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What is the Differeance Between
Club Car, Coach Car, Caboose Car Seating

Club Car Seating
Club Car Seating

The Club car is a restored 1927 First Class coach car with individual leather seats, mahogany interior accented with stained glass, built-in-tables, carpeting and period ceiling fans and holds 45 passengers.  Adults $17   Children $12

Coach Car
Coach Car Seating

The Coach Cars are retired NJ Transit Comet 1 commuter coaches built in the early 1970's These brushed aluminum coaches feature built in Lighting, Heating and Air Conditioning and electronically operated passenger doors. The car seats approximately 100 people, with half face one end of the car and half facing the other.  Adults $14 - Children $9

Caboose Car

Caboose Seating

The Whippany Railway Museum has several cabooses that we use on our excursion trains.  They range in age up to 100 years old.  There are two basic models, the familiar cupola caboose with its distinctive "bubble top" as seen in the right hand picture, and the bay window version with its extended windows on the sides. Each caboose holds approximately 15 passengers. Adults $14 - Children $9

VIRGINIA BLUE RIDGE RAILWAY

© Steven P. Hepler 2012

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Remnants Of The VBR...

After the VBR ceased operations and the rails were ripped up, the former locomotive shop and maintenance buildings at Piney River remained standing, although converted for other uses. VBR 6 L Piney River - 7 in shop R May 19 1957 JK lg crop
VBR Piney River Shop facilities, May 1957
VBR 5  7 Piney River Oct. 15 1960VBR Piney River Enginehouse, Oct. 1960 With the passing of time there have been many changes along the VBR. In the mid-2000's the old corrugated sheet-metal and wood-framed enginehouse (dating from the 1930's) caught fire and was destroyed. A modern replacement of similar dimensions now stands nearby, albeit for non-railroad use.
The wooden Piney River depot still keeps watch over the old right-of-way, as does the VBR's former corporate office just behind the station. The brick office structure is now a private residence. The depot itself originally had segregated waiting rooms and a freight house section with a platform that has long since been removed. Even the Southern Railway's station at Tye River disappeared from the scene in the 1970's when the Southern deemed it more cost-effective to demolish the building and have the freight agent conduct his business by traveling about in a company vehicle. VBR 9 Piney River Depot Crossing 1961 JK lg

VBR Office March 15 2009 Alan Maples photoFormer VBR Piney River Office Building
March 2009.
Photo: Alan Maples
VBR Piney River Depot 8-20-1941
VBR Piney River Depot, August 1941
VBR - SRy Tye River VA freight house VBR 9 in background May 1963 EHG
Southern Railway Tye River, VA Depot
May 1963
Photo: Earle H. Gil, Sr.

Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail...Yesterday & Today

VBR 8 Piney River Ara Mestrobian June 21 1959 35mm BW 28
June 21, 1959

VBR Trail - Piney River Depot  Brick Office
2011

The VBR right-of-way is now a hiking and biking trail, known as the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail. The images that accompany this section will showcase several views of the VBR in the past, counter-juxtaposed with images from the current Trail. The Piney River station today serves as the trail headquarters and the accompanying trail head sign, located just opposite the station, is an attractive one with historical significance. The “frame” of the sign consists of two crossties and four sections of rail lifted from the roadbed of VBR itself and set in stone. The logo of the trail is a stylized version of one of the VBR's iconic 0-6-0 steam locomotives, pulling a cut of cars with the Blue Ridge Mountains rising in the background.

VBR Trail Sign

The trail came about in 1997 when The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail Foundation, Inc. was founded by a group of citizens from Virginia's Nelson and Amherst Counties for the purpose of converting the VBR's abandoned right-of-way into a hiking trail. Trail foundation members gained support from county governments, local businesses and private individuals. A portion of the former right-of-way of the VBR was held by an adjacent property owner, attorney Stephen C. Martin of Amherst, VA, along with his wife Popie, who was more than willing to donate the roadbed to the Foundation's cause. In 1999, the first of seven “Transportation Enhancement Grants”, as well as a number of other grants enabled the vision of the trail become a reality. VBR ROW Lowesville VA 2004 copy
1999

VBR Trail March 31, 2011
March 31, 2011
VBR Trail - Roses Mill Opening

VBR Va Blue Ridge Rail Trail Map
Click to Enlarge
After six years of planning, fundraising and actual construction, the first portion of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail (Link takes some time to load) opened to the public on June 7, 2003. At that time, the walkway consisted of two trail heads (Piney River and Roses Mill), nearly 2 miles of trail surface, and a renovated 200-foot long bridge. A few years later, additional grants enabled 4 additional bridges to be rebuilt for pedestrian use, as well as clearing the edges of the path and laying down surfacing material to extend the trail from Roses Mill to Tye River.

VBR Trail - Piney River 2

VBR 8 crossing Tye River at Roses Mill March 25 1961
March 25, 1961
 VBR Trail - Bridge
2007
The hiking trail begins at the old Piney River depot in Nelson County and follows the Piney River itself East 1.8 miles to Roses Mill in Amherst County. Continuing Eastward the trail crosses back into Nelson County 3.5 miles down river just below the confluence of the Piney and Tye Rivers and then passes under Route 29. The pathway wanders through the countryside and presents views of the rolling hills, farms and the waterways. To this day, the route of the VBR offers little evidence of civilization, and retains its bucolic ambiance. Wildlife and flowers are everywhere and the trail is a safe and pleasing experience for all who come to enjoy everything it has to offer. No. 6 leads a freight East out of Piney River, 1953
No. 6 leads a freight East out of Piney River, 1953

VBR Trail Piney River Depot 3
2009
VBR Trail - Piney River - river
2009
VBR Trail - Tye River sm
2009
VBR 6 385 1953 6 JK crop lgg VBR Trail - Rt 29 Overpass Tye River md
The original Rt. 29 bridge (background) still crosses over the VBR Trail at the location of the old Tye River water tank. The tank's concrete foundations remain to this day (left of image), under a newer Rt. 29 overpass (foreground) 2011
VBR 9 Tye River tree 1961 JK lg VBR Trail - Farm View sm
VBR 9 Tye River curve 1961 JK lg
1961
VBR Trail - Cows
2011
VBR Trail Race 1 VBR Trail Track Trail June 2012
2012
VBR Trail Race 2 VBR Trail Race 3
VBR Trail - Piney River
VBR Trail Section Opening 4-3-2012
April 3, 2012

VBR Trail Abandoned Rail Car sm copy copy
A February 4, 2012 article in The Daily Progress of Charlottesville, VA noted that a new phase of the VBR Trail Project had commenced. Plans include obtaining, restoring and displaying a caboose at Piney River; putting up 50 signs about the history of the area and the railroad along the trail; preserving one of the VBR's old dump cars and a handcar; and renovating the Tye River weigh station at the end of the trail and re-installing its scales. The VBR depot at Piney River on Route 151 will be restored and provide a home for exhibits on the history of the railroad and Hurricane Camille. Additional plans include the completion of the last segment of the trail and building a traditional railroad cover for the Naked Creek Bridge.

VBR Trail Rail Cart 2011

 VBR - Tye River Scale c1978
No. 12 pulls its train past the
Tye River Scale House in 1978
Although the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway is now long-gone from the rural Dixie scene, there are still many citizens of the peaceful Nelson County area who fondly cast their minds back through the mists of time to another era. It was a time when one could witness the steam locomotives of “Th' Blue Ridge” throwing their smokey exhausts high into the air as they struggled to pull heavily-laden freight cars along the banks of the Piney River. A time when the call of the steam whistle could be heard floating and echoing among the hills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and all was right with the world.

VBR 8 Roses Mill B 1959

A Sincere Thanks to the following individuals who assisted with information, documents and photographs related to the history and operations of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway:

Kurt R. Bell, Railroad Archivist II; PA State Archives, Harrisburg, PA

Kermit Geary, Sr.

Earle H. Gil, Sr., Collection of Steve Hepler

Theodore F. Gleichmann, Jr.

William T. Greenberg

Walter Grosselfinger

Al Hamilton

John Krause - VBR Black & White Negative Files, Collection of Steve Hepler

Alan W. Maples, President; Everett Railroad, Duncansville, PA

J.C. McHugh, President; McHugh Locomotive & Crane, Fairless Hills, PA

Dave Phraner

Don Ross

Paul M. Saunders, President; Saunders Brothers, Inc., Piney River, VA

Paul Tupaczewski

Suggested Reading:
Heartbeats of Nelson
by Paul M. Saunders
March 2007 - Saunders Publishing, LLC, Piney River, VA
Sentimental Journey – Being a History of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway
by Carl M. Lathrop
1979 - Carl M. Lathrop, Madison, NJ
Steam Days on the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway
by John J. Hilton & Randolph Kean
1975 National Capitol Historical Museum of Transportation, Inc., Arlington, VA

VIRGINIA BLUE RIDGE RAILWAY

© Steven P. Hepler 2012

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VBR No. 8 and No. 9 arrived in Piney River on August 15, 1958. Both engines came from the U.S. Army Transportation Corps at Fort Eustis, VA where they had been numbered 618 and 616 respectively. They had been constructed in 1942 by the American Locomotive Company and were originally numbered 4038 and 4023. The renumbering into the Army 600-series occurred in 1954. VBR locomotives 5, 8 and 9 were identical standard Army switch engines, built to United States Railroad Administration specifications for the war effort. Hastily painted into the VBR standard black with yellow trim upon arrival at Piney River, one could still make out No. 8's original Army numbers on her cab and number plate.

USA 0-6-0 4023 - USA 616 - VBR 9 A DR
VBR 4038 8 VBR 9 Piney River B copy

USA 0-6-0 4038 - USA 618 - VBR 8 A DR
VBR 8 Piney River Fantrip 6-21-1959

VBR 8 Tye River Fan Trip 6-21-1959 2
On June 21, 1959 the VBR hosted it's second public steam excursion, operated once again for the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. This trip was billed as a “Photographer's Special” and had a relatively small number of participants. The NRHS trip committee requested a boxcar, two gondolas, and the VBR's ex-Southern Railway wood caboose as the train consist. The locomotive assigned to pull the train on this day was No. 8. The VBR borrowed two low-sided gondolas from the Southern and installed wooden benches for the riders. The boxcar was employed as a “baggage car” for the photographer's luggage. The group traveled from Washington to Lynchburg, VA via a Southern Railway train on Saturday, then rode a chartered bus to Piney River on Sunday morning. The “Photographer's Special” made two trips to Tye River with plenty of photo stops along the way. At the end of the day, the riders detrained at Tye River where the VBR had pre-arranged with the Southern for the Northbound “Tennessean” to make a special flag stop to pick up and return the excursion group to Washington. This was the last full-fledged “fan trip” the VBR would operate, and as with the earlier venture in 1957, the railroad had gone to considerable effort to accommodate these excursions. Only on one or two other future occasions did the VBR allow a few passengers to ride the track car or perhaps the caboose.
VBR 8 Tye River VA June 21 1959
No. 8 continued to operate in VBR freight service until early-1963 when she was stored "serviceable" as the railroad began its move to convert to diesel power. VBR 8 Piney River VA 5-20- 1960 B
In late-1965 No. 8 was sold to Vernon Seeley, Chairman of the Board of the Delaware Otsego Railroad and shipped to Oneonta, NY shortly thereafter. It was renumbered “2” and was placed in tourist excursion service on the “DO Line” on August 3, 1966. At the same time, the Delaware Otsego had also purchased a number of spare parts for their engine for which they never paid the VBR. There still exists a thick file folder documenting the lawsuit brought by the VBR in 1967-'68 against the “DO Line” for unpaid bills. At the same time, the “DO Line” brought a lawsuit against the VBR. Evidently the VBR claimed the boiler for No. 8 was in good condition at the time of sale when, in fact, there were multiple mechanical issues. VBR 8 Piney River VA Dec. 1965 EHG
Photo Credit: Earle H. Gil, Sr

VBR 8 DO-CCV 2 Cooperstown NY c1971  VBR 8 DO 2 Cooperstown NY 9-16-2004

New highway construction forced the “DO Line” to relocate and in 1971 the operation reopened at Cooperstown, NY as the Cooperstown & Charlotte Valley Railroad. Steam operations with No. 2 continued until about 1975 when the locomotive was put into storage. Some years later, with the “DO Line” having grown into a large-scale regional freight carrier, the engine was placed on display at the corporate headquarters of the Delaware-Otsego System (DOS) at Cooperstown. In 2009, the DOS sold No. 2 to Bill Miller, of Eckhart Mines, Maryland. In October of that year, the locomotive was lifted onto an excessive-weight highway trailer and trucked to Miller's heavy equipment sales facility in Eckhart Mines, where a restoration to full operation is planned. Miller is also the owner of former U.S. Army 2-8-0 No. 611 which is also stored on his property.

