Virginia Museum of Transportation Celebrates Virginian Railway

L.D. Gregory in the Ellett, VA depot at VMT.
L.D. Gregory in the Ellett, VA depot at VMT.

One of the most unique and fascinating rail stories in America was celebrated last Saturday at the Virginia Museum of Transportation. The Museum showcased various Virginian Railway equipment and artifacts throughout the day while knowledgeable hosts and docents were on hand to describe the history and operation of the railway.

“The Virginian Railway is one of our least often told transportation stories in the Commonwealth,” said Beverly T. Fitzpatrick, Jr. executive director of the VMT. “Our hope is that people [continue to] come out and learn about this fascinating piece of Virginia history.”

 The Virginian Railway was founded in 1907 to transport high quality “smokeless” bituminous coal from southern West Virginia to the port at Hampton Roads. “The Mountains to Sea” railway was known for its efficiencies in the mountains, across the rolling piedmont and into the flat tidewater terrain. Known for operating some of the largest and best steam, electric, and diesel motive power, it was nicknamed the “Richest Little Railroad in the World.” The Virginian Railway merged with the Norfolk & Western Railway in 1959.

On display during Virginian Rail Day were: Virginian Railway’s steam locomotive #4, the sole remaining Virginian steam locomotive, Class EL-C, General Electric Rectifier #135, one of the Virginian Railway’s last locomotives from the 1950s, Virginian Railway Class C-10 Caboose #321, built in 1949 by the St. Louis Car Company and a Virginian Railway Sheffield Motor Car built in 1921, fully restored and presented as though in service in the mid-1950s in a “living history” presentation by Aubrey Wiley.

The actual train order station from Ellett, VA near Christiansburg from the 1950s was also available for viewing. Before the days of cell phones and other communication methods, engineers’ instructions were sent by Morse Code to the train order station. The telegraph operator wrote out the instructions and held them up on a long pole for the engineer to grab through the locomotive’s open window.

Special prints of Virginian equipment by Andy Fletcher, the Museum’s artist in residence are available. Contact the museum for more information: 540/342.5670.