including competing listing provided by different sources.  On the DVD are three folders, 400-Steam Builders Lists; 500-Diesel Builder Lists, and 600-ICC Folder.  Inside the Steam Builders Lists are folders for Alco, Baldwin, EMD, Porter, and Steam Dealers not to mention a separate folder on smaller builders (81 of them, which includes Vulcan Locomotive Works) as well as a digitized collection of some railway industry or historical books.  Probably my most interesting find was the folder for the Steam Dealers as it listed nine southern dealers including Southern Iron & Equipment.  SI&E had purchased at least 3 of the N&A's former steam engines including #7 the former "Hutchcraft" that the N&A purchased from the Proctor Coal Company in Kentucky.  For diesels, the DVD includes both large and small manufacturers from Alco, Baldwin, Fairbanks Morse, GE, EMD, down to Mack, Plymouth, Whitcomb, and Rogers Brothers.  Also in that section are some digitized operating manuals.  The ICC folder includes the 1916 report from the N&A.  Again, the disk is a valuable information and research resource.  I ordered recently a new book released by Thomas Lawson, Jr. through Cabbage Stack Publishing, "Locomotives of Southern Iron & Equipment Company" and packed it for my journey.  This is another new resource that will be added to the Publications on the N&A sidebar as soon as I'm back in the United States.  Using this book's research shows that N&A #1 was resold, as was #7, but the former Old Dominion Soapstone #2 appears to have been scrapped.  A great photo of #7 is shown on page 180 of the book.  %  Much of the information collected on our webiste is from sources that many people could have access to research themselves and this site only serves to assist in locating and identifying those sources and sites.  The same process could be used to research any shortline or industrial railway and the place to start is in the locality where the railway existed and hopefully while employees and residents can remember the railway and especially the stories told by the 'old timers' as those are what makes much of the enjoyment with this site (or any of this nature) a pleasure to work on.  Check out the Publications/Websites accessible through the sidebar on this page and remember to enjoy both the research and the process of finding information about your favorite railway. 
Please note any comments on "This Months' Articles" in the comments section either on the MAIN page or in the sidebar archives section.  Copyright 2010 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.