VBR 8 DO 2 MOVING-10-01-2009 A

VBR 9 Piney River C 1961 JK lg crop

VBR 9 Tye River Interchange 1961 JK lg 
No. 9 has had an interesting life, and it is the third steam locomotive from “Th' Blue Ridge” to now call New Jersey “home”. No. 9 was the last steam engine to be placed in operation on the VBR. Although acquired in 1958, she was not used until March 23, 1961, when she became the regular power for most VBR freights until the end of steam operations.

VBR 9 Tye River 4-13-1963
Click to Enlarge

VBR 9 Piney River VA Dec. 1965 EHG  VBR - NHI 9 New Hope PA c-1967 postcard

After No. 9 was sold (along with No. 7) in late-1963, she first operated in excursion service for the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad (NH&I) in June 1967. At that time the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway name was still painted boldly on her tender. Shortly thereafter, she emerged with a new paint job, featuring the NH&I's bright herald on the tender. In 1976, No. 9 had a “make-over” of sorts when she appeared with a larger headlight mounted in the center of the smokebox door. The bell was moved from its original position atop the boiler and was secured to the original mounting plate for the headlight. While many considered it a novel and original way to “beautify” a standard U.S. Army WWII-design 0-6-0, it was actually duplicated from a practice first conceived by the U.S. Army Transportation Corps (USATC) during the 1950's. A prime example of this can be seen in a Don Ross photo of Army 0-6-0 No. 614 (the former No. 4018) at Fort Eustis, VA on August 24, 1955. The gloss-black painted USATC 614 looks elegant with a road engine headlight and a highly-polished brass bell bolted to the top of the smokebox.

VBR - NHI 9 New Hope 1976 CML  USA 0-6-0 614 Aug. 24 1955 DR

No. 9 was taken out of service in 1981, and NH&I's ill-fated attempt at rebuilding the locomotive during 1992-'93 ended in a dismal failure. Some years prior, the driving wheels on No. 9 were swapped out and replaced with those from scrapped No. 7, while 9's valve motion and running gear turned out to be an odd mix of parts from both engines. Even Morris County Central RR (MCC) 0-6-0 No. 4039 (now Whippany Railway Museum No. 4039) became the recipient of a small number of components that originally were part of No. 7. The MCC was in need of replacement spring rigging during the late-1970's, and the NH&I was happy to assist their neighbor in Northern New Jersey.

No. 9 was stripped down and some work was started on the boiler and firebox. The rebuild project was eventually aborted and in 1995 the engine was shoved in the weeds on a back storage track at New Hope...forgotten and eventually put up for sale. VBR - NHI 9 4-6-2002 crop

VBR - NHI 9 New Hope 2007 

VBR 9 - SMS 9 Dec. 8 2009 A New Hope PA WRyM 2011 B crop

SMS Rail Lines' No. 9 undergoing rebuild at Bridgeport, NJ
SMS Rail Lines' No. 9 undergoing
rebuild at Bridgeport, NJ

Whippany Railway Museum's No. 4039 undergoing rebuild at Whippany, NJ
Whippany Railway Museum's No. 4039 undergoing
rebuild at Whippany, NJ
After sitting and rusting away for nearly 15 years, No. 9 was sold in September 2009 to SMS Rail Lines, a shortline freight carrier based in Bridgeport, NJ. On December 8, 2009, No. 9 was trucked from New Hope, PA to the SMS shop in Bridgeport, where work immediately began on evaluating her for an eventual return to active service...pulling freight ! When No. 9 was delivered to SMS that December day, the Garden State could now boast three steam locomotives within its borders from the storied Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. No. 9 was “welcomed” to New Jersey by her former VBR stablemates at Whippany...Nos. 4039 (VBR 5) and 385 (VBR 6). Although SMS No. 9 is a good 100 miles from Whippany, restoration crews from both SMS and the Whippany Railway Museum have been assisting one another with the respective rebuilds of the iron steeds entrusted to their care. Within a few short years, the New Jersey countryside will reverberate with the stirring sights and sounds of steam power that was once so common in the far off Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.
VBR 9 Freight 1961 JK lg crop

On November 27, 1961, VBR president Kenneth Cobb died at the age of 52. Immediately, there was much speculation about the continued use of steam on “Th' Blue Ridge”. Kenneth's younger brother, John Cobb assumed the presidency of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway on February 1, 1962. At the time, the railroad's new president was asked about the future of the VBR's stable of steam locomotives and if the railroad would make a move to convert to diesel power. He said, “We plan to keep them. We have 20 years of good steam transportation in our shop.”

But those encouraging words would not ring true, for in April of 1963, the decision to end VBR steam operations was made when the railroad arranged to purchase two used SW1 600-horsepower diesel switching units from the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad (EL).; For many years, every used locomotive dealer in the country had been sending a steady barrage of sales letters to the VBR, and ultimately Birmingham Rail & Locomotive Company of Birmingham, Alabama succeeded in brokering the purchase of the Erie-Lackawanna locomotives to the VBR. VBR Diesel 4
VBR 9 Piney River Engine Term Diesel in shop June 1963 JK lg
No. 9 pulls away from the Piney River Engine Terminal a few weeks before it brings down the curtain on all VBR steam operations. A replacement diesel locomotive is being attendedto inside the enginehouse.

VBR 9 Tye River Vista 2 1961 JK lg
On August 1, 1963, engine No. 9 had the honor of being the very last steam locomotive to pull a revenue freight train over the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. After that date, the steam engines were put up for sale and from that point on until the railroad was shut down in 1980, all trains would be powered by diesel locomotives.
VBR 897 Piney River VA Dec. 1965 EHG 2
Photo Credit: Earle H. Gil, Sr.
While steam was officially dead at Piney River, the VBR had taken note of the tourist railroad phenomenon and seriously considered getting into the business. Engine No. 8 had just been reflued around the time of dieselization and was held for a year or so with the thought of operating “steam excursions”. Two January 1964 letters of correspondence written by VBR President John Cobb survive, and give a hint of VBR's thinking on future steam excursions: “”We are keeping our No. 8 (0-6-0) in the event we need a steamer for tourist passenger travel in the future...we are on the lookout for three old style wooden coaches...” and: “We will not fire up our number eight locomotive until the time we elect to run for the ferroequinologists on a commercial basis, probably in 1965.” That notion passed rather quickly and No. 8 was sold without ever having been steamed again in Virginia. VBR 8 Piney River 8-14-1961 crop 

VBR John Cobb Letters 1 VBR John Cobb Letters 2

 DLW Herald

EL Herald
The diesels that came to the VBR were originally built by the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors in 1940 for the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad (DL&W). As fate would have it, they were actually older than the four 0-6-0 steam locomotives they were about to replace. When the Erie and DL&W railroads merged in 1960 to form the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad, all of the company's combined locomotives were renumbered into the new EL numbering system.
VBR's new diesels arrived at Piney River on June 18, 1963, and were numbered in a continuation of the VBR's steam numbering system. EL No. 352 (ex-DL&W 430) became VBR No. 10, while EL No. 349 (ex-DL&W 427) became VBR 11. The VBR painted their new locomotives in two different colors...No. 10 was given a dark green scheme, while No. 11 was painted gloss-black. Both engines had yellow numerals and letters, utilizing the same stencil pattern that had originally been applied to the steam locomotives. DLW 430 - EL 352 - VBR 10

VBR 10 - Piney River April 1969
DLW 427 EL 349 VBR 11 Buffalo 1957
Click to Enlarge
VBR 11 Piney River August 1963 VBR 5 4039 in rear
VBR diesel No. 11 is being serviced in August 1963 at Piney River.
Steam engine No. 5 can be seen in the background
VBR 10 Tye River grade to SRy May 1974  No. 10 was used extensively throughout the years, making daily trips out of Piney River to the American Cyanamid facility and the aplite plants. She would then pull her heavy load of cars east to the VBR's scale house at Tye River for weighing and eventual interchange with the Southern Railway. After the VBR went out of business, No. 10 was sold in 1985 to the Union Tank Car Company (UTLX), repainted in a blue scheme and numbered “UTLX 12226”. She currently works the UTLX yard in Marion, Ohio.
No. 11 unfortunately was never a reliable engine on the VBR and by 1973 she was being cannibalized for parts to keep Nos. 10 & 12 operating. In exchange for a rebuild of No. 12, No. 11 was sent to Railway Supply Company (RSC) in Birmingham, Alabama in 1974 as a trade-in. It was later sold to the Kaiser Chemical Company in Bainbridge, Georgia where it was used as the plant switcher for a number of years. As of 2006, it was reported to be in service at the Formosa Plastics facility in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. VBR 11 Montgomery AL April 20 1974

VBR 11 Montgomery AL May 21 1975 as Kaiser Chemical 502
Former VBR 11 at Montgomery, AL May 21, 1975
repainted as No. 503 for new owner Kaiser Chemical
EL 354 DLW 432 VBR 12 Hornell NY 8-64
VBR 12 Piney River VA 8-29-1966
No. 12 arrived at Piney River on June 7, 1965, as the third and final VBR diesel unit. She was formerly Erie Lackawanna No. 354 (ex-DL&W 432). For several years No. 12 ran on the VBR in her Erie Lackawanna colors of black with yellow striping. Even the EL “diamond” herald was utilized, with a “V” replacing the painted-out “E”. As noted above, No. 12 was overhauled in 1974 by RSC in exchange for the trade-in of No. 11. By early 1975, No. 12 was back at work on the VBR, and continued to haul what little freight remained on the line.

