Remembering the Railroad

This is the old railroad bridge across Wolf Creek at Rocky Gap.
 Virgie Bailey interview  Davis /Shrader interview.
 Mary Belcher interview  Shirley Harless interview


This is an excerpt of an interview that Stephanie Hamilton did with Gene Davis and Kate Shrader.
Stephanie: Do you remember what the trains looked like?

Gene Davis: Similar to the ones we have now, only they had a small steam engine, wasn't very large, and they used some of those smaller engines, they called them "yard engines". And if they had a heavy train, say 18 or 20 cars, why they'd use two engines. I've heard said that some of them, that it would actually pull the train in two.

Stephanie: Do you know of any houses on Wolf Creek that were used as stations that are still standing?

Gene Davis: No, there is no stations, but there is a section house still standing.

Stephanie: Well, that was your house (Kate Shrader) What did, what was the section house used for?

Gene Davis: The section foreman and the section crew maintained the railroad and uh, they would replace the ties, and in the summertime, they'd dig the weeds that would, yea, the weeds out of the tracks so that in the fall, why they wouldn't set so many fires, you see, that was a coal fired engine. They did set some fires.

Stephanie: Really?

Gene Davis: Yea.

Stephanie: Were any of them really major?

Gene Davis: Not really, I don't think I don't remember any major fires where it set the mountains on fire. But ah, I don't remember if they did it all the time or not, but they used to have a, ah, man that followed the train, on a small motor car.

Kate Shrader: They called it a trolley.

Gene Davis: No.

Kate Shrader: What did they call it?

Gene Davis: We called it the trains coat. But, he would follow, oh maybe a mile or two behind the train and if the train set any fires, he'd put them out.

Stephanie: Sounds like a rough job.

Gene Davis: Well, that's all he did

This is an excerpt from an interview of Mary Belcher by Kevin DeHart.

Kevin: I'm with Mrs. Mary Belcher, and I am interviewing her on the railroad that used to run through Bland County. Mrs. Belcher, how long have you been living in Bland County?

Mary: I was born and raised here. I was born in 1906.

Kevin: And when did the railroad come In?

Mary: About 1909 and 1910.

Kevin: What was its main purpose?

Mary: They opened up, there was a ... Sunlight Oil Company that wanted to come In here and cut the timber and get the lumber to make barrels and put oil and stuff in.

Kevin: And they shipped that oil and stuff out of here?

Mary: No, they made the barrels somewhere else and shipped it to someplace where the oil was at, and then they shipped it somewhere else.

Kevin: Did the railroad change your life any when you were a kid?

Mary: No. I don't know that it did. I was little and I didn't know much about it. I can remember that the surveyors for the railroad bordered with my mommy and daddy. Rhodes, Ramsey, and Gutter. I liked Rhodes and Ramsey, but I didn't like Gutter. He was grouchy. I was little and they petted me and was nice to me. He was grouchy with me.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kevin: What did the railroad mainly haul?

Mary: Timber ... sawed logs and things like that. They set stave mills up here on Dry Fork and Laurel. Sawed staves and shipped them out of here to make oil barrels. Stave mills is what they called them.

Kevin: What did the stave mills do?

Mary: They sawed this timber and shipped it out of here.

Kevin: Did you ever ride the train to go from one place to another?

Mary: I rode from here to Narrows and back.

Kevin: How long did it usually take you think?

Mary: I don't remember. I was small and don't remember. I remember they run an excursion from Round Bottom down here to Narrows and there was so many people. They didn't have passenger cars or anything. You just had flats to sit on and seats and things. And it rained and we was the wettest bunch you have ever seen. The water just dripped out of us ... mommy and daddy and me. I remember that very distinctly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Kevin: How did they put the railroad in here? By hand work or did they have any machines?

