Growing up in the Kanawha Valley….
Just a short introduction here. The following has been contributed by a friend of mine F Douglas (Doug Bess) Jr., who grew up in the Kanawha valley. Doug has an extensive knowledge of the area, is a retired railroader with NS, and has an excellent website which I hope you’ll check out at: http://wvrails.net/
On February 2, 1948 I was born in Huntington, WV at St Mary’s Hospital. My dad was a student at Marshall College (now University) and Mom stayed at home. We lived in my paternal grandparents home until 1950 when Dad graduated with high honors. He had an engineering degree with a minor in chemistry. So his first job landed him in the chemical industry in the Kanawha Valley town of Nitro located 40 miles east of Huntington. The company he began with was General Chemical Company which was a part of Allied Chemical located in the chemical complex in Nitro. It specialized in industrial acids. Among other industries there was Monsanto, Ohio Apex and FMC.
When we moved to Nitro in 1950 I was two years old. Mom and Dad’s first house was a rental on 9th Street. It was owned then by the Nitro Industrial Corp. Even at two years old I was already interested in railroading. Our rental home was about a block and a half from a railroad that I had not seen before. In Huntington there was the Chesapeake & Ohio and the Baltimore & Ohio railroads and in nearby Kenova was the Norfolk & Western. The railroad I’m referring to is the New York Central.
As I was growing up in Nitro, a town itself rich in history, I began to realize more about the NYC and its operation in the Kanawha Valley. The yard in Nitro stretched along 1st Ave from about 20th Street to 38th Street approximately 0.7 mile. There were also leads into the various plants and switching leads on the north end of the yard for another 0.5 mile. In addition a passing siding was installed in later years sometime in the 1960s and is still in place today for Norfolk Southern.
There were a few businesses along 1st Ave that faced the tracks and as a little boy I enjoyed anytime my parents would go the Valley Bell to eat or when my dad would take me to the barber shop to get our haircut. I would watch for any train movements or even enjoy watching cars being switched in the yard. I remember the sound as cars were being “kicked” in the yard to a coupling. It was almost like an explosion. Many of the cars switched were tank cars but I assume as I look back today that they hopefully were empty.
Of course the Kanawha Valley hosted several other railroads besides the NYC but the most notable was the Chesapeake and Ohio. It ran on the opposite side of the Kanawha from Nitro and was a mainline operation compared to the NYC which was a branch operating from central Ohio. I enjoyed watching trains from the old depot in St. Albans. Besides the many coal trains that traversed this line, there was also manifest freights and passenger trains. The only daytime scheduled passenger train through St. Albans after 1962 was westbound Train #3, the Fast Flying Virginian. That train made its last run on May 12, 1968. St. Albans was also a junction for the Coal River branch which ran into the southern West Virginia coal fields. Coal trains coming off the branch could travel eastbound or westbound which made for an interesting operation.
Going back to the other side of the Kanawha, the NYC operated a small yard in Charleston about 15 miles east of Nitro, and another 15 miles east of Charleston was Dickinson Yard. Dickinson was a gathering point for coal from mines located beyond Gauley Bridge and Swiss on the old Nicholas Fayette and Greenbrier. The NF&G was a railroad jointly owned by the C&O and NYC.
Dickinson Yard was also a servicing point where locomotives were fueled and sanded. There was also a Wye for turning locomotive that exists today. During the 1960s, Norfolk and Western had trackage rights over the New York Central between Dickinson Yard and DB Tower which was 18 miles to the east of the yard at the point of navigation of the Kanawha River. DB (Deepwater Bridge) Tower was the western end of the former Virginian. The trackage rights were inherited as a result of the merger of the Virginian Railway into the N&W on December 1, 1959. N&W time freights #71 and #72 ran trackage rights on the NYC until sometime in 1968. Apparently there wasn’t enough traffic to continue operating these trains. I was fortunate to have seen and photographed the trackage rights operation while it still existed.
I mentioned the C&O and NYC. The B&O also had a branch line into Charleston along the Elk River, a tributary of the Kanawha but I did not see any trains on that line at least during daylight hours. Two short lines worth noting, the Kelley’s Creek and Northwestern out of Cedar Grove and the Winifrede Railroad at Winifrede Jct., which is located across the river from Dickinson Yard, were built to haul coal from mines they served to barge loading on the Kanawha River. The KC&NW was built a few years before New York Central predecessor Kanawha & Michigan Railroad built their line from Charleston to Gauley Bridge. Since the K&M was last to build through Cedar Grove, K&M trains had to stop at the crossing diamond in Cedar Grove for KC&NW trains moving to the barge loading facility on the Kanawha River. The Winifrede on the other hand ran under the C&O main line so there no issue there.