VBR 12 Under Rt. 29 Tye River VA Nov. 1973
In the early-1970's the VBR repainted the diesels one last time (green for No. 10 and black for No. 12), but with the railroad's name no longer proudly painted on the side of the carbody. Instead, the name was stenciled in barely noticeable 2-inch high letters near the top of the forward portion of the hood. Apparently there just was not enough money left to paint the large version of the company name on the engines. VBR 10 Piney River VA April 1971
VBR 12 Piney River 11-10-1977
VBR 10  12 Tye River VA 4-6-1985 copy

VBR 12 - now UTLX 12227 c-1990s
At the end of her VBR career, No. 12 (along with sister unit No. 10) was sold to Union Tank Car Company in 1985, and became “UTLX 12227”. Today, she is still in operation, in very faded blue paint at the UTLX facility in Valdosta, Georgia.

Cabooses - Nos. 2 & 3 The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, like every other railroad in the country employed a wide variety of equipment over the years to conduct its business, ranging from locomotives, passenger cars, maintenance equipment, and of course, cabooses. The VBR acquired its first caboose in the late-1940's from the Southern Railway (SR). Just why the VBR assigned the road number "2" to what in all likelihood was actually their first caboose is somewhat of a mystery, as none of the surviving VBR equipment files or photos suggest otherwise.

Caboose 2 was a wooden ex-Southern Railway car of 1922 vintage that may have originally carried the road number "X2560". As the Southern began acquiring its first steel, bay-window cabooses in 1948, the old wood cars began their slow march into retirement. X2560 was sold to the Virginia Blue Ridge about that time where it became Caboose No. 2. For the next decade, it faithfully tagged along behind the VBR's freight trains as they rolled their way along the Piney River. By the end of 1960, the stress of long years on the road was apparent, forcing the VBR to retire the car from active service. It was parked on an overgrown side track at Piney River where it was eventually overtaken by plant-life. Around 1979, with old No. 2 clearly showing its age, she was purchased by an individual who trucked the by-now, very fragile car to Rapidan, VA where it was set up on a section of panel track alongside the 1887 Rapidan Depot (currently a private residence) where plans were made to eventually restore the car to its former Southern Railway glory. Unfortunately, this never happened and presently, decades after the caboose left Piney River, it continues to decay and crumble in place...Mother Nature slowly reclaiming the lumber and iron for the earth from whence it came. SR Caboose 1922

VBR Caboose 2 Piney River April 1959 WG

VBR Caboose 2 Piney River - weeds c1978

VBR Caboose 2 Rapidan VA 2009
SR Caboose Bay-Window 1948

VBR caboose 3 blt 1948 SR March 25 1961

VBR 9 Piney River 1961 JK lg crop

VBR Caboose 3 - MSE 38
Caboose No. 3 was another former Southern Railway caboose, this one of all-steel construction and of the bay-window configuration. Built between 1948 - 1951 as part of a batch of 131 cabooses ordered by the Southern, the original road number of this car cannot be determined at present, due to the lack of documentation in the VBR equipment files. The original SR road numbers were X3139 - X3270. When the VBR was in need of a new caboose after the retirement of No. 2 in 1960, a replacement car was purchased from the Southern. The VBR's bay-window caboose was a fairly modern piece of rolling stock of the diesel-era that looked somewhat out of place on the rural, steam-powered VBR with it's bright green paint, yellow handrails and lettering. For 20 years the steel caboose could be found at the end of the VBR's freight trains, but when the railroad shut down, the car was purchased by the Mississippi Export Railroad in Moss Point, MS where it was given the road number "38".

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VIRGINIA BLUE RIDGE RAILWAY

© Steven P. Hepler 2012

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USA ALCO 4015 B

VBR 9 1961 - Feb. 62 RR Mag
The Virginia Blue Ridge was known far and wide in the late-1950's and early-'60's as a bastion of steam when all the other American railroads, big and small, were quickly scrapping their steam locomotives in favor of diesels. In 1958 the VBR's president, Kenneth Cobb stated that it was certain that the railroad would keep running steam far into the future. “We've got four engines (Nos. 5, 7, 8 & 9) exactly alike. All were built to Government specifications and the parts from one engine can be used for another engine. If it gets to the point where we are in really bad shape, we can start cannibalizing one of the engines.”
Cobb  Fry-1959
Roanoke World News Article, Courtesy of Alan Maples
Roanoke World News - Jan. 15 1959
Roanoke World News Article, Courtesy of Alan Maples

“Besides, we were able to buy all these engines at a very reasonable price ($25,000. for all four) and they were hardly ever used by the Government. On the other hand, we'd have to spend $250,000. to dieselize and change our whole shop over. We're not equipped for diesels here.”

Of great interest is a surviving internal management report from 1946 that discusses VBR's decision to remain with steam power and suggests re-equipping the railroad with at least one, 50-year old Norfolk & Western Railway (N&W) 4-8-0 “Mastodon” - type steam locomotive. The N&W was slowly retiring it's steam engines and the old “Mollies” (as they were nicknamed) were running out their final days on N&W branch lines. The VBR document reads in part: “The N&W Railroad have in the past sold their Model M, M-1, and M-W under $5,000. These engines will weigh approximately 90 tons and are more modern than any of ours. They would easily carry any reasonable load over Rose Hill...without doubling.” At the time, VBR had three locomotives (Nos. 1, 2 & 3) with a combined age of 128 years. The presence of an N&W alumnus as the short line's new Master Mechanic may have influenced management's thinking on future motive power. Ultimately the VBR purchased two war surplus 0-6-0's (Nos. 4 & 5) instead. NW 444

VBR Motive Power
Additionally, there is some rather fascinating surviving internal correspondence that reveals, beginning in the late-1940's the VBR actually considered purchasing diesels. It appears to have come down to a disagreement between the two principals at the railroad...John Powell and Howard Cobb. Powell, the VBR's president in Washington, D.C., favored going all-diesel, as did Mr. T. A. Fry, the VBR vice-president in Massies Mill, VA. Howard Cobb, who resided in Ithaca, NY, is not mentioned by name in the letters, but it is clear that he was strongly opposed to diesels.
VBR Letter Diesel 1951 A On February 15, 1951 Powell wrote to Fry: “I don't know there is anything I can say but we know the reason why we have not gone Diesel before and I doubt there being any way we can change the method, although the time may come when we can. I think Ken [Howard Cobb's son] sees the necessity of it all right but is at a loss to know how to take care of the other matters in Ithaca. It is too bad we all have to suffer this way.”
On February 17, 1951 Fry replied to Powell: “Every time the word Diesel is mentioned I look back and figuratively weep for I cannot do anything else but feel we lost a golden opportunity to change over when we purchased engines 4 and 5 and we continue to compound the error.” VBR Letter Diesel 1951 B 
VBR 1 8-13-1941  The VBR began its stable of steam engines with the acquisition in 1915 of No. 1, the only locomotive that was purchased brand new. No. 1 was a     2-8-0 'Consolidation' - type freight locomotive constructed by H.K. Porter. No. 1 served the VBR for 35 years until she was scrapped in 1953.
No. 2 was another 2-8-0 'Consolidation' freight engine that was purchased second-hand. It was built in 1895 by the Richmond Locomotive Works for the Southern Railway as No. 222, and later renumbered by the Southern to 186. The Southern sold the locomotive to the VBR on September 22, 1938. In the nine years the engine was on the VBR, it was never relettered or renumbered into the VBR scheme and continued to retain its Southern number “186”. It was scrapped in 1947. VBR 2 SR 186 Piney River VA 8-20-1941 B 
VBR 3 - Piney River 5-15-1946 CWW  No. 3 was a 4-6-0 'Ten-Wheeler' - type locomotive that was acquired third-hand on November 10, 1941 from the Georgia & Florida Railroad where she was numbered 173. The engine was originally built for the Augusta Southern Railroad by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1909 as their No. 73. Very light on her feet, the locomotive was used only occasionally by the VBR, and was cut up for scrap in 1946.

(1st) No. 4 is a locomotive that strangely enough, has managed to slip through the cracks of VBR history. Originally built by the Vulcan Iron Works in October 1909, the engine was known by the Vulcan number "1436". This diminutive 0-4-0 'Saddletank' (named for the water supply tank straddling the boiler) engine was constructed for the Old Dominion Soapstone Corporation at Damon, VA as their No. 2. When Old Dominion Soapstone was merged into the Virginia Alberene Corporation in February 1917, the little locomotive retained it's number "2" and continued on in service until December 1, 1931. In April 1935, Virginia Alberene Corp. was sold to the Alberene Stone Corporation in Schuyler, VA. Although the ownership had changed, the engine continued to retain its number "2" and remained out-of-service on the quarry property. According to Virginia Blue Ridge Railway documents, the engine was sold to the VBR In June of 1942, where it was given the road number "4".

VBR 4 Sale Doc

The VBR used No. 4 for less than a year-and-a-half to haul ballast trains as the railroad upgraded its roadbed to accommodate the increase of traffic from the aplite plants and the Southern Mineral Products facility. The onset of World War II brought even further carloadings to the Virginia Blue Ridge, and brought great prosperity to the railroad. In the best "I-Think-I-Can" imagery, tiny No. 4 was the locomotive that made the resurgence of the VBR possible during the first dark days of World War II, and for this reason, she should be recognized as an important part of the VBR's history.

VBR 4 1st 4 Buena Vista VA 8-13-1956

Photo of ex-VBR 1st No. 4 taken on Aug. 13, 1956 at Buena Vista, VA while in the employ of the Leas & McVitty Extract Plant
Photo Credit: D. Wallace Johnson; Collection of Thomas Lawson, Jr. (Courtesy of Alan Maples)

VBR 4 1st 4 Privately owned c-2000
1st No. 4's story does not end here, though. After her ballast train assignment was completed, the VBR sold the engine in December 1943 to Leas & McVitty, Inc., a tanning extract manufacturer in Buena Vista, VA. She was used at the company extract plant until being taken out of service in the late-1950's. In 1962, she was sold to Charles Wassum, who displayed the engine for years in front of a motel in Marion, VA. It was eventually purchased by a private collector, Will Harris, who moved it to his property in Goshen, VA where it survives (minus its distinctive saddletank) today.
2nd No. 4 was an 0-6-0 switching engine that the VBR acquired fourth-hand from the War Assets Administration (WAA) on February 17, 1947. This particular engine was originally constructed by Baldwin in 1907 as No. 58 of the Atlanta, Birmingham & Atlantic Railroad (ABA). In November 1926 she became Atlanta, Birmingham & Coast Railroad No. 27. Her third owner was railroad equipment broker Georgia Car & Locomotive Co. who in turn sold her to the U.S. Army in 1944 (Army number 6961). In 1947 the WAA sold the locomotive to the VBR. Having already briefly owned and sold a previous No. 4 (1st) locomotive, VBR decided to reissue the road number "4" to their new acquisition... whereupon for record keeping, it is known to historians as "2nd No. 4" In 1947 the WAA sold the locomotive to the VBR. After a derailment around 1949 in which she flipped over on her side, VBR crews tended to steer clear of the engine and from then on she was hardly used. In May 1951 she was sold to the Mead Corporation at Lynchburg, VA where she became No. 300. Very fortunately (and after several private owners), the engine survives today in operating condition on the Wilmington & Western Railroad in Wilmington, Delaware, renumbered back to its original ABA “58”. VBR 4 - Mead 300

VBR 4 - WW 58 7-4-2011
VBR 5 4039  6 385 at Piney River Kermit Geary Sr
Photo Credit: Kermit Geary, Sr.
We now come to the final five steam locomotives owned and operated by the VBR. They are the most famous, and the most widely-photographed of all the railroad's locomotives. Today, four of the engines survive in preservation, but all are now located far from their Old Dominion stomping grounds. Amazingly, three of the former VBR engines are located in New Jersey. It is extremely rare for so many locomotives from such a small railroad to survive intact long after the company has ceased to exist.

