Preservation News: Railroad Heritage Items

April 14, 2010

Here is a selection of somewhat recent positive developments in the world of American railroad heritage preservation.

Out of almost nowhere comes one of the more dramatic pieces of railroad heritage. A short-line conosseur has used the sale of his railroads to fund a working home – a full and true traditional-style roundhouse – for his personal collection of steam and diesel locomotives, in order to keep them and the skills for of maintaining them alive. Also of particular note is the intent to build the largest timber-framed building in the world (apparently it will be also be using traditional joining methods (e.g. mortis and tenon) instead of nails etc.)

Meanwhile, much has been going on in the area of rail heritage in Virginia (my home state).

Late last year, the General Assembly established the “Virginia Rail Heritage Region”, consisting of the cities of Roanoke, Lynchburg, Covington, and Clifton Forge and their surrounding and adjoining counties. This area was the nexus of the famous Norfolk & Western and Chesapeake & Ohio railways, including major maintenance and construction shop facilities (the N&W (now NS) facilities are still in operation in Roanoke); as well as other connecting railroads.

Further, in a rather dramatic turn of events there last summer there, the infamous “lost engines of Roanoke” were saved from the scrapyard where they had sat for over half a century, along with their diesel and miscellaneous brethren, the scrapyard having recently been sold for redevelopment. Of the three steam locomotives, one will go to the Roanoke Chapter of the National Railway Historic Society (who has the expertise in restoration work), the Virginia Museum of Transportation (the nearby railway museum that also happens to have the largest collection of N&W rolling stock in existence in a museum), and the Railroad Museum of Virginia located in Portmouth, which contributed funding. The diesels, tenders, and hopper cars were also saved, much of them going to the VMT.

The Virginia Museum of Transportation (VMT) in Roanoke, urged by a challenge grant and a renewed leadership, has begun work on determining how to improve the museum, which has suffered financial hardships (further hurt by natural forces) and yet has a priceless collection of artifacts. On their website is a survey to help them improve the museum.

Meanwhile, also in the heritage region, an up-and-coming major museum and history facility is in the works in Clifton Forge, the C&O Heritage Center at the site of its old freight yard. It too will feature a collection of rolling stock, reconstructions based on standard company structure plans, and other ways of highlighting the railroad that stretched from near the Chesapeake Bay at Newport News, Virginia all the way across the Appalachians to the Ohio River at Huntington, WVa.

Finally, this spring the Old Dominion Railway Museum, long housed in an old Railway Express Car (the Railway Express Agency was the historical equivalent of FedEx and UPS), will be moving into the old Southern Railway station in Manchester that has sat ajacent to the old museum’s siding for years, awaiting restoration. Thanks to the sweat-equity of the Society, along with helpful grants from the City and VDOT, the third and final of the remaining historic stations in Richmond will once again be open to the public to visit. Eventually, more of the society’s rolling-stock from their yard will be restored and moved to the site.


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