As a side note, it wasn’t until I was old enough to drive and get out on my own, with my parents’ permission of course, that I began taking photographs around the valley. I did not own a camera at the time but my dad graciously let me use his Graflex 35mm camera. He took time to show me how to use it. It was a challenge to take photos then compared to today’s digital cameras. The Graflex did not have a built-in light meter so Dad had purchased a separate light meter. After taking a reading on the meter you had to set the f-stop and shutter speed on the camera manually. Partly cloudy days made it hard sometimes to get a good photo with the sun peaking in and out of the clouds especially when a train was about to approach but most of the time I had good results.
In conclusion, as I look back, the Kanawha Valley was truly a great place to railfan in the years I lived there. You did not have to go great distances to see action around the valley. With chemical plants at Nitro, Institute, South Charleston, Belle and Alloy, and the C&O with its mainline and coal branches at St. Albans, Cabin Creek and Paint Creek and the short lines, there was no end as to what you could see and photograph.
F. Douglas (Doug) Bess, Jr.
photo courtesy coalcampusa.com
Memories of my dad working for Union Carbide….
As I mentioned in my post on Growing Up in the Kanawha Valley my dad, Doug Bess, Sr., graduated from Marshall in 1950 with honors majoring in engineering with a minor in chemistry. Marshall did not offer a degree in chemical engineering then nor does it today but essentially he was a Chemical Engineer.
Dad began working for General Chemical in 1950 and we moved to Nitro about the same time. It was a small operation as I remember. Sometimes he would take me to work but usually after office hours. I remember the company had a fence around the plant with a gate that was controlled by a push button control box inside the premises. When we were ready to leave, Dad would park the car outside the gate then go back and push the button to close the gate then make a run for it before the gate completely closed. I did it with him a few times and it was fun.
Then in October, 1952, Dad began working for Union Carbide at their Institute Plant. This was the beginning of a long career that would take him to other Carbide facilities in the valley and eventually Carbide’s headquarters in Danbury, CT where he worked a couple of years before retiring in 1986.
The Institute Plant was located about six miles from our home and was about five miles east of downtown Nitro along the east side of the Kanawha River and was served by the New York Central Railroad. The plant was built in 1943 by the government to produce synthetic rubber for the war effort. Carbide purchased the 450 acre site in 1947 and began producing chemicals and plastics for the consumer products industry such as Prestone Antifreeze, EverReady Batteries, Glad Bags and other products. The fact that potentially dangerous chemicals were being produced prevented entry into the plant except by employees. That was disappointing to me at the time but later I understood why. One time the company did conduct an open house for employees’ families and I think that helped to make us feel a part of Carbide.
Plants located up and down the Kanawha River for many years allowed waste from chemical and other processes to go directly into the river without being treated. Carbide was no different. Cities and towns throughout the valley I’m sure had concerns about the quality of their water supply especially if the water company’s intakes were located downstream from one of the plants. Carbide began plans to construct a waste treatment facility that would be located just west of the main plant and my dad was tapped to manage the construction and operation of the facility. Since it was outside the main plant, I was able to go with Dad to the facility and enjoy seeing any trains that would go by on the NYC line that was adjacent.
Some years after the plant was well underway, Dad was transferred to Carbide’s Research and Technical Center in South Charleston which was known simply as the Tech Center. By this time he became involved more with Federal and State regulations concerning air and water pollution and how it affected Carbide’s efforts to conform to the standards. Sometime later his office was relocated to Carbide’s office building along McCorkle Ave in South Charleston which was located across the street from the South Charleston Plant. The office building was known as Building 82 and was nine stories high. Besides offices it also housed a small department store for employees and families. As a side note the South Charleston Plant was served by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway.
In conclusion my dad had a very successful career with Union Carbide and I am proud of his service. Carbide at one time during the 1950s and 60s was the largest employer in the Kanawha Valley. As the saying went back then, it was hard to come in contact with someone who did not work for or had family members not associated with Union Carbide.
F. Douglas (Doug) Bess, Jr.
An interesting name for a diesel indeed. Just mention the name “shark” or “sharknose” to a rail enthusiast, and they’ll know what it is. Here is a short history on the Baldwin company’s sharks, which ran on the secondary in West Virginia.
Baldwin was always known as a builder of quality steam locomotives. After World War II, the writing was on the wall for steams demise, as manufacturers including then powerhouse EMD started rolling out more and more diesels. Even though Baldwin would always be number three behind EMD and Alco, it began cataloging cab unit diesels after the war, using a knockoff design of EMD’s bulldog nose, which was to become known as the “babyface” design.