VBR 5 4039 F Piney River VA 5-28-50

Engine No. 5 came to the Virginia Blue Ridge from the War Assets Administration on February 17, 1947 along with No. 4, and was another U.S. Army 0-6-0 originally numbered 4039, but unlike No. 4, it was a much newer locomotive. The engine was built by the American Locomotive Company in November 1942. Upon arrival at the VBR it was given the road number “5” and remained in active freight service until the railroad began diesel operations in August 1963. VBR 5 4039 Piney River Kermit Geary Sr
Photo Credit: Kermit Geary, Sr.

VBR 5 4039 Freight Piney River April 1959 3 WG
Photo Credit: Walter Grosselfinger
VBR 5 4039 Piney River VA Dec. 1965  LTony Policastro R Earle Gil  Ph AHam.
Photo Credit: Al Hamilton

VBR 5 4039 H Morristown NJ March 1966
In late-1965, No. 5 was purchased by Earle Gil for use on his Morris County Central Railroad (MCC) in New Jersey and was shipped North. According to surviving VBR records, No. 5 had been sold earlier in 1964 to the “Steam Trains, Inc.” group that was forming the nucleus of the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad (NH&I) operation in New Hope, PA, but due to non-payment, the engine was instead re-sold to Earle Gil at the Morris County Central. The NH&I never paid the last installment due and had insisted on switching No. 5's tender with No. 7's due to mechanical problems. The VBR refunded the NH&I's money in January 1966.
Although No. 5 came to the MCC in operating condition, the locomotive was converted from coal to oil-firing. The engine reverted back her original “4039” number, and began operating in MCC excursion service on August 27, 1966. After the MCC went out of business in 1980, No. 4039 went through several ownership changes until she was acquired by the Whippany Railway Museum in 1994. As of 2012, No. 4039 is undergoing a complete overhaul that is expected to see her back in full operating condition in early-2013. MCC 4039 First day of Operation - 8-27-1966  WTG
Photo Credit: William T. Greenberg

4039 Lift 3
VBR 6 385 1953 C JK crop

SR 385 D crop
VBR No. 6 is what can only be described as an elegant and classic example of early 20th Century American locomotive design and craftsmanship. Built in November 1907 for the Southern Railway (SR), her original road number was 385. Designed for high speed freight service, with pulling power to spare, she was one of a group of 25 H-4 2-8-0 Consolidation locomotives that were placed in service on SR's lines throughout Dixie. For 45 years No. 385 provided excellent service to the Southern Railway, but the day came when she was retired from active duty and sold to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway on November 17, 1952.

VBR 6 385 1953 E JK crop

'The Big Engine' as she became known on the VBR, had a very short service life on “Th' Blue Ridge”. After only 4 years of operation, she was taken out of service and set aside for scrap in November 1956. This was due to the need for an expensive and labor-intensive re-fluing of the boiler, as well as a dwindling supply of spare parts. No. 6 was officially retired by the VBR on April 1, 1959. In May 1963, with time running out for old No. 6, she was purchased by New Jersey resident Earle H. Gil who had the locomotive shipped to Morristown, NJ where he completely restored the engine to operating condition in only 3 months time. Gil's idea was to operate an excursion railroad using vintage steam locomotives to recreate the glory years of American railroading. During the time he spent reactivating the engine, Gil also renumbered it back to its original Southern Railway “385”, as well as retro-fitting the firebox and fuel supply from coal to oil-burning. Gil's excursion line was known as the Morris County Central Railroad (MCC) and operated out of Whippany and later, Newfoundland NJ from 1965 until 1980. After the MCC ceased operating, No. 385 changed hands many times until she was donated to the Whippany Railway Museum in 2007. She made an emotional return home to Whippany in early-2008 where she was reunited with her former MCC and VBR stablemate, No. 4039 (VBR 5). VBR 6 385 Piney River 1962 Dave Phraner
Photo Credit: Dave Phraner

VBR 6 385 Motown 1963 EHG B crop
Photo Credit: Earle E. Gil, Sr.

 MCC 385 1975 Stockholm NJ

WRyM 2011 A It is at the Whippany Railway Museum, where these two former VBR steam locomotives are secure in preservation and their colorful history can be appreciated by all who come to visit.
VBR No. 7 was yet another U.S. Army 0-6-0, originally numbered 4061 that had been built by the Lima Locomotive Works in 1944. Of the five VBR steam locomotives of the 1950's era, No. 7 is the only one that did not survive in preservation. After WWII ended the War Assets Administration sold the locomotive in 1947 to the Norfolk & Portsmouth Belt Line Railroad, a Virginia terminal rail line, where she was renumbered “51”. Nine years later she was sold to the Virginia Blue Ridge and arrived at Piney River on April 20, 1956. Of the four ex-Army 0-6-0's owned by the VBR, No. 7 looked different from the rest. She carried one large sand dome atop her boiler, whereas Nos. 5 and 8, and later No. 9 (acquired in 1958), were identical and had two smaller domes for sand. VBR 7 Tye River VA Aug. 1 1962
Photo Credit: Theodore F. Gleichmann, Jr

VBR 7 Piney River Sept. 1959 TFGJr
VBR 7 NRHS 5-1957

VBR 6 385 Piney River May 19 1957 B crop
On May 19, 1957 the VBR operated its first railfan excursion train. On that day, No. 7 powered a special train that had been chartered by the Washington, D.C. Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. The VBR portion of the excursion originated at Tye River where the charter train had come in off the Southern Railway. The train was made up of a baggage car and six Southern Railway coaches. Once No. 7 coupled onto the train, it made its way West to the aplite mines, with a brief lay-over at Piney River where the passengers were able to detrain and photograph the VBR's facilities and locomotives. 2-8-0 No. 6 was prominently displayed for all to inspect, and the enginehouse and station were open to everyone. During the lay-over, nothing could have looked more out-of-place in rural Piney River than did those modern, streamlined Southern Railway coaches. No. 7 had received a special paint job for the occasion, debuting with a jaunty, bright yellow number plate and a smart apple-green boiler jacket and graphite smokebox that gave a nod to the manner in which the Southern Railway had painted their passenger steam locomotives in years gone by. Quite popular with VBR crews, No. 7 remained in freight service until the diesels arrived in 1963.

VBR 7 Piney River May 19 1957 

After the VBR converted to diesel power, Nos. 7 & 9 were the last steam engines to leave the property. No. 9 had been sold to Steam Trains, Inc. (which was made up of a group of Pennsylvania businessmen and rail enthusiasts) in late-1963. At the same time, No. 7 was privately sold to a Mr. Stout of Charleroi, PA, one of the founders of Steam Trains, but the engines never left Piney River. In June 1966 Steam Trains transferred the title to No. 9 over to their new subsidiary, New Hope & Ivyland Railroad (NH&I) in New Hope, PA. Both engines were ultimately shipped to New Hope, and plans were made to operate No. 9 in excursion service, where the locomotive would retain its VBR number. No. 7's owner however, was forced out of the company in 1967 and the engine was then stored on a back siding in New Hope for several years. VBR 7 Piney River VA Dec. 1965 EHG
Photo Credit: Earle H. Gil, Sr

VBR 7  9 Alexandria VA July 1966
VBR engines 7 & 9 at Alexandria VA, July 1966

VBR 7 at New Hope PA c1967

  In 1970, No. 7 was sold to yet another private individual, who, like the person before him, did not have a good relationship with the NH&I management.   As the 1970's progressed, the locomotive could be found sitting derelict on a remote siding in the woods between Lahaska and Buckingham Valley, PA. It was during this time that various parts and appliances began to disappear from the engine.
In June 1976, the owner of No. 7 directed his attorney to sell the locomotive to the Menair-Fetzer Company with the provision that No. 7 had to be scrapped and not resold as a “complete locomotive” that could be restored. A private agreement was made between the Menair-Fetzer Company and Jimmy McHugh (who was president the NH&I at the time) for No. 7's driving wheels, complete running gear, driving boxes, throttle, air compressor and reversing gear. The McHugh Company then supplied a crane for the disassembly of No. 7. The parts to be saved were weighed and then scrap iron of the same weight was loaded into two Conrail gondolas along with the remains of No. 7 to make up the gross scrap weight needed. Most of the rescued parts were used on No. 9 when it was rebuilt in 1976.  
  The sole reason for No. 7's unfortunate scrapping was because the private owner could not afford to make the necessary repairs to the locomotive to have it moved off the NH&I and he also did not want the NH&I (or anyone else for that matter) to have it as an operating locomotive. Neither the New Hope & Ivyland Railroad, or the McHugh Family had a hand in the scrapping of No. 7 as so many have incorrectly written as first-hand factual information on the internet.
When unlucky No. 7's remains were placed in those gondola cars, and ultimately sent off to a steel mill for reprocessing... it was a very sad end for one of the most widely photographed of all VBR steam locomotives. VBR 7 Piney River VA postcard Aug. 1956 WEW 

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VBR Mortgage Bond Cover C  In late-1984 Alan W. Maples, president of the Everett Railroad of Claysburg, PA purchased the VBR from the original stockholders, who had retained a local accountant to effect the disposal of the railroad and all of its assets. The VBR had a large issue of mortgage bonds held by both the Cobb and Powell families (the major principals in the railroad), as well as substantial accrued interest due on the bonds. Maples paid approximately twenty-five cents on the dollar for the bonds and obtained the VBR stock for a nominal amount. The accrued interest was written off by everyone and there was also a loan due to the Small Business Administration which demanded immediate full payment. VBR Mortgage Bond 
VBR Motor Car  6 in rear Piney River Feb. 1962

VBR Burro Crane Piney River 1962
Maples considered keeping one of the VBR's diesels, but in the end they were both sold off. The only equipment that was retained by the Everett RR was a motor car and the Burro Crane. After the closure of the VBR in 1980, the Cobb family donated some of the corporate records to Cornell University. Still later, more records were donated to the University of Virginia (UVA). Alan Maples honored this policy by donating the remaining VBR files he inherited to UVA as well.
Finally in May 1985, with Alan Maples technically being the last owner and president of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway, the task of removing the rails and crossties was sub-contracted to the Stewart & Inlow Construction Company. With the scrapping of the VBR already in progress it became imperative to get the two remaining locomotives off the property. On April 6, 1985, engines 10 & 12 were fired up and gingerly made one last sad journey over the weed-grown line to Tye River. Fittingly, veteran VBR locomotive engineer Marion Sprouse was at the throttle of No. 10 on the last run. vbr last run 4-6-1985 at roses mill alan maples photo
(Photo Credit Alan Maples)

