October 2013 Article

 
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This Month's Article - October 2013
Update on Garth Groff and his full manuscript on the N&A
 
Several people have photographed and written about the Nelson & Albemarle Railway, most notably Archie Robertson in 1945 with "Slow Train to Yesterday" and Lucius Beebe in 1947 with "Mixed Train Daily" (including Charles Clegg documenting the N&A for posterity in one published and 17 unpublished photos).  
 
Sixteen years later, H. Reid, newspaperman / journalist, writes "An Upcountry Romance" in the May 1963 issue of Steam Locomotive & Railroad Tradition magazine giving the first stories of the Nelson & Albemarle along with the soapstone companies that evolved over several decades.  His comical interpretation included a cartoon depiction of the Nelson & Albemarle (Compressing Time and Space into One Tableau), presented some builder's photos of locomotives and had the first real roster listing. 
 
Another ten years would pass when Richard E. Prince publishes his large work in 1973 on "The Richmond-Washington Line & Related Railroads" featuring a section on the Nelson & Albemarle and providing the second roster of equipment serving soapstone interests. 
 
In 1991, eighteen years after Richard Prince's book came out, Garth Groff adopted a casual storytelling style for his self-published, "Soapstone Shortlines: Alberene Stone and It's Railroads" (Drop Leaf Press - Out of Print).  This is the first real look at the N&A as a country rail line with human interest stories about the day-to-day life of working on a shortline railroad.  Garth takes the time in preparing for this book to seek out company records and interview people for insight on the anecdotal tales he has heard about the railway.  It also includes the third roster on N&A equipment and is the most detailed of any published to date.
 
In June this year, I visited the Albert & Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia to view the multitude of documents used by Garth and found the fully-completed, original unpublished manuscript of the same name.  The collection of data is immense and much more than is included in his booklet.  Amazingly, the amount of information now stored in the library could be used to write many separate magazine articles as well as additional booklets on various aspects of the railway.  In fact, Garth did just that as he wrote an article for the C&O Historical Society in 1992 including diagrams from his full manuscript. Other railroad related booklets or articles were published by Garth including "Off the Track in Ivy:  The Wreck of the Old Dominion Express".
 
The documents used by Garth for much of his manuscript included detailed memo about the railway operations and diagrams prepared for the manuscript of various track configurations in Warren, Esmont, Alberene, and Schuyler.  An example of the type of memo (which is indicative of the origin of many of the tales in Garth's writings) includes a personal memo to H. L. Lane telling him of the extensive work needed for Locomotive #7 and the loss of effort when not capable of being repaired while supporting efforts of the Virginia Soapstone Company.  It also details the hire costs for #7 at $3.25 per day and for #4 and #8 Locomotives, $1.62 per day for each.  These are great insights into how people operated before cell phones and email!  As well, each of the diagrams was professionally prepared and even shows the track configuration change from the electric-based trolley line, the Schuyler Railway into the rebuilt steam locomotive-based line, the Nelson & Albemarle Railway inside the soapstone complex in Schuyler.  Garth's love for railroads and history are combined in the manuscript and it is this type of detailed and thorough effort that is a hallmark of how he takes on all of his endeavors.
 
***   It should be noted that even before any histories of the N&A were covered in books, the Nelson & Albemarle Railway had already been featured in a major motion picture, 1941's "Virginia" staring Fred McMurray and Madeleine Carroll.  Though filmed on the C&O James River Line at Howardsville, it had originally been planned for filming at Esmont and the last minute move out to the C&O main line truly upset many country people in and around Esmont. It was this use of Howardsville depot as the mythical "Fairville" station that allowed my grandparents to become extras on the station platform at the beginning of the movie when the N&A train arrives into town.   ***
 
Sometime after completing his tales of the Nelson & Albemarle, Garth started a new focus on the Sacramento Northern interurban rail line in California. This interest had been born in his early years in California and created a passion that he had held for many years.  He already had photo collections of the SN and the new web format that was created was more in line with the documenting the history of the line and displaying photo evidence of and about the rail line.  The East Bay Hills Project formed the basis for this (http://eastbayhills project.org) and while this originally was hosted within Garth's personal web space it can now be found at http://www.wplives.org/sn/.  While that was Garth's focus for a time, he has always held varied interests and his focus now revolves around midieval re-enactments and archery.  His excellence as a missilier has been well recognized and he continues this as his primary avocation today.  Check out http://people.virginia.edu/~ggg9y/napier1.html for more of Garth's alter persona, Lord Mungo Napier.  As of June though, he was still working with the Library system at University of Virginia though I missed him on the 3 days that I spent buried in the reading room in the very next building! 
 
Eighteen years after Garth Groff completed his booklet, in 2009, this author initiated a new journey for the historical preservation of the Nelson & Albemarle Railway by creating this website and dedicating much time and effort to linking together the many publications, web-references, photographs, and memorabilia that had never before been compiled in one place.  We can only hope that our path is bringing recognition to Garth Groff and those like Garth that have gone before us.
 
Send email to NelsonAlbemarle@comcast.net if you have any comments or questions or wish to contribute to future articles.  Copyright 2013 - Nelson & Albemarle Railway Historical Society.
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