Wanting to distinguish itself from EMD, Baldwin turned to Raymond Loewy, who among other designs, designed Pennsylvania’s T-1 streamlined steam locomotive. He in turn designed the classic “sharknose”. The sharknose design was very unique in its styling. The nose had much sharper angles which were tapered towards the headlight, giving the design its nickname. The styling behind the cab was also more sharply angled.
Baldwin started producing cab units in 1945. The DR 6-4-2000 was actually introduced in 1945-46, producing 2,000 horsepower, with 76,200 pounds of starting tractive effort. No wonder the entire series were known for their lugging long heavy freights. This series started out using the babyface design, with the final run having the sharknose carbody. One other variant of this series was the dual or double cab design, with only six being built for the CNJ from 1946-48.
The DR 4-4-1500 began production in late 1947, developing 1,500 horsepower with a 608 SC prime mover, with 55,700 pounds starting tractive effort. This model was built with first the babyface design, then later with the sharknose carbody. This model however was not very popular with the railroad community, with only slightly over 100 A and B units built and sold.
The last variant of the series was Baldwin’s most popular diesel and design, the RF16, and one odd variant, the RF 615E, which was sold to the Argentine State Railway, which purchased 51 units. The “E” I’m assuming was for “export”. With over 150 built and sold the RF16 featured an upgraded prime mover, plus by now the standard sharknose body. Production started in 1950, and was now a product of the merged Baldwin/Lima/Hamilton works. The model featured BLH’s new 608A SC prime mover developing 1,600 horsepower. Starting tractive effort was 59,000 pounds. This model also featured dynamic braking, a feature lacking on other Baldwin models, unless it was custom ordered. However, Baldwin omitted a most important feature on these: MU capability. Production finally ended in 1954. Somewhat trouble prone mechanically, all railroads who purchased these models had them scarpped by the end of the 1960’s, except for two. These two units were originally built for the NYC before being sold at the end of their careers to the Monongahela Railway, who then sold them at a later date to the D&H, who painted them in their fabulous paint scheme. These eventually wound up on the Escanaba & Lake Superior Railroad in Michigan, where they today are locked away in a secured building, after vandals reportedly stole their builders plates.
Among the buyers of the RF16 were the B&O, the NYC, and the Pennsy which had the most RF16’s at 100. The PRR had scrapped or sold all their units by 1967, with the NYC doing the same prior to the PC merger. In later years I recall seeing NYC sharks running around the Cincinnati area, being based as I understand at Sharon yard north of the city. In fact, these sharks were one of the very first locomotives I ever saw as a 5 yr old railfan.
Some stats for the RF16: wheel arrangement: B-B, length: 54 ft 4 in, weight: 266,000 pounds, prime mover: four-stroke turbocharged 608A SC, with 8 inline cylinders, displacement of 15,832 cu inches, DC generator and DC traction motors, and electric transmission.
Sometimes research and fact-finding for an article/story is harder than pulling teeth. Such was the case with finding information for this short story. Penn Central transfer cabooses, as with most railroad’s transfer cabooses, were used primarily for yard to yard transfers and short switching runs, especially runs where numerous back-up moves would be made. Thus the reason for the large “porches” at either end. Carrying just one desk and one bunk, they weren’t constructed for long freight runs.
New York Central originally constructed 189 transfer cabooses starting in March 1966 using 1942-1946 era 40″ boxcar frames with welded bodies attached. A second lot was built in 1967. NYC classified these as N6A. These cabooses originally had roofwalks and ladders, and in some photos in research it appears that some had wooden decks.
Penn Central then constructed the first of their transfer cabooses starting in 1968-1969 at Despatch Shops in upstate New York. Classified as N9 and N9E, a total of 140 were built. These were built at first with two 100 pound propane tanks at one end for heat, no roofwalks, nor ladders. Some photos, in fact many, show a small roof overhang over the end doors, and what looks like a “rain guard” over the propane tanks. The N9E class and N11E class had 6v electrical systems, hence the “E” designation.
Penn Central starting in 1969 through 1970 constructed 75 class N11 and 75 class N11E transfer cabooses, again at Despatch Shops. These cabooses were the last PC built. These classes had a wider platform step, no roof overhang, simpler handrails, and were only 32″ in length, but carried the same dimension body for the crew.
As far as research can determine, except for wrecked cabooses, all NYC transfer cabooses made in into Penn Central, and all PC built units made it into ConRail. A few of these classes are preserved today.