VBR 10  12 Tye River VA 4-6-1985
(Photo Credit Alan Maples)
VBR Engine House Piney River VA Oct. 1974  After several dismal attempts to dispose of the right-of-way, it was finally sold outright to Amherst, VA attorney Stephen C. Martin who desired the land for a proposed horse trail. Martin had worked with Maples on some of the legal issues with regard to the disposal of the VBR. Years later, Martin became one of the leading proponents of the future Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail

VBR Steam Freight May 1963 FIXED  VBR 9 Steam Freight May 1963

The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway was but a single track line, originally laid out in a typically backwoods rustic fashion, consisting of light rail and very little ballast. During the prosperous era of the 1950's the line from Tye River to Piney River and Westward to the aplite plants was relaid with heavier rail, set upon a solid rock ballast roadbed. The railroad even erected a small facility alongside their Piney River enginehouse where they cut and creosoted their own crossties. The route had many curves and steep grades which severely limited the tonnage that VBR locomotives could pull over the line. Average train lengths, due to the grades involved were about 15 – 30 cars. Long trains would require splitting the train in two (or often three) sections at Roses Mill in order to make the 3% grade near the Tye River interchange. VBR 7 Tye River Water Tank 9-15-1956 copy
VBR Piney River VA Shop 7 inside April 1959 WG
Photo Credit: Walter Grosselfinger
VBR Steam Freight at Piney River Depot may 1963
VBR Depot  Office Dec. 1965 AHam
Photo Credit: Al Hamilton
The corporate offices of the VBR were originally sited at Massies Mill until 1953, when they were relocated to a new brick structure erected next to the Piney River station (originally known as “Canody”). The engine house was also located at Piney River, just West beyond the VA Route 151 (present-day Patrick Henry Highway) grade crossing. It was an area that was visited by many rail photographers over the years, eager to capture on film the steam operations of the VBR, with its friendly train crews, shop and office staff.
VBR - Crew 1957
VBR Crew - Circa 1957

Front Row: (L to R) "Mutt" Dickinson; Bob Jones; George Smith; William Campbell,
brakeman; Earl Napier, brakeman; Jessie Smith (brother to George Smith).

Back Row: Tom Milstead, Master Mechanic; Parker Napier, conductor; Judith Moore;
Richard Morgan; Billy Napier (brother to Parker), locomotive engineer; Mike Drumheller,
Superintendent; Dickie Lawhorne; Marion Sprouse; Joe Leebrick, track foreman.

Photo Credit: Marion Sprouse, Locomotive Engineer, VBR; Courtesy of Paul Saunders - 'Heartbeats of Nelson'
VBR Agent Marion Tunstall Piney River c1978
VBR Agent, Marion Tunstall at Piney River, circa 1978
VBR 8 Piney River Greasing Nov. 1960
VBR No. 8 has its drive rods greased
and lubricated at Piney River, Nov. 1960
 VBR Engineer W.F.Billie Napier w-9 1961
VBR Engineer William F. 'Billie' Napier
waves from the cab of No. 9, circa 1961
 VBR left-Tom Milstead Master Mech. Right-W.F. Billie Napier c1960
(left) VBR Master Mechanic Tom Milstead and
(right) Engineer William F. 'Billie' Napier at Piney River, circa 1960
VBR Engineer Marion Sprouse sm
VBR Engineer Marion Sprouse in the cab of a VBR diesel, circa late-1960's

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The railroad began a slow resurgence when the Southern Mineral Products Corporation (SMP) began extracting titanium dioxide from a deposit of ilmenite ore near Piney River in 1931. SMP established a small mine, mill and chemical plant at Piney River to manufacture titanium dioxide pigment, which is a substitute for white lead in producing paint.

During the early years of processing titanium dioxide, the plant shipped very few hopper car loads since the method of extracting the mineral was new and very costly. For a while, neither the plant nor the railroad prospered from the venture. In 1944 this facility and its mine was acquired by the American Cyanamid Company (ACC). ACC enlarged and modernized the works and for two decades it was the VBR's largest customer. Outbound loads consisted of titanium dioxide pigment. Inbound shipments included coal, sulphur, sulphuric acid, aluminum sulphate, caustic soda, limestone and scrap iron. VBR Southern Minerals Plat 2 7-11-1931
VBR ACC Piney River Plant
Aerial view of American Cyanamid plant at Piney River, VA, mid-1940's
Photo Credit: Stephen Lamanna
Courtesy of Paul Saunders - "Heartbeats of Nelson"
VBR Boxcar Seals
VBR Boxcar Door Seals, circa 1960's
VBR ACC Piney River 8-1959 2  As the years progressed it was determined that foreign ore and domestic waste issues made the Piney River plant non-competitive. On December 9, 1970 American Cyanamid announced that the Piney River facility would be shut down. The final day came on June 15, 1971, and operations were relocated to Savannah, Georgia. With that decision, the revenues of the tiny VBR dropped drastically.

In 1983 the former ACC site was declared a “Superfund Site” when highly toxic pollutants were found in the plant's settling ponds, waste water lagoons and waste disposal areas. Between 1977 and 1981, with the toxins penetrating natural springs flowing into the Piney River, an astonishing 200,000 fish had been killed off as a result of the ACC chemical contamination of the Piney and Tye Rivers.

In 1935 an aplite vein was discovered that extended some 10 to 12 miles along the VBR right-of-way, making it the largest such deposit known to exist in the United States. Aplite, an ore of quartz and feldspar, is used in the manufacture of glass, rock wool insulation and as a flux (or binder) in producing bricks. It is also used in the production of roofing materials.

In 1939, a few years after the aplite was discovered, the Dominion Mineral Division of the Riverton Lime & Stone Company, followed by Carolina Minerals (CM) in 1941, both built plants to extract aplite from the area and used the VBR to haul its product. By 1952 Carolina Minerals became part of the International Minerals & Chemical Company (IMC). In 1959, a third aplite plant, Buffalo Mines, was built just off the VBR line heading toward Massies Mill. A new branch was built to serve that facility, but production problems related to excessive iron content of the deposit soon caused Buffalo Mines to shut down in the early-1960's. VBR - Dominion Plant
Photo Credit: From Brochure
Collection of Mrs. Lee Norvelle;

Courtesy of Paul Saunders - "Heartbeats of Nelson"
VBR Carolina - IMC plant
Photo Credit: Wayne Ferguson
Courtesy of Paul Saunders - "Heartbeats of Nelson"
VBR 7 Piney River Sept. 1959 TFGJr
VBR - IMC Plant Piney River c1978

VBR 9 at Piney River Dominion Aplite plant May 1963 
Although a major revenue earner for the railroad, the aplite plants were a source of environmental concern. Everywhere as far as the eye could see, tracks, ground, buildings, freight cars and trees were covered with white, powdery aplite dust. Fate intervened once again, and in the early-1970's, the Dominion aplite operation closed down, further adding to the decline of the VBR. For a few more years, that left the IMC plant as the only remaining on-line shipper.

Today, the only survivor of the various ore plants at Piney River is the rock-crushing operation at the old Dominion Minerals site. The facility supplies stone for various construction needs and has never required the services of a railroad as all product is shipped via truck. The property has changed ownership several times over the years, and presently it is known as the Boxley Materials Company.

VBR Flood Pix B  VBR Flood Pix C

During the night of August 19-20, 1969 Hurricane Camille devastated Nelson County, causing 153 deaths in that area of Virginia alone, with a world-record rainfall of 27 inches in a 3 – 5 hour period. The rainfall came so fast and so heavily, that birds literally drowned in the trees. Five inches of that deluge came down in an amazing 30 minutes in the North Fork area of the Tye River. Known as “The Flood” by local folk, the hurricane damaged some of the VBR's bridges and twisted miles of track, forcing the railroad to spend hard earned revenue dollars to reopen the line in order to serve its shippers and thereby remain in operation. It was the first of several catastrophic events to hit the VBR in rapid succession followed by the closing of the American Cyanamid and the Dominion Mineral plants. VBR Hurricane Camille Marker 

VBR Flood Pix E  VBR Flood Pix G

VBR 12 SW1 Tye River VA Sept 1978 2 In May 1980, the IMC Chemical Group announced the closing of their aplite plant and mine at Piney River. This was the last of the on-line industries along the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. The railroad was embargoed on July 1, 1980, and was abandoned soon thereafter. The inevitable scrapping of the railroad would bring about a somber end to the 65-year existence of “Th' Blue Ridge”.

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After 'The Great War' ended, the Woodson Mill resumed operations as the Woodson Lumber Company. Although the mill and the VBR were operating again, times were hard, and by 1924 the bandsaw mill had ceased operations. The Leftwich Timber Company carried on until 1944, when it merged with the Tye River Timber Company to become known as Tywich Corporation (Tywich ceased operations in June 1959). The VBR tried to get along during the lean years, but without its raison d'etre...chestnut timber...the railroad struggled to earn revenue by hauling whatever it could that was produced or required by the local population...and this amounted to very little. VBR Stock Coupon 

Inbound loads consisted of orchard supplies, fertilizer and feed. Once in a great while a tank car of gasoline was delivered to a consignee. Outbound traffic saw the movement of acid wood that was used to manufacture tannic acid, which was utilized as an ingredient to stain wood and create dyes for cotton. Among a host of many other applications, the acid also inhibits corrosion in metal.

VBR - Orchard Train 1926

VBR - Apple Picking 1920s
The harvest season brought many outbound carloads of orchard produce. The local orchards in turn required barrels, which were produced in Massies Mill. An apple drying plant was also constructed nearby. Both facilities were served by the VBR.
When the Woodson Lumber Company closed in 1924, the branch to that facility was soon ripped up, as there was absolutely no traffic on that section of the line. By 1926 the number of carloadings had declined to a point that trains operated over the VBR only three days a week. Flooding of the Nelson County area was a constant, and the railroad found itself the victim of track damage and washouts many times over the course of its lifetime. VBR ROW Lowesville VA 2004

The Great Depression that began in 1929 hit the VBR particularly hard. A major flood that same year destroyed miles of track and several bridges were washed away. For a time, it seemed as if the VBR would soon fade into history. Through the awarding of a $106,000 Federal loan to finance the repairs, the VBR managed to stay afloat.

VBR Excess baggage ticket  The passenger service that was started in 1916 with one combination baggage / passenger car (that was segregated by race), ended in 1936. Though used frequently by mill workers and folks heading for further destinations via the Southern Railway connection, the time came when there were no longer enough fares to justify the continuation of service. VBR - Mixed Train 1916
 

For a while the VBR hauled a small amount of pulpwood and farm products, but the arrival of paved highways to the area brought about a quick end to this traffic.

