Railfanning Today's VIRGINIAN RAILWAY
(Victoria to Roanoke)
When planning to spend some time exploring the old Virginian railroad between Victoria and Roanoke, a logical starting point is Altavista, Virginia. Altavista is on US route 29 and south of Lynchburg. This guide is divided into three parts: Railfanning the immediate Altavista area; traveling east to Victoria; traveling west to Roanoke.
Part One: Train Watching Around Altavista, Va.
Action on the former Virginian Railway
· Virginian Pedestrian Overpass. As you leave the Chamber of Commerce parking lot, return to Broad Street. At the traffic light intersection with Main Street, drive straight across and look for a place to park immediately. Ahead is the pedestrian overpass to a park area on the south side of the tracks of the former Virginian. The walkway crossing over the tracks is enclosed in a close-mesh wire, so you best opportunities for pictures are from the top level at either end of the walkway.
· Virginian Station. Looking west from the pedestrian overpass, you see the brick structure beside the old Virginian built by the railroad in the winter of 1957-58. It replaced the traditional wood station which burned in 1956. Passenger service had ended through Altavista in January 1956. After the fire, to provide a place for the railroad agent - operator until the new brick structure was complete, Virginian positioned an out-of-service RPO car on a siding and made the necessary electricity and communication connections. Although a platform was built for the operator to stand on when handing up orders to passing freights, sometimes it was necessary to hand them up out of the car door as the train passed.
· Old Route 29 Bridge. It is suggested that you leave your car parked at the pedestrian overpass on Broad Street and walk back to Main Street and go left (south) across the bridge of old US Route 29. It is only a few blocks’ walk. A separate pedestrian walkway is on the west side of the highway bridge. From here you will first cross the Virginian and then to the right you will see the NS main line on a long trestle. It is the former Southern Railway’s Atlanta-Washington mainline. The river is the Staunton River, called the Roanoke River at some other places.
· Hurt Connection. Drive across the above described bridge into Pittsylvania County and the town of Hurt. Just past the shopping center on the right, turn right onto Pocket Rd. (#924). Travel .4 of a mile and a large open area will be on the right affording nice views of the track connecting the former Virginian mainline with the former Southern Railway mainline. Both are NS now. Just out of sight beyond the other side of the fill carrying the “Hurt Connection” is the Virginian mainline and the bridge over the Staunton River that was a favorite place for H. Reid around 1950.
· Southern Railway Mainline. Retrace your route on Pocket Rd. to business 29 and turn right. For the next .6 of a mile, you will parallel the trackage of the “old” mainline of the former Southern, which now is part of the Hurt Connection. At about .8 of a mile from Pocket Rd., you will see southbound signals for the mainline where the connection track joins the mainline. There are many places on the highway shoulder for you to pull off. Avoid blocking the entrances of the factories or parking on their property!
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Part Two: Norfolk Division, Second Sub-division
Directions for a Road Trip from Altavista to Victoria
(2 hrs. driving time)
> Altavista to Seneca – 15 minutes
· Leave Altavista and go north on 29.
· Right on Gladys Rd. - 699
· Right on Marysville Rd. – 696 or 700
· Right on Tabor Rd. - 696
· Left on Wyatt Miles Rd. – 824
· Left on Seneca Rd. – 704
· Straight on Seneca Rd. to T intersection and park away from tracks
· This place is the east end of a long passing track. NS often stores loads of coal here which will be added to another partial train going east. The location of the station was near this east end and to the west, about 100-150 yards stood the coaling station with the water tank on the side of the hill.
· Leave Seneca on 704.
> Seneca to Long Island - 13 minutes
· Right on Mohawk Rd. – 703
· Right on Goat Island Rd. – 633
· Right on Long Island Rd. – 761
· Cross RR tracks and unload
· Turn around and park.
· On the west side of route 761 stands an old country/community store, long since closed. Locals admit there is a story about how the store’s owner acquired VGN company paint to paint his building, but no one remembers it, or so they say! Nonetheless, the building is painted in the railroad’s pre-1954 company colors except in reverse arrangement. The bulk of the building is white with orange trim.
> Long Island to Brookneal – 25 minutes
· Go back on 761 but go straight on small road up hill past junk yard.