Mary: They had some kind of machinery. I was so small I don't know what. They blasted and dynamited on that cliff over here, the Wilson Cliff. They would send some man up to the house and tell us they were going to let a blast off and to be careful.And they would come over there. Now the old Davis house or the old Carpenter house stood over yonder at the upper end of the cliff. Now there was a big rock that went down through it. It went from the top to the bottom. They had to go in there and bust it up and take it out. One time they let a dynamite off, I remember that. But, it never damaged us on that hill. It never bothered us. But rocks would come up there as big as a gallon bucket in the yard, but they never did hit the house.

This is an excerpt from an interview of Virgie Bailey. She has lived her entire life down Wolf Creek and is interviewed by her grandson, Steve Black.

Riding the Train

Steve: Did it carry passengers?

Virgie: Yeah! Everybody rode the train.

Steve: So people rode it a lot?

Virgie: Yeah, they would go to the doctor on the train. I went to the doctor many times, in Rocky Gap, on the train.

Steve: Where did they go?

Virgie: Uh, shopping, down at Narrows, and they used to go down there on the Fourth of July for a big celebration. Everybody rode the train. The train would be full. You could hardly find a seat.

Steve: What did it cost?

Virgie: I don't know what it cost to go to Narrows, but it cost me a nickel to go from Niday to Rocky Gap for I used to miss the bus and I'd ride it up there. I didn't have a nickel, Mr. Coburn would say, "Well, come on. You can give it to me some other time."

Steve: That's nice. How many trips, a day, would the train make?

Virgie: Well, it went up and back, up to Suiter and back, three times a week. And there were a lot of off settings that people could get cars on there, and then load them, and they would pick them up as they went back down. They called them sidings at that time.

Steve: Do you remember hearing the whistle?

Virgie: Yeah. Yeah, you could hear it all the way up the valley when it was coming.

Steve: Did you ever ride the train?

Virgie: Yeah. I rode it mostly to Rocky Gap. I went to Narrows a time or two on it, but not many times. And I went down at Chapel a time or two on it.

Steve: Yeah. What was the trip like?

Virgie: It was fun. It was different. You went real slow. You think about trains now a days that are flying. Them you just went real slow. And it was a little rough ride, but it was fun to ride it.

Steve: What was the car like that you rode in?

Virgie: It was passenger car, like you see on the trains today. Those red caboose, well they ain't cabooses but, uh, Pullman cars. They had one on this one up through here, one pullman car.

Steve: Who else were passengers?

Virgie: Well, anybody that wanted to go anywhere. They would go visit their friends. It would go up in the morning around 9 o'clock, and it would come back about three every evening. If you wanted to go visit a friend, you could catch it to Rocky Gap, go visit your friend, and come back on the train. So there were a lot of people that went to visit people, or visit the sick, or see the doctor, buy groceries, or different things. There were a lot of people that rode the train. It was about the only transportation we had, back in the 30's.

Steve: Were the cars heated?

Virgie: Yeah, it had a pot-bellied stove in it in the winter time. And it was hot in the summer, for you had your windows open all the time.

Steve: Did they use steam engine?

Virgie: Yeah, ever so often they would stop and take on wood, and they had to stop and get water ever so often. So it was a steam engine.

Steve: Did passengers get off and buy food and drink?

Virgie: They could up here at Round Bottom. Now I don't know, I guess at other places, there were stores. But at Round Bottom, Bucker Pullium, well he run the post office and he had a store there, and they would get off and get things. I don't know what all, maybe candy or anything he had.

Steve: I bet he made a lot of money.

Virgie: Yeah.

Steve: Did a conductor take your ticket?

Virgie: I never did have a ticket. I just gave him my money. But yeah, they took up tickets and they punched tickets. Some of them would buy a round trip ticket and get it punched going up and get it punched coming back.

Steve: Where did you buy a ticket?

Virgie: Well you could buy it from the conductor but I'd say most of them was bought at the end of the line at Narrows or maybe Suiter.

They Pull the Tracks Up

Steve: Do you remember when the railroad pulled out?