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Earle - Blue Ridge Mts 2 For 65 years a railroad that at one time measured but 16 miles in length, made its way through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Nelson County in central Virginia. On this railroad during the 1950's and early-1960's ran five, well-maintained coal-burning steam locomotives that incredibly, escaped the scrapper's torch by what can only be described as sheer luck. Today, two of the steam locomotives of the fabled Virginia Blue Ridge Railway (VBR) survive at the Whippany Railway Museum in Northern New Jersey, while a third one is preserved in South Jersey.
"Th' Blue Ridge” as the VBR was known by the locals, was a unique shortline railroad nestled deep in the rolling hills of its namesake mountain range. Its stable of steam locomotives shunted and moved freight over the thickly forested mountains and valleys between the tiny hamlets of Tye River, Piney River and Massies Mill, VA. VBR 1964 Calendar 2

VBR Stock Certificate

VBR - R.G. Leftwich  The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway was incorporated on May 22, 1914 and was originally built to haul American Chestnut timber out of the Piney River area for two lumber companies, the Tye River Timber Company and the Leftwich Timber Company. Both firms recognized the need for access to markets along the east coast, thereby requiring a local railroad to connect the mills with the sprawling Southern Railway (SR) at the village of Tye River. New York timber entrepreneur John W. Powell and Virginia businessman R. Gilmore Leftwich were the individuals who in 1912, first envisioned the building of the mills, and also promoted the construction of a railroad to haul the finished product to market.
 VBR - J.W. Powell

VBR Chestnut

VBR blue ridge

VBR-Tye River Timber Stock
The Tye River Timber Company (TRT) was a Virginia Corporation that owned the rights to 11,000 acres of timber in the Cub Creek area, which the TRT later sold to the Bee Tree Lumber Company (BTL). This land was estimated to contain at least 100 million board feet of poplar, chestnut and oak timber.
BTL was created to run the Massies Mill timber operation and its companion bandsaw mill. Bee Tree Lumber Company was a West Virginia Corporation that ceased operations in 1922 after all the timber had been harvested from Cub Creek. VBR Bee Tree Lumber Mill - Massies Mill - circa 1920
VBR Leftwich Timber Mill 1916

VBR-LeftwichTimber Stock
The Leftwich Timber Company (LTC) was a second holding company formed to secure timber rights and arrange with another company to construct a band mill to produce the lumber. The LTC owned timber rights to about 12,000 acres of land. In 1915 a modern bandsaw mill was set up at Woodson, VA to produce fresh cut lumber from the harvested timber.
The initial laying of ten miles of track that would become the rail line that would serve the mills began at Tye River in January 1915 and followed the Tye River itself westward to a point where the line crossed the river at its confluence with the Piney River. The railroad was soon completed to Piney River, though very haphazardly. Legend has it that land owners would talk the VBR's purchasing agent out of pieces of property that the construction engineers had surveyed as the preferred route. Later still, it is said that the construction crews were directed by their foreman to build the tracks where he thought they should go, not where the route was laid out by the surveyors or where the actual purchases of land had been obtained. The slipshod construction of the early VBR was to be the cause of many derailments some years later when the hastily-laid crossties began to rot. VBR - Tye River SRy 1914 postcard 

VBR - Construction Steam Shovel 8-1916 Lowesville VA VBR Derailment

VBR Map  In 1916, a six mile extension was constructed to Massies Mill, VA where the railroad set up its company office and shop. The line later branched out to Lowesville, VA and into the mountains. At the height of its existence the VBR served the rural towns of Massies Mill, Lowesville, Woodson and Piney River...all located in Nelson County, as well as Roses Mill in Amherst County.
VBR - Massies Mill General Office  Depot 1917
VBR Massies Mill, VA General Office & Depot, 1917
VBR - Lowesville Depot 1916
VBR Lowesville, VA Depot 1916
With the construction of the railroad complete, there was a great urgency to get timber crews up into the forests. A devastating chestnut blight that had its origins in 1904 on Long Island, NY had killed off nearly all the living chestnut trees throughout the Northeast as well as on the mountains of Virginia. The lumberjacks quickly worked the dying forests in order to harvest the timber before it could deteriorate further. VBR Chestnut Blight 2 

In December 1917, when all of America's railroads were nationalized during World War I, the two lumber mills at Woodson and Massies Mill were declared non-essential to the war effort and the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway was shut down until after the Armistice was declared in November 1918.

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Museum Hours Of Operation

Museum Building

April thru October Noon - 4:00 PM

The Whippany Railway Museum is open to the public Sundays Only

During our Special Events, the Museum is open from 12 Noon - 4:00 PM. On these special days, the train generally operates at 1:00, 2:00, 3:00 & 4:00 PM. Please check our Event Calendar for a complete list of dates, fares and train schedules.

Admission Fees

Adults: $2.00
Children under 12: $1.00

The Whippany Railway Museum is a non-profit, educational organization that relies entirely on admission fees to support our historic preservation efforts, as well as building, grounds and artifact maintenance. Every visitor is expected to purchase an admission badge if they wish to explore the Museum Building, Rolling Stock Collection and Grounds.

New Jersey's State Assembly
Applauds Whippany Railway Museum
 
New Jersey's State Assembly Applauds Whippany Railway Museum
Click image to Enlarge
 

Running trains comes naturally to us, but thanks to the efforts of Assemblyman Alex DeCroce, on April 2, 2011, this official Proclamation of work well done was presented to all the volunteers of the Whippany Railway Museum.  These dedicated individuals have spent thousands of hours since the Museum's inception in 1965 to overhaul, maintain and display historic railroad exhibits for the enjoyment of the public.  The volunteers have also operated in those four decades, hundreds of holiday and historic excursion trains for passengers of all ages, to keep the mystique of New Jersey Railroading alive, vivid and pleasurable.

 

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To Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the January 7, 1905 Official Opening of the Morristown & Erie Railroad's Whippany, NJ Station & General Office, the Whippany Railway Museum has once again commissioned the talented husband and wife artist team of Mary & Barry Shiff to create another Limited-Edition Print that pays tribute to this true Local Landmark structure.

Built by local contractor D.H. Grimes during the latter part of 1904, the beautiful 32-by-60 foot fieldstone station is depicted in this scene hosting a group of skaters enjoying a Winter outing on the frozen natural pond that once was located directly in front of the depot. In the background, M&ERR Engine No. 2 (nicknamed 'The Dinky'), rolls into the station with the mid-day local consisting of Combination Baggage/Passenger Car No. 400. It could be that some of the passengers are headed eastward to Essex Fells to reach a connecting Erie RR train for Jersey City and the ferry boats to Manhattan.

The Shiffs, who have created a wealth of early-1900's views of Northern New Jersey rail stations that have proven to be very popular, worked with the Museum by using period photographs, archival maps and documents to ensure that the details would be authentic. This scene is actually based on an early-1950's photograph taken by the late Anthony "Tony" Russomanno, a longtime Whippany resident who photographed the local scene for many decades.

winter-scene-original

Proceeds from the sale of this print go directly towards the maintenance and enhancement of the Whippany Railway Museum's exhibits, artifacts and Rolling Stock Collection.

These Limited Edition Prints are available only through the Museum and come in a handsome mat for instant framing in two popular sizes: 11"x14" and 16"x20".

To purchase either one of these prints, visit the Museum's Gift Shop, or you may order by mail...

"Whippany Station - Winter 1908", 11"x14" print $35.00 each
"Whippany Station - Winter 1908", 16"x20" print $50.00 each

New Jersey residents please add 6% sales tax.
Shipping: $10.00 for the first print, add $1.00 for each additional.
Please allow 3 weeks for delivery.
Send a check or money order only (sorry, no credit cards accepted) to:
Whippany Railway Museum
P.O. Box 16
Whippany, NJ 07981-0016

 

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In Celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the 1904 construction of the Morristown & Erie Railroad's Whippany, NJ Freight House, the Whippany Railway Museum has commissioned the talented husband and wife artist team of Mary & Barry Shiff of Fort Lee, NJ to create this lovely, limited-edition rendition of the Historic structure that today serves as the Museum's headquarters.

Erected at the turn-of-the-last-century by local builders Hopler & Grimes (who also built the M&E's Morristown, NJ freight and passenger stations; D.H. Grimes built the handsome fieldstone passenger station at Whippany), the Freight House was originally located at the M&E's Whippany Yard on the "station-side" of the tracks, just west of the water tank. The building was moved to its present-day site, opposite the passenger station, in 1967 when development of the area threatened its demolition.

The watercolor scene as created by the Shiffs is historically accurate, as it shows the Whippany Yard as it appeared around 1916, with the "house track" (the track that led to the Freight House) stub-ending just west of the passenger depot, as well as the long-gone siding that once terminated at the western base of the water tank. Morristown & Erie Engine No. 1, built in 1908, completes the vignette as it leads a short freight westbound through Whippany. The Shiffs, who have created a wealth of early-1900's views of Northern New Jersey rail stations that have proven to be very popular, worked with the Museum by using period phootgraphs, archival maps and documents to insure that the details would be authentic.

Proceeds from the sale of this print go directly towards the maintenance and enhancement of the Whippany Railway Museum's Exhibits, Artifacts and Rolling Stock Collection.

These Limited Edition Prints are available only through the Museum and come in a handsome mat for instant framing in two popular sizes: 11"x14" and 16"x20".

To purchase either one of these prints, visit the Museum's Gift Shop, or you may order by mail...

"Whippany Freight House", 11"x14" print $35.00 each
"Whippany Freight House", 16"x20" print $50.00 each

New Jersey residents please add 6% sales tax.

Shipping: $10.00 for the first print, add $1.00 for each additional.

Please allow 3 weeks for delivery.

Send a check or money order only (sorry, no credit cards accepted) to:

Whippany Railway Museum
P.O. Box 16
Whippany, NJ 07981-0016

 

BECOME A VOLUNTEER AT THE WHIPPANY RAILWAY MUSEUM

  

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The Whippany Railway Museum is a museum of volunteers. Volunteers weld, saw, mix concrete, paint, sell souvenirs, punch tickets, handle crowds, run excursions, preserve and restore our historic rolling stock, and do the myriad of things our living museum needs. It's work, but it's fun!

 

 

A few volunteers have worked for railroads, but most just wish they had. Some have professional skills such as electrical, mechanical, welding, painting, carpentry, sheet metal or other crafts, and some are just generally handy. All bring enthusiasm!

 

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If you have a strong work ethic and would like to volunteer or find out more about volunteering at the Museum, ask any volunteer, or call ex-Air Force mechanic Alan Wishengrad at 973-632-7350, or send Alan an e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. He can tell you about the many volunteer opportunities at the Museum. All volunteers need to be at least 21 years of age or older. All volunteers must be able to perform the physical tasks involved safely, particularly around the potentially hazardous environment of a live, working railroad. Come live with the trains!

 

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Remembering Earle Richard Henriquez-Gil, Sr.
Museum Founding & Charter Member & Trustee
December 24, 1928 – June 8, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Steven P. Hepler

Earle - 1986
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In 1959, while visiting the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway (VBR) in Piney River, VA, Earle and his son, Earl, Jr. climbed into the cab of rusting VBR locomotive No. 6 that was parked on the “scrap track”, forlornly sleeping out her final days. Earle said to his son, “...this engine will never run again...” After taking several photos of the old locomotive, they left the property and made their way back to New Jersey. VBR No. 6 was originally built by the Baldwin Locomotive Works in November 1907 for the Southern Railway as their No. 385. The locomotive was a classic early-20th Century 2-8-0 “Consolidation” fast freight engine. It had come to the Virginia Blue Ridge in 1952 where she labored in local freight service for several more years before being retired. VBR 6 (385) 1959 L

VBR 6 (385) Piney River 1957 J
Earle Gil - CN Letter 1960
Click to Enlarge
By the early 1960's, with plans forming in his mind to begin his own steam-powered excursion line, Earle explored the possibility of purchasing a Canadian National 2-8-0 for $6,000. He also considered an Illinois Central 2-6-0, but held back since at the time, he had no place to operate a locomotive, or store one.