· Right on Epsons Rd. – 633
· Right on 501 south
· Cross RR tracks and stop (if necessary) at Jiffy Stop for snacks and restroom.
· Continue on 501 south for a few blocks and left on the road just before the RR overpass.
· Stop, away from the red railroad building and clear of the NS trailer to the right, park. The red building is the original Virginian freight house and is in excellent condition. In the southeast corner, the present owner has added a door, otherwise it is pretty much original. The station stood opposite side of the tracks, about where the highway underpass is today! The original route 501 underpass was to the west about 200 feet of the present location.
· Often NS has a pair of diesels stationed here to work as pushers for east bound coal trains going from the Virginian onto the old L&D (N&W) at Vabrook for the trip to North Carolina power plants.
· Continue up Main Street, and cross the NS tracks, which are old N&W, nee Lynchburg & Durham. To the left is Lynchburg and Durham is to the right.
· Right on 40 east to go to Phenix.
> Brookneal to Phenix - 15 minutes
· On route 40, pull of at the east end of Cub Creek bridge, about ½ mile before Phenix and park. The trestle you see is the location of Virginian’s wreck on Dec.2, 1957 where 38 freight cars from an east bound time freight fell from the 150 foot high trestle and into the creek. Some sections of the trestle were knocked down in the wreck but no one was injured!
· Continue 40 east to Charlotte Court House
> Phenix to Charlotte Court House - 10 minutes
· Into Charlotte Court House
· Straight on 47 north (FYI, Cullen can be reached by continuing north on route 47.)
> Charlotte Court House to Abilene - 12 minutes
· Straight (right) 709
· Straight on 604
· Cross the highway bridge over VGN and then the N&W tracks
· Right on 671 and drive a couple of miles to a pull off on the right at the NS railroad signals. Park clear for any railroad trucks that may want to enter the area. To the east is the west end of a long N&W passing track. To the west are the tracks of the old N&W mainline on the right with the connection from the Virginian converging from the left. This marks the eastern end of the old Virginian mainline! If you walk west from the signals and look down the Virginian line, you can see where the old VGN curved off to the east and into the woods. This point is about 200 yards down the line. The Virginian grade to the east is still walkable if it is not posted.
· About one mile east is where Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show train wreck in 1916. At the end of this material you will find the site address for more information on that wreck, as well as the Phenix wreck and an explosion at Tola in 1907.
· Continue on 671 east
> Abilene to Nutbush 28 minutes
· Right on 15 south and then 360 east
· Right on Free State Rd. - 630
· Right on Nutbush Rd. - 662
· After several miles, the road runs beside the old right of way and describing the Nutbush spot is difficult. The road will veer to the right a little, away from the old right of way and go to a lower level. Watch for Buckskin Road on the right. Start measuring and go about 7/10 of a mile. You will be in the woods. There is a wide dirt road entering on the left. Pull into that dirt, unmarked, unnamed road and drive about 80 feet and you should be right on the old grade! There is a dwelling just beyond this dirt road off Nutbush Rd. and it has the typical rural barking dogs. Be quiet to avoid disturbing them!
· Every Virginian fan should visit Nutbush because of the pictures made there by H. Reid and Harry Bundy of the location in the 1950s. This location is near the east end of a passing track where Virginian’s passenger trains 3 and 4 met daily. There was a small three sided passenger shelter about 100 feet to the east of where you reach the roadbed and on the south side. In the left picture above, we see Nutbush in the mid 1950s and the right picture shows Nutbush in April 2007, looking east. In the left picture, looking west, we can see the crossing used today to reach the right of way!
· Continue into Victoria on 662.
> Nutbush to Victoria - 10 minutes
Return - Victoria to Altavista (Direct route) - 1 hour 30 minutes.
> Leave Victoria
- South at the traffic light, south on route 49
- Continue on 49 south for about 3 miles to Lunenburg
- Right on route 40 west
- Continue on 40 west into Brookneal.
- At Brookneal, straight on route 501 north
- At Gladys, left on Gladys Rd. – county route 699. About three miles west of Gladys, be alert for Gladys Road taking a sharp right. The road going straight goes to Long Island!
- Continue on 699 to route 29 south to Altavista.