Virgie: Yeah it was in about '46. They wasn't enough stuff to ship out on the train. There wasn't nothing to ship out up here, they had took it all, the timber and the by products and there wasn't anybody to... wasn't enough to be shipped out. It was just running for the mail and that was all. The mail couldn't afford it. I don't guess to keep it running.

Steve: Was it sad?

Virgie: I hated to see it pull out. I stood out on the front porch and watched them pull right down through here, you know, the rails and ties and everything. I thought it was sad when they pulled it out and I think it hurt the people of Bland County. There was a lot of people that depended on the train for transportation. They didn't drive, or couldn't afford a car.

Steve: Did it affect you?

VB. Really it did. I hated to see it go. I didn't ride that much in later years, but I still hated to see it go. It was something that had been here all my life and I hated to see it go. But when they pull the railroad, we got the highways and we had a better road we could travel on. But still, I miss it. I still miss it, seeing it.

Steve: Yeah , I still wish it were here. I would like to ride it.

Virgie: Yeah it was fun to ride. It was nostalgic, or what you want to call it, to ride something like that. I think you'll remember it the rest of your life. I know I'll remember it as long as my mind is what it is. It was fun and the conductors were nice to you and everything, That made it more enjoyable. And the people that had never been up through here before, or down through here, the conductor would point out where they were at and everything. We didn't have no real scenery, I mean no great things going on through here, but still they pointed out where they were at, and the churches, and where the post offices were at, and the stores, things like that down through here. (Wolf Creek is one of the prettiest places on th planet. JD)

Shirley Harless remembers the train stopping at the Dave Conley Store in Rocky Gap. Her father ran the store and the family lived upstairs. She is interviewed by her grandson Josh Havens.

Josh: Did the railroad stop at the store?

Shirley: Uh, yes, they stopped at the store, we had a little, um, um . . . um, the train stopped at the depot, behind the store.

Josh: Did people ride the train?

Shirley: Uh, yes, uh, a lot of people would get on there at Rocky Gap, and go towards Bastain, the train went to Bastain. Or, as it come back, they would catch the train and ride as far as Narrows.

Josh: What kinds of freight would be delivered by rail?

Shirley: Well, umm, just all kinds of freight, they carried everything from chicken, livestock, feed, wire, uh, caskets, just about anything that you could think of, they would, uh, would deliver there to the depot.

Josh: Did you ever ride the train?

Shirley: Many times.

Josh: Where did you go?

Shirley: I used to ride the train down to my cousin's at Chapel--that's near Narrows, Virginia.

Josh: What was it like?

Shirley: Well, it was great fun for me, I wasn't too old, but I used to like to go and, I'd get off down there at a church. I remember I used to be so scared though, when I'd go down Wolf Creek at those rocks sticking out at the windows, ha, ha, it scared me, and I'd dodge I'd be afraid I was gonna be hit by a big rock! Ha, ha! And when I'd get down to the church, when I'd get off, I'd have to uh, walk a swinging bridge across Wolf Creek to get to the other side.

Josh: How much did it cost?

Shirley: I can't remember. I've forgotten.

Josh: Do you remember any of the conductors or engineers?

Shirley: Uh, yes, the engineer on that train was a Mr. Bud Hale from Narrows, and the other people that worked on there was a Mr. Clyde Coeburn, a Mr. Juan McGinnley, a Mr. Tom Wall, a Mr. S. Robinson, and a Mr. Bill Hail. And the train consisted of a one number three mobile locomotive, a one combination passenger and baggage car, a few freight cars and then they'd daily run from Narrows to Bastain and 'round back to Narrows again.

Josh: Did they use steam engines?

Shirley: They were--yes.

Josh: How often did the train come?

Shirley: It came everyday.

Josh: Was it exciting when it would arrive?

Shirley: Oh, yes, people were real excited, when it come; you could see the steam rise as it came, where you go down Wolf Creek now, but the first bridge there where you go up to Deer Run Estates, uh, you could see the steam from it as it came up through there, and it was very exciting.

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