CN 2676
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On a return trip to the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway early in 1963, Earle noted that No. 6 (385) was still on the property and had yet to be scrapped. Through the rust and decay, Earle saw a true American- built beauty, worthy of being saved and restored to operation. Earle eventually purchased the old locomotive and had it shipped to the Morristown & Erie Railroad at Morristown, NJ where he renumbered the engine back to its original “385”. Within three months of delivery, Earle had completely overhauled the locomotive (including the conversion from coal to oil firing), and on September 21, 1963, No. 385 was operating once again under its own steam. When the men of the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway saw the subsequent photographs of the restored 385, they could hardly believe that it was their Old No. 6 back in operation again. They were so impressed that for the next several years, the annual VBR Company calendar proudly featured their former engine operating “up North” on the Morris County Central. VBR 6 (385) 1963 M

385 First Steam up 9-21-63 4

VBR 1971 Calendar

MCC 385 5-9-65 (DW 1) On May 9, 1965, No. 385 departed Whippany, bound for Morristown with the first trainload of revenue passengers on the Morris County Central Railroad. After a very successful first season, Earle returned to the Virginia Blue Ridge in late-1965 and purchased their locomotive No. 5, an 0-6-0 switching engine built by the American Locomotive Company in November 1942 as U.S. Army No. 4039.
No. 4039 came to the VBR in 1947 and hauled freight until August 1963 when she too was retired. Earle renumbered his second locomotive back to its original “4039”. In the late-Summer of 1966 the “new” MCC locomotive was back in operation, working alongside No. 385, pulling passengers out of Whippany. The MCC's reputation became established in Whippany as a wonderful place for people of all ages to visit. The clean, family-friendly atmosphere reflected Earle's leadership and characteristics. With the assistance of his loyal crew of company directors, employees and volunteers, the Morris County Central continually grew, amassing a fine collection of locomotives and rolling stock. Each year, returning visitors would see something different at the site...whether a newly-acquired piece of equipment or some improvement to the property or in the type of entertainment provided to the public.

Earle - 4039 1966 1st Day

VBR 5 (4039) F Piney River, VA 5-28-50

Earle - Coach Interior 1965

Earle Gil - 385 1966

Earle Gil N 4039 1967

Earle Gil - 385 July 1973 SM
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After nine years at the Whippany location, Earle and his company officers made the decision to relocate the entire operation 25 miles to the Northwest at Newfoundland, NJ on an unused (at the time) section of the New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad. In December 1973, every piece of rolling stock owned by the MCC was prepared for the move and gathered together as one train. Engines 385 and 4039 were fired up and assisted diesels in leading the vintage collection of freight and passenger equipment over the Erie Lackawanna Railway and the Lehigh & Hudson River Railway to the new location. After a three-month Winter lay-over in Sparta, NJ, both steam locomotives powered the train over Sparta Mountain and down into Newfoundland. On July 4, 1974 the Morris County Central Railroad reopened to the public at the new location.

MCC 4039 Final Day 12-14-80 SH

Final Run of the Morris County Central, 12-14-80

Though the future looked promising for the MCC at Newfoundland, the economics and the recurring gasoline shortages of the late-1970's brought an end to the Morris County Central. Earle Gil's dream and consuming passion ended its days as an operating railroad on December 14, 1980.
The MCC had come to a close, but Earle did not sit idle. He was a founder, Charter Member and Trustee of the Whippany Railway Museum, where he could be found on weekends, lending his talents and expertise. He was equally at home working onboard the train, conversing with passengers, selling tickets, or most of the time, busily working to restore or repair a car or engine in the the Museum's collection.

Earle - Work 2005

Earle Gil - Don Van Court 12-12-2004

Extremely gifted, he was one of those individuals that could create nearly anything that he set his mind to. He became an expert at wood crafting and found the work relaxing and profitable...selling many of his creations at local craft shows and markets.

Earle could produce nearly any number of items from lumber. He built full-size, “four-poster” Victorian-style beds for friends and acquaintances...rebuilt sofas, chairs and other unique items...all in his fully-equipped home machine shop.

 

Earle - Shop

Earle Shanty

Earle Gil U Building Ticket Office 7-11-2004 Earle Gil 1 Garage 8-31-2006

For the Museum, his talents were immeasurable. In late-2003, using early 20th Century diagrams from the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR), Earle first built a recreation of a 1911 Railroad Crossing Watchbox. This was followed in 2004 by a wonderful replica of a 1905 PRR Scale House, which serves as the Museum's Ticket Office. A reproduction of a 1909 PRR lineside Telephone Booth was also created in 2004. In September 2006, while in the midst of a grueling six-month round of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Earle kept active by building a 20' x 24' garage for the Museum's 1948 International Coal Delivery Truck. The garage perfectly compliments the Museum's 1904 Freight House in style and construction.

Earle Gil V Building Booth 9-2004 Earle Gil 2 Garage 9-4-2006

For the better part of 2004 – 2006, Earle led a group of capable volunteers in a renewed effort to complete the interior restoration of the wood work on the Museum's former Central Railroad of New Jersey “Commuter Club Car” 'Jersey Coast'. This work involved finding the proper materials to match what remained of the original, but heavily-damaged inlaid-wood that is a feature of the car. Earle selected the types and grades of lumber required to replace what had been destroyed by vandals and the elements. Through Earle's efforts, the other members of the restoration crew were able to follow behind him, and replicate the original 1927 interior paint and stain tints. All 40 window frames in the car were fashioned from mahogany by Earle in his home workshop.

Earle - Jersey Coast 4-2005 3

Earle - Jersey Coast 4-2005 2

Earle - Jersey Coast 1-30-2005 1

Earle with Antique Pickup Truck 2006

Earle - Farm 1 As if Earle's passion for railroading were not enough, late in life he discovered yet another interest and started to amass a fine collection of vintage farm equipment, including tractors, Amish buggies, buck-board wagons and a restored, operating antique pick-up truck.
But it is the Morris County Central Railroad that will be his legacy. Though the Railroad and its creator are no longer with us, the MCC is remembered as a highly-respected example of what a conscientious group of individuals, led by a true visionary could accomplish. Armed with moderate resources and good taste, the MCC excelled in the efforts to preserve historic railroad equipment and present to the public a bit of bygone Americana. MCC 4039 - 385 Whippany 11-13-66 D RZ
Earle- MCC Train Wave
Click to Enlarge
In the closing sequence of “The Rise and Fall of the Morris County Central Railroad”, Earle is once again featured, and gives his final thoughts and memories of the MCC:

““We did a lot of school work – Cub Scout work, Boy Scouts. So, there's a lot of small kids that never rode a train or much less saw one that finally were able to have that happen to them. It kind of chokes me up a little bit...”

(there is a slight pause as Earle collects himself, but then comes on strong as he finishes his thought)

“It's a part of Americana, and if you don't have people that are willing to take a chance and do it – work on a dream – then nothing would ever happen.”

Remembering Earle Richard Henriquez-Gil, Sr.
Museum Founding & Charter Member & Trustee
December 24, 1928 – June 8, 2007
Copyright 2007 by Steven P. Hepler

Earle - 1986
Page 1 2

 

“Anything in this world begins with a Dream. Earle Gil had such a Dream.”

MCC DVD Cover
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So began the opening narration of the 1990 Hopewell Productions video documentary, “The Rise and Fall of the Morris County Central Railroad”. In the opening scene, as the voice-over continues, Earle is seen lovingly polishing the headlight from 'Old Number 385', on display at the the Whippany Railway Museum. During the next few minutes, Earle gives the viewers an insight into how he came to be a key player in the Railroad Preservation movement during the early 1960's.

MCC Video Ad Oct. 1990 SM
Click to Enlarge

“I've always been interested in Railroading. Steam was starting to die in the United States, and I wanted to be a part of preserving it.”

For the better part of nearly a half a century, Earle was always on the go, whether in the thick of it at the Morris County Central (MCC) at Whippany or later at Newfoundland, NJ., or sometimes many miles away, in the background, but always thinking of the Railroads of old, and his beloved Steam Locomotives. egb
(left) Bob Sutton on 385 & (right) Earle Gil on 4039
Earle PRR Caboose Earle's final years were spent actively working at the Museum, helping to repair and restore any number of things from locomotives and rolling stock to creating new exhibits for the visiting public to enjoy. It seemed as if Earle would go on forever. His energy was boundless, his talents and enthusiasm for what he was doing was immeasurable. But the “Old Man” (as he was affectionately nick-named) grew tired. He worked feverishly to complete so many things in so little time. After an 18-month battle with cancer, Earle passed away on Friday, June 8, 2007.

Earle Gil X ME 1 8-24-2006

Earle was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1928 in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey to Carlos and Dorothy Henriquez-Gil, the seventh of seven children. His Father, Carlos Henriquez-Gil was born in Madrid, Spain and was said to have been a brilliant individual...having graduated college at the age of 16. As an adult, Carlos was employed as the Export Manager for the A.C. Gilbert Co., the makers of the legendary American Flyer model trains and the equally famous Erector Sets.

Earle Gil C - father, Carlos 1931

Earle Gil B - mother Dorothy 100 Blvd.E. Mt.Lks 1929

Earle Gil F Family (Earle on left) 1933
Earle Gil D 'Thornwood' 4 Whip.Rd. Motown

Earle Gil E - Chappie 1936
Earle with his cat 'Chappie', circa 1936
Several years after Earle's birth, the family moved to “Thornwood Farms” at number 4 Whippany Road, Morristown, NJ. The 28-room farmhouse with its 11 fireplaces was on an idyllic setting where the family raised horses, chickens and sheep. From all accounts the family lived comfortably, even during the darkest days of the Great Depression of the 1930's. Photos still exist of a young Earle sitting at the controls of his extensive American Flyer model railroad set up in a large, upper room of the farmhouse.

Earle Gil G Train Layout 1938

During his high school years, Earle went to work at a local drugstore...his first paid job. The years flew on, and as warclouds gathered across foreign lands, people everywhere wondered how long America would be able to remain a neutral bystander as the Axis Powers marched across Europe and the Pacific. It didn't take long, as the U.S. joined the global conflict after its Naval base at Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941. Due to his age, Earle narrowly missed serving in World War II, but when he turned 18, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He received his basic training at Fort Dix, NJ and was stationed in Occupied Japan for a short period of time. Earle Gil K Military 2 10-18-1946

Circa 1946

Earle Gil J Military 1 1946

Circa 1946

At the end of his military tour of duty and honorable discharge, Earle returned home to New Jersey and soon began dating Virginia Esposito.