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Part Three: Norfolk Division, Second Sub-division
Directions for a Road Trip from Altavista to Roanoke
(2-1/4 hrs. driving time)
> Altavista to Leesville – 12 minutes
· Leave Altavista and go north on route 43.
· Left on 630. Go under tracks and pull into the lot on the right. It is the site of the Leesville station. This is a very good location for east bound train pictures!
> Leesville to Huddleston – 18 minutes
· Retrace on 630 to Jct. w/ 43, turn left.
· Left on 626.
· Left on 920 and go down steep hill to Huddleston and tracks. Some old structures still stand to illustrate how this once was a very thriving community. The location of the station was across the tracks.
> Huddleston to Stone Mountain – 15 minutes
· Retrace on 920 to 626.
· Left on 620.
· Right on 805.
· Take an immediate right after crossing bridge over railroad to reach the station site.
> Stone Mountain to Moneta – 30 minutes
· Retrace to 805.
· Right on 805.
· At T intersection, bear left, continue on 805
· Left on 122 west.
· After crossing bridge over railroad, take the next left and also the next left.
(This will take you on the old road to the now dead “downtown” Moneta.)
> Moneta to Goodview – approx. 20 minutes
· Retrace to 122 west.
· Turn left on 122 west.
· Right on 655.
· Left on 616.
· Right on 655.
· Continue straight on 653.
· 653 merges with 757 here and turn …
· Right on 757 to reach tracks. Enjoy the scene but be advised that the farmer owner is not friendly to railfans. Do not even think of stepping into his fields!! East of this location a few hundred yards is the high point of the railroad east of Roanoke. Some geologists claim it to be where the Virginian crossed the Blue Ridge. The exact point is just west of the west end of Goodview tunnel which is also inaccessible to the public.
· Retrace on 757 (Goodview Rd.).
· Right on 757.
· Continue to the Goodview station site will be in the gravel lot on the right, WIth signals facing west, you have a good picture location before you and an interesting country store for snacks behind you!
> Goodview to Stewartsville Wreck Site – 10 minutes
· Retrace to 757 and turn right.
· Go west on 757.
· Right on 755 (Morgan Mill Rd.)
· Road crosses the railroad and affords the same view looking east as seen
in pictures of the engine 800 explosion on April 1, 1941. There is a small place
to park one car at the south end of the bridge and another on the north side a
short distance away from the bridge.
> Stewartsville Wreck Site to Hardy Tunnel – approx. 30 mins.
· Return to 757 (Goodview Rd.)
· Turn right on 757 and continue on winding road, crossing the railroad.
· Left on 619 (Turner Branch Rd.)
· Left on 634 (Hardy Rd.) (To reach the site of the Virginian Hardy station,
continue straight on Hardy Rd. and cross the bridge over the railroad. Site is on the right.
It is a good place for pictures)
· Right on 633 (Gravel Hill Rd.) to be above the actual Hardy tunnel.
· Park on either side of the road but access to the tunnel is across private property, ASK!
This horrific wreck happened Dec. 31, 1933 after west bound extra 472 had exited Hardy tunnel and rounded an S curve. The track was blocked by a huge boulder and as the locomotive neared it, the head-end brakeman and engineer jumped. The fireman, Marshall Foor, stayed on board. The locomotive struck the builder and veered off to the left, sliding down the steep embankment to the Staunton River. The fireman rode the engine down the hill, receiving some injuries but surviving, which the other two men did not. A passerby on the opposite side of the river saw the incident and how the injured fireman could be killed if the locomotive slid any more. He waded across the river, freed him from the wreckage and carried him back to the other side. The rescuer placed Fore in his car and drove him to a Roanoke hospital where he was treated and he soon recovered!
· Turn around on 633 (Gravel Hill Rd.) and return to 634 (Hardy Rd.)
> Hardy Tunnel to Vinton and Roanoke – approx. 15 minutes.
· Left on 634 (Hardy Rd.) Stay on 634 until it merges with 24 W. which goes into Roanoke.
· End of Tour, continue to Roanoke
· Continue on 24 to Blue Ridge Parkway which by turning east, you may
reach 460 East. Go west to reach 220 South. Continue on 24 to go into Vinton and Roanoke.