Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Abingdon Branch Revisited


The Abingdon Branch of the Norfolk & Western wandered through the southwest corner of Virginia. It would likely have slipped completely into the dustbin of history if not for one thing, though -- a photographer named O. Winston Link discovered it and documented it on film. Link was more widely known for his night photography on the N&W, but his daytime Abingdon Branch material was just as magical.


The locomotive used on the Abingdon Branch during Link's visit was N&W 4-8-0 No. 382. Long-since scrapped, it has a sister locomotive still working on the Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania, N&W 475. On November 6, 2017, Lerro Productions conducted a photography event at Strasburg that turned the clock back to Link's time, starting before sunrise (above). A Model A, owned by Nicholas Brightbill, was brought in to add to the ambiance of old-time railroading.


No. 475 was given the identity of the 382 for the day. In addition to changing the number, a sunflower spark arrestor was added to the smokestack, a solid pilot (cowcatcher) was fabricated, and the locomotive was given white trim on the running boards.


Eras collided at Leaman Place Junction, where the Strasburg Rail Road meets Amtrak's Philadelphia-to-Harrisburg passenger line. The 382 looked a bit out of place as Amtrak ACS-64 No. 625 pushed a train towards Harrisburg.


The lunch break featured some interesting photos from the past, but that's really another topic for another day (a lot of good imagery came out of the lunch break). After lunch, our N&W mixed freight-and-passenger train caught a bit of sun at the railroad's picnic area, Groff's Grove.


The rural nature of the Strasburg Rail Road was put to good use. The railroad is located in Amish country, and scenes included an Amish farmer working his team of horses (top of this post). Some pumpkins that escaped Halloween were still in the field at Esbenshade Road.


Sunset brought a warm blow to the engine and train as it worked its way into the setting sun at Ranck's Crossing.


Turning the other direction yielded some nice evening glint off the side of the train.


Even after the sun went down, the sky still had a tinge of color in it. No. 382 made one last pass before darkness moved in.






Once it was dark, No. 382 posed for a few photos in the Strasburg Rail Road yard (below). Then it was time for Cinderella to vanish back into history and No. 475 return back to its true identity. Alex Merrill of the Strasburg puts No. 382's number plate away as 475 reappears in the background (right).



All in all, it was a magical day of bringing back O. Winston Link's world. Thanks to Pete Lerro and the staff of Lerro Productions for another outstanding photo charter. As mentioned above, Lerro Productions provided some great photography during the lunch break during this day, and we'll visit that in our next post.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

The Last Logger


On November 7, 2017, Western Forest Products made it official. The company's Englewood Railway -- the last true logging railroad in North America -- would remain closed for good. Located on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, the railroad has been shut down since April 21 following an accident that killed three employees.


The Englewood Railway was built in 1917 to serve the growing logging industry around Beaver Cove, British Columbia, operated Beaver Cove Lumber & Pulp, Ltd. The railroad was constructed by a new company to the region, Wood & English, which established its own logging community across the Nimpkish River from Beaver Cove. This new community was called Englewood (a combination of the words Wood and English).


Wood & English ran its timber operations until 1941, when the mill was closed. In 1944, Canadian Forest Products (Canfor) acquired the logging interests in the Nimpkish Valley and established a new headquarters near the town of Woss. By 1948, the railroad had been extended 24 miles from Beaver Cove to Woss.


Under Canfor, logs were brought out of the forest by truck and loaded onto railcars for the journey to Woss. At Woss, the logs were dumped into Woss Lake and floated on the next part of their journey. A small flotilla of boats were used to herd the logs on Woss Lake.


The rail line and logging operations were purchased by Western Forest Products in 2006. Following the purchase, many of the old timber trestles on the railroad were replaced by new steel structures.


On April 20, 2017, a train being loaded rolled away on its own and crashed into a railroad maintenance vehicle. Three employees were killed in the accident, and two others were injured. Rail operations were immediately suspended, with logs moving from the forest all the way to Woss via trucks.


The railroad used a small fleet of four EMD SW1200 switcher locomotives, three of which had been re-engined with Caterpillar power plants. The fourth retains its EMD prime mover. Like every logging railroad in history, nothing was thrown away -- every part that could be found was put into storage because "we might be able to use that someday." Over the years, the SW1200s were heavily modified.


The railroad was quite isolated, and you really had to want to go there to find it. But if you made the trek, you found the employees were quite friendly. Once you checked into the yard office at Woss, you were issued a hard hat. This was your pass to access all areas along the railroad, including the loadouts.


My visit was in June 2011, and all the images in this post are from that visit. Upon checking in, we were also loaned two large maps that showed all the logging roads in the area, making finding photo locations much easier.


A relic from the past, steam locomotive No. 12, was located near Woss. Reportedly, it has been cosmetically restored since my trip in 2011.


The last logging railroad lasted for almost exactly 100 years. With the closing of the line, the last true logging railroad in North America passes into the history books, ending another era of railroading.

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