When Earle and Virginia married on May 7, 1950 they lived in the huge barn at 'Thornwood' farm for several months until their new home was built in Morris Plains, NJ. Earle converted the loft of the barn into living quarters, complete with a 28' x 15' bedroom, living room, kitchen, balcony, and eventually a bathroom. The barn was so large that the ground floor could accommodate eight large automobiles. Earle wound up enclosing the rambling porch of the farmhouse and that became the “Railroad Room” for his growing collection of American Flyer and H.O. gauge model trains and railroad memorabilia.
Earle Gil American Flyer layout 1952
Earle Gil - Virginia 5-7-50 2
In May 1952 Earle mailed a short letter to the Morristown & Erie Railroad (M&E), inquiring about job opportunities. At the time there were no positions available, but years later Earle would find himself working for the M&E as the General Maintenance Foreman during the early-1970's. Times have certainly changed from those long-ago days when a person could make a contact and personal introduction for a job with just a few strokes of a pen and a simple letter of inquiry. Earle Gil - M-E Letter 1952
Click to Enlarge
Earle Gil - Carlos - Dorothy 1953 CA In the early-1950's Carlos and Dorothy moved to California and later, Florida. By the end of the decade, Earle and Virginia were living in a larger, newer home in Parsippany, NJ with their children Earl, Jr. and Nancy (Susan would arrive a bit later on). Sadly, “Thornwood Farms” by then empty, was soon to fall to the wrecking ball.

Earle Gil - Family 1963

Throughout the 1950's and early 1960's Earle and his family would travel throughout Canada and the Southeastern United States, in an effort to witness and document on film, the final steam-powered operations of the large Canadian railways and the unique American shortline railroads that hauled coal, lumber and industrial products through the rural areas they served. Earle, Nancy - Earl, Jr. at Edaville
Earle - BC-G 1

Earle - Graham County RR Shay No. 1926 1962 A

Earle CP 4-4-4

Earle's photos, slides and home movies of the final steam operations of such American rail icons like the Buffalo Creek & Gauley, the Graham County Railroad, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina R.R., as well as the huge steam locomotives running out their last miles on the Canadian National and Canadian Pacific are historic in their own right. He also documented many of the famous Reading Railroad “Iron Horse Rambles” of the early 1960's.

Earle - ET-WNC 207 B

Earle - CN 4-8-4 No. 6233 C

Earle - RDG IHR 1

 

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Disclaimer and Terms of Service

The Whippany Railway Museum, Inc. and WhippanyRailwayMuseum.net make no warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the content, information, or services provided herein. All material contained herein is subject to change without notice.

WhippanyRailwayMuseum.net is owned by the Whippany Railway Museum, Inc. Opinions and viewpoints are those of staff members or authors and may not necessarily reflect those of Museum members, Officers, Trustees, or W.Ry.M., Inc.

The Museum is a Non-Profit Organization that is not part of the State, County or Local Government of New Jersey and is operated solely by Musuem Volunteers for the general public.

The Whippany Railway Museum, Inc. reserves the right to substitute equipment or to cancel any or all operations or trains at its discretion. The Museum is not a common carrier; its rail operations are for demonstration purposes only. The Museum reserves the right to refuse admission when deemed appropriate. The Museum is not responsible for accidents incurred on the Museum's property or lack of sufficient capacity.

Due to the volume of orders and sold out trips, there will be NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES ON ANY TICKETS. Please be sure of your schedule before you place your order. Once your order is placed the sale is FINAL.

Trips will run regardless of weather -- rain, snow, sleet, or shine. Unless the Governor of NJ declares a weather state of emergency or the Morristown & Erie Railway determines it cannot safely operate the trains, our trains will run. In the event of poor weather, allow yourself extra travel time to get to the station. In case of cold weather, wear temperature-appropriate clothing. If a weather emergency is declared, the trip will be canceled and all money will be refunded -- there will be no rescheduling of trips.

Allow enough time to get to Whippany, park, and get your tickets BEFORE departure time. Trains will leave on time. There will be traffic delays and parking delays -- make sure you arrive early enough to get to the train on time.

Diesel engines are noisy – the whistle, horn and bells are loud. The decibel level is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration, FRA. If loud noises bother or scare your child, be aware and discuss this with your child before boarding the train.

The Club Car is located right behind the engine and the noise tends to be louder in this car, especially in the warmer months when the windows are open. Take this into consideration when purchasing Club Car tickets.

All passengers are expected to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner. Any passenger acting in an unruly or disruptive manner will be asked to leave. This is subjective and solely at the discretion of the Conductor.

There is NO ALCOHOL, DRUGS or WEAPONS allowed on the train. Any found will be confiscated and the passenger asked to leave.

In the event of an emergency, all passengers are expected to follow the safety instructions of the train crew and assist where possible.

For more information, please call (973) 887-8177(Recorded message) or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Mailing address: Whippany Railway Museum, Inc., P.O. Box 16, Whippany, NJ 07981-0016

Remembering Our Origins:
A Salute to the Morris County Central Railroad
Copyright 2000 by Steven P. Hepler



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Once situated in Newfoundland, Gil spearheaded the construction of an enginehouse and new shop/maintenance facilities at Green Pond Junction (the one-time interchange between the Susquehanna and the Jersey Central's “Wharton & Northern” line). In time, improvements to the MCC staging area at Newfoundland were also made, such as loading platform, restrooms, gift shop caboose and snack car facilities. The station itself, however, was not owned by the MCC, and its owner, strangely enough, never permitted the MCC to repair or restore the classic wooden depot, built in 1872, even when Earle Gil offered to maintain the structure at his Railroad's expense. The station remained an unfortunate eyesore throughout the MCC's existence at Newfoundland.
(John A. Snogans photo)







The route of the Susquehanna line took the MCC's trains through a scenic area overlooking the Oak Ridge Reservoir, through woodlands, around a horseshoe curve, as well as a series of “S”-curves and across several bridged rivers and streams. Though the popularity of this impressive ride over a railroad originally constructed in the 1870s and its closeness to the New York metropolitan area seemed to assure its success, the economics and the recurring gasoline shortages of the late 1970s were a harbinger of defeat for the Morris County Central.
Earle Gil's dream of a preserved, operating, historic steam-powered railroad ended on December 14, 1980 when Locomotive No. 4039 pulled the Railroad's last two revenue runs from Newfoundland to Stockholm, NJ and return. Overwhelmed by skyrocketing costs and the looming spectre of major, heavy repairs needed for the steam locomotives, the MCC closed the final chapter of a 15-year run on that date.

 

 

Today, the MCC is remembered as a highly-respected example of what a conscientious group of individuals, led by a true visionary, could accomplish with moderate resources and good taste in a effort to preserve historic railroad equipment and present to the public a bit of bygone Americana. For this we owe our thanks to Earle Gil and the MORRIS COUNTY CENTRAL RAILROAD.

 

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Photo Collage

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Remembering Our Origins:
A Salute to the Morris County Central Railroad
Copyright 2000 by Steven P. Hepler

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The Morris County Central was based in Whippany for nine years, and in time earned a reputation as a clean, family attraction. Operation of the Sunday-only trains was expanded to Saturdays as well in 1966, and in 1971 the train began running seven days a week during the Summer months.



Additionally, on May 15, 1966, the train began running east over the M&E to Roseland, NJ instead of Morristown... providing a bit more in the way of scenery, and featured the thrill of crossing over the Passaic River on a high wooden trestle.

 

As the 1960s evolved into the 1970s, one could notice the marked improvements in the operation and development of the MCC and its satellite functions, such as the museum, the souvenir shop, the snack car, the picnic grove, public facilities, etc.

 



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Visitors showed their appreciation for these improvements by continually patronizing the MCC and praising the efforts of Earle Gil and his staff.
Though the Morris County Central won approval with the public, the MCC's relationship with the Morristown & Erie's management of the early 1970s was becoming somewhat strained. As a result of looking for a new route on which to run his trains, Gil and his Board of Directors decided in late 1973 to lease a 10-mile section of unused New York, Susquehanna & Western Railroad trackage running between Newfoundland and Beaver Lake, NJ.



The entire MCC operation was packed up and moved to the new location over a long rail journey that would take four months to complete owing to bad weather, track conditions on the unused section of the Susquehanna, and just plain bad luck.
Before the MCC could be opened to the public at its new site, the heavy brush along the right-of-way had to be cut and new siding had to be laid. The station area and the train itself were made ready for Opening Day.


On July 4, 1974, Jefferson Township Mayor Ralph Atkinson cut the ribbon opening the “NEW” Morris County Central Railroad. It had been exactly 221 days after the final closing trip at Whippany. Hundreds of applauding and waving people came out along the line to cheer on Engines 385 and 4039 as they chugged and jubilantly whistled by on their first run. The image of the train rolling along signaled the return of steam passenger service to the area, and the promise of a new era in the life of the MCC.

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Remembering Our Origins:
A Salute to the Morris County Central Railroad
Copyright 2000 by Steven P. Hepler
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By the early 1960s, with plans already formed in his head to begin his own steam excursion railroad, Gil was tempted to purchase a Canadian National 2-8-0 for $6,000. He also had his eyes on an Illinois Central 2-6-0, but he did not make a move since he had no place to operate a steam locomotive, much less store one.

On a subsequent return trip to the VBR early in 1963, Gil again saw No. 6, which was still awaiting her fate. Through the rust and decay he saw a true American-built beauty, worthy of restoration and a return to life. Earle ultimately purchased the old engine, and had it shipped to the Morristown & Erie R.R. at Morristown, NJ where he renumbered it to its original “385.”



Within an incredible 3 months, Gil had completely overhauled the engine (including the conversion from coal-burning to oil-firing), and on September 21, 1963, it was operating again under its own steam. What makes this restoration even more impressive was the fact that Earle had never worked on a steam locomotive before this, and basically gained experience as he went along with the project. A huge pile of technical books relating to steam locomotives, and the assistance of steam boiler experts helped immeasurably in seeing the restoration through to completion.
Gil divided his time between rebuilding the engine and going around to the various railroads in the north Jersey area seeking permission to run his train. One railroad that felt that Gil's idea was worth a try was the 11-mile long Morristown & Erie Railroad (M&E), located in the center of Morris County.




Gil received permission in 1964 to operate over the M&E from Whippany to Morristown, and after the New Jersey Public Utilities Commission had made its approval, he purchased four Jersey Central commuter coaches of 1915 vintage and a wooden caboose built in 1923 from the Pennsylvania Railroad. After the rolling stock was restored and painted, the new railroad was incorporated as the Morris County Central and was ready to operate on a trial basis for one year, running on Sundays and holidays. Gil had hoped that a financially successful tourist steam train would justify the great expense involved in keeping one of these magnificent machines alive.

On May 9, 1965, No. 385, the four coaches and caboose departed Morristown and headed to Whippany to pick up the MCC's first revenue passengers. By the end of the first day, close to 1,300 people had been carried back to railroading's Golden Age.



After a very promising and successful first season, Gil went back to the Virginia Blue Ridge in late 1965 and purchased their locomotive No. 5. This was an 0-6-0 switching engine built by the American Locomotive Company of Schenectady, NY in November 1942 as U.S. Army No. 4039 (the engine is now owned by the Whippany Railway Museum).

 

No. 4039 came to the VBR in 1947 and hauled freight until August 1963 when it was retired after the VBR made the conversion to diesel locomotives. When Gil acquired his second steam locomotive it was still in operating condition. He renumbered it back to its original “4039” and converted it to burn oil, just as he had done with No. 385.

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