March 2017 Article

This Month's Article:  March 2017
Nelson & Albemarle Railway Locomotive Use

Early in the histories of both the Albemarle Soapstone Company and the Virginia Soapstone Company, transportation of the stone blocks to the mill or to a nearby rail junction (North Garden station near Alberene and Rockfish station near Schuyler) was by wagon pulled either by mules or horses.  There is little record of these teams but the winter months of Albemarle and Nelson counties must have been difficult for those teams pulling heavily loaded wagons over muddy roads.  With the merger of those two companies and the granting of a charter for the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, transportation would be vastly improved for both the combined soapstone company operations between quarry and mill and the transport of stone blocks or finished goods to either the Rockfish or Warren depots.  The N&A combined the rail line from Schuyler to Rockfish with the leasing of the Alberene Branch of the C&O Railway between Esmont and Alberene to forge a path between quarries and available mill capacity.  The new shortline provided two outlets to markets – the North-South routing of the Southern Railway from Rockfish, Virginia and the East-West routing of the C&O Railway from Warren, Virginia.  Early on, the C&O provided service to interchange with the N&A and other customers at Esmont while later, the N&A would take on this extra duty.  The arrangement the soapstone company held with the railway for use of their locomotives was not unique – they owned most of the locomotives that were then rented/leased to the railway.  It was this arrangement that provided for the first use of locomotives on the N&A.  While the Schuyler Railway’s electric line was in place, the N&A purchased a used locomotive, an 0-4-0T from the Richmond City Railway (their #1, “Belle”) as their first locomotive, #1.  The soapstone company evidently bought two other small locomotives and numbered them as #2 and #3 which were likely assigned to support quarry duties at Schuyler and Alberene, replacing mule or horse teams.  They would have both been small engines, most likely 0-4-0T tank locomotives.  Business was booming for soapstone and soapstone products so the next engine to join the stable was a brand new Porter-built (locomotive (c/n 3107) purchased in 1904, a 2-6-2T Mikado.  This was followed closely by the purchase of two used 0-4-4T Forney’s from dealer Patricius McManus.  #5, purchased in March 1905, and #6 ,purchased in May 1905, were from the Manhattan Railway and would service the ‘yard’ and train makeup at Schuyler.  With #4 in place as the main locomotive to transport finished goods and trains between mills, it was also time to purchase two other used locomotives, #7, “Hutchcraft” from the Procter Coal Company of Jellico, Kentucky, and the elusive #8, a locomotive said to have a tender, but otherwise unidentified and only showing up as represented on the N&A stock certificate!  The used coal company locomotive was a 2-4-2T that had been cared for very well and would serve the company for many years becoming the only Baldwin-built locomotive to grace those light-duty rails.  #4 handled mainline traffic between Schuyler & Esmont and #7 handled the route from Schuyler to Rockfish and back while #8 handled traffic between Alberene and Esmont.  This arrangement worked well while business continued to grow but by 1910, the locomotives were experiencing more time being repaired and less time moving soapstone products.  Fortunately for the N&A, a machinist, A. M. Wyland, was lured from the Richmond Locomotive Works around 1911 and under his guidance, most locomotives were brought back into serviceable condition.  
