May-June 2014 Article

This Month's Article: May/June 2014
Freight & Passenger Equipment of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway
Before there were railroads to carry soapstone products from Schuyler to Rockfish (for transport via the Southern Railway) or from Alberene to North Garden (also for transport via the Southern Railway), there were carpenters who used thousands of board feet each year to box up those products (like sinks or stone for architectural use) and prepare them for difficult transport by horse or mule-team pulled wagons over rough, sometimes muddy roads, The eventual shift to rail for transportation of soapstone from the quarries and assembly mills had become obvious to the management of both soapstone companies.  While the carpenters would always be an important part of the protection for soapstone products shipping to clients around the country, the age of horse-drawn wagons would finally be over.  The Albermarle Soapstone Company would buy into the creation of the Alberene Railroad (quickly leased and then purchased outright by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway), but would also construct and maintain it's own track to serve the quarries at Alberene, Virginia and the delivery of soapstone blocks to the mill.  With the advent of a rail connection at Warren, Virginia, the C&O would benefit from the increased industrial traffic not only from the mill at Alberene, but also coming out of the Esmont area of southern Albemarle County with shipments of slate and wood products.  The Virginia Soapstone Company in Schuyler created a trolley line in a rather easy manner by purchasing used equipment from the Lynchburg Street Railway Company that would form the basis for continued connection to the Southern Railway at Rockfish, Virginia via the Schuyler Railway.  Virginia Soapstone also constructed it's own track to serve the quarries at Schuyler plus the engine house, gang saw building and assembly mill.  **  The trolley equipment would be the basis for operation until the 1903 merger of the two soapstone companies. By 1909 the combined soapstone company itself owned 4 flat cars, 12 gondola cars, 1 Rodger Ballast car, 2 cabooses, 2 passenger cars, and 3 locomotives.  The Nelson & Albemarle Railway would lease locomotives from the soapstone company to handle both quarry/mill operations as well as mainline service.  The need of boxcars for shipment to New York, Chicago, and Boston (among other places) would be provided by the Class I railroads interchanging with the N&A.  It was the relationship with these railroads that provided for all of the freight and at some point all of the passenger cars used on the N&A.  ** 
Boxcars would come from the Pennsylvania Railroad, the New York Central Lines, and other northern railway systems including Maine Central (The Pine Tree Route). 
As noted as early as 1917, one of the passenger cars in use for the Nelson & Albemarle Railway was numbered and lettered for the line and being #10, it could be assumed that there were nine other passenger cars (though the numbering schema may have included the passenger cars used by the Schuyler Railway (former trolley cars).  From a passenger perspective, there was much transit of mill workers between Alberene and Schuyler and much equipment would be provided by the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway in the form of older cars no longer providing revenue service directly for the railroad.  ** 
The N&A would prefer the 'combine' or combination passenger/baggage car.  A combine was usually seen on the mixed local train during the 1940's and 1950's and was the subject of the writings of both Archie Robertson and Lucius Beebe.  Providing sufficient freight cars for shipping product was a problem early on with the common carriers.  There were many communications in the form of memorandum written to complain of the lack of cars to meet delivery dates for soapstone or soapstone products such as wash tubs.  Both the C&O and the Southern Railway would provide cars as available for shipments destined across the country.  For the railroads, it meant providing it's own available cars for shipment or preferably providing cars that were destined back to their 'home' railroad.  A car delivering products from the New York Central line to an industry on the C&O line would be routed back to the NYC as soon as possible or be loaded with cargo headed for delivery on that line's route.  Such as the case with many of the cars provided to the Nelson & Albemarle Railway. 
**  There was quite the discussion on the quality of work performed on passenger cars so it was no surprise that the passenger cars in use were serviced by the C&O shops in Richmond even though the N&A had it's own 'blacksmith's shop' inside the engine shed just east of the gang saw building at Schuyler.  Many mechanical repairs could be easily made if parts were available or could be fabricated. 
Photographic evidence is limited as most of the railroad photographer's that visited the N&A concentrated not on the buildings or freight/passenger operations, but on the diminutive tank locomotives.  It was only on occasion that other rolling stock would get captured on film.  **  At the very end of the N&A in 1963, the Rodger Ballast Car, a flat car, and a long-unused combine were all that remained of the equipment to rust in the sun and have weeds overgrow them.  Steam locomotives had long ago been scrapped in the early to mid-fifties (with exception of ex-Old Dominion Railway #2 which still sits in Goshen, Virginia at the Northfork Lumber Yard).  It is also likely that many of the miscellaneous equipment (flat cars, gondola, cabooses) were scrapped just prior to or in the aftermath of the shutdown and all three diesel units were transferred to Georgia Marble locations in the south.  **  The Nelson & Albemarle Railway had used a supply of freight cars from varying providers over the years.  While passenger service had ended at the beginning of the 1950's, the backwoods railroading style remained through to the end as the caboose served to handle any 'riders' even as the N&A performed it's last run.
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