From late-1919 to 1928 the soapstone company would purchase replacements for ALL of their early locomotives.  As noted by Artem Braginetz, a member of the Augusta County RR Museum of Virginia, an advertisement was placed in the January 8th, 1920 issue of "Industrial Development and Manufacturers Record" (Volume 77) on page 169 by the Nelson & Albemarle Railway with 4 locomotives for sale (likely the original N&A #1, "Belle", Old Dominion's #1 - the N&A's 2nd #1 -, #5 or #6 - whichever Forney had the vacuum braking - and #7 the only Baldwin on the roster, the former "Hutchcraft" from the Procter Coal Company. This would correspond with locomotives sold to Southern Iron & Equipment (SI&E) with exception of the Forney.   In 1920, #9, a 2-6-2T Vulcan-built Mikado tank engine joined the N&A and replaced #4 on mainline duty.  It was also in this time frame that the N&A and the soapstone company started selling their old locomotives to Southern Iron & Equipment, an Atlanta dealer of used locomotives.  By the end of 1922, #10 was purchased and though slightly smaller than #9 was also a 2-6-2T Vulcan-built Mikado which quickly replaced #7 on the Rockfish to Schuyler run with occasional service on the mainline between Schuyler and Esmont.  In 1923, a used locomotive, Vulcan-built 2-4-2T constructed for the Culver & Port Clinton Railroad was purchased (with what appears to have been a new boiler).  This locomotive would stay on the soapstone property past the scrapping of other more recent locomotives and would not be torn apart until 1954 – long after the diesel era was introduced to the N&A.  From photographs it appears this locomotive serviced the mill at Schuyler, but otherwise there is little photographic evidence of its use.  The soapstone company would purchase new Vulcan-built 0-4-0T tank locomotives in 1924 and 1925.  #12 and #14 were basically identical and would manage quarry to mill operations.  Finally, in 1928, the last steamer would be purchased.  Originally built by Vulcan for the Guggenheim Group’s Chile Exploration Company in 1917, the locomotive, another 0-4-0T, was never delivered – reason unknown – but sold to the Rhoades Construction Company.  In 1928, Virginia Alberene purchased the used locomotive for their subsidiary, Alberoyd Corporation of America. This locomotive was intended to support a new ‘stone crusher’ built at Damon on the former Old Dominion Soapstone rail line.  ***  Back in 1916, the Old Dominion had been purchased by the Albemarle Soapstone Company bringing with it, 2 Vulcan-built tank locomotives.  The older of the two, Old Dominion #1, was built by Vulcan in 1905 (c/n 675).  The other, Old Dominion #2 (c/n 1436) from 1909, still survives today, though without it’s notable saddle tank for water.   Old Dominion #1 would be part of the exodus of old locomotives around 1920.  Old Dominion #2 would become quite the locomotive with a lengthy history from becoming part of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railroads reballast efforts in a purchase from Alberene Stone Company in 1942.  While this was thought to be a purchase by American Cyanamid, there are documents showing the direct purchase and the use of this engine as VBR #4.  Later, when reconstruction was completed on the VBR, the locomotive would be sold to a tannery in Buena Vista, Virginia.  From there it was sold to an individual who made it a fixture outside of a restaurant in Marion, Virginia (with saddle tank removed).  Eventually ending up in the ownership of Wes Harris of North Fork Lumber Company, Goshen, Virginia where it resides today in their lumber yard.  ***  The steam era would last until 1951 when the N&A started dieselization with the purchase of a GE 44-ton B-B diesel to perform main line service (c/n 30856) between Schuyler and Warren on the C&O James River Line.  Immediately, the 30-year old Vulcan #9 was displaced and prepared for scrapping.  The following year, a GE 35-ton B diesel (c/n 31768) bought to support the mill at Schuyler, would start the formal scrapping of the remaining steam switchers and close that chapter of railroading a year later in 1953 as another GE, this time a relatively small 25-ton B diesel (c/n 31778), started quarry duties.  With a new crusher plant having been built near the mill in Schuyler in the late 1940s, there was little need for additional motive power. The last steamer, #11,that used Vulcan locomotive originally built for the Culver & Port Clinton Railroad, would be held around for a year in reserve before being the last steamer scrapped from the property having not been needed.  Diesels #1, #2, and #3 would be the last equipment on the N&A managing operations from their purchase through the sale of the soapstone company and the closing of the N&A in 1963. While the GE diesels would go on to live on other rail lines, they would start out with Georgia Marble either at one of their Georgia sites or in Alabama at a subsidiary.  Only diminutive #3 would survive through 2017.


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