History of the Piedmont & Western Railway

The Piedmont and Western Railway Co. began operation on July 1, 1887 as the reorganization and consolidation of the Marshall, Linville Mountain and Western Railroad System and the friendly takeover of 77 miles of the Yadkin, Montezuma and Pine Valley Railroad in 1886. These operations had been building into major medium line systems from the Piedmont of North Carolina northwestward across the barrier of the Appalachians into the states of Tennessee and Virginia.

Beginning in 1889, the Piedmont and Western Railway, with the combined assets of the two holding companies, began to expand. On Christmas Eve, December 24, 1889, the first train traversed a lengthy realignment and double tracked main line into Oak Hill, North Carolina. The following year, progress was made further north when the Piedmont and Western Railroad completed a ninety-nine year lease of the Salem, New River, and Northern Lines to complete trackage rights and a much needed route into the West Virginia coal mines. This road became an important coal carrier connection from the coal mines of West Virginia. It also provided the P&W with this type of added traffic to southern points.

The remaining 46 miles of trackage of the Pine Valley RR not acquired in 1886, was purchased in 1890. This gave a westward link from Mt. Holly, Virginia to Kingsport and Johnson City, Tennessee with connections to the Clinchfield and Southern Railroads. An important eastern connection into Roanoke, Virginia was realized with the purchase of the abandoned right of way, after its financial collapse, of the Marion, Dublin and Central Virginia Railroad. This takeover gave a valuable connection with the Norfolk & Western, the Virginian, and the Charleston, Roanoke & Eastern Railroad. With this expansion, along with additional financial backing, the track mileage and plant operations of the Piedmont & Western, virtually doubled overnight.

With its southern terminus in Charlotte, NC and its northern terminus 398 miles north at Huntington, WV, the Piedmont & Western Railway was established as a major bridge route between the Southeast and the Midwest. The motto “The Bridge Route To The Blue Ridge” was complete.

Plant Operations

The Piedmont and Western Railway is rich with online revenue customers. Producers of finished goods, receivers and shippers of raw materials from and to the nation abound. Rail customers have grown to over seventy sites averaging ninety eight car movements per day (1951). These customers are manufacturers receiving raw materials and producing finished goods such as textiles, furniture, machine tools, processed food, electrical products, lumber, fertilizer, livestock feed, fabricated steel and iron, petroleum, and numerous other products. Various other products are also distributed, such as: appliances, hardware, soft goods, paper products and construction materials. This traffic has grown into daily car loads. LCL (less than carload), operations and offline customers served by team tracks, also contribute traffic and revenue.

Substantial coal traffic is generated online. Blue Ridge Mining Co. at Blue Ridge and Little Valley, Virginia combined, produce fifty-four car loads on average per day, with a double shift. Dora branch with Norfolk Coal Co. and Linville coal loaders add their potential daily average of thirty-two car loads. Duke and River Bend steam plants require upwards of sixty car loads per day and this demand must be met.

Off line train loads from Roanoke as through traffic to Duke Power steam plants are common. A number of public fuel suppliers needs are met with Pennsylvania Anthracite and online Bituminous coal.

With continued growth and forward looking leadership, the “Bridge Route to the Blue Ridge” will continue to meet its original purpose, which is to serve its customers. Progressive upgrading and modernization of plant operations, track, right of way and motive power is ongoing, and is all important to achieve that “SERVICE”.

Time and Setting

The time is the early 1950’s. The setting is the Blue Ridge Mountain and Piedmont area of West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. This is the story of the Piedmont & Western Railway, The “Bridge Route To The Blue Ridge”. Big, modern steam locomotives are still the kings of mainline freight trains on the Piedmont & Western. Most trains are headed by 2-8-8-2s, 2-6-6-2s, 2-8-4s, 2-10-2s, or 2-8-2s. Even local freights continue to draw 2-8-2s or 2-8-0s as power. Some 0-8-0s continue as yard switchers. In fact, P&W management has demonstrated a continuing commitment to steam power with the recent purchase of additional USRA 2-8-8-2s, 2-8-2s, and ex-D&RDW 2-8-8-2s and FEC 4-8-2s.

However, the apparent future of the P&W has arrived in the products of ALCO, EMD, and Fairbanks-Morse. ALCO FA-2s and several Fairbanks-Morse H-16-44s have started to appear at the head end of some freight trains. The premier passenger trains on the P&W, numbers 1 and 2, are regularly headed by EMD E-8s. ALCO S-1 and 1200 switchers have taken over most of the work in the main yards at Ashford, VA and Loray, NC. ALCO RS-3s have been assigned to Big Laurel. It has been rumored that N&W management has acquired EMD F units and GP-7s from a neighboring railroad disposing of surplus locomotives.

A Brief Look at the P & W - From North to South

The Piedmont & Western provides bridge line and local service on a direct route through the Blue Ridge Mountains, connecting Huntington, WV on its north end with Charlotte, NC on its south end.

At Huntington, the P&W connects with the C&O, N&W and the NYC via the C&O. At Charlotte, P&W connects with the Southern, the Seaboard, and the Piedmont & Northern Railroads.

Additionally, the P&W has two major branch connections. One leaves the mainline at Mt. Holly, VA and runs west to Kingsport and Johnson City, TN, where connection is made with the Southern, the Clinchfield, and the Norfolk and Western Railroads. The other branch leaves the mainline at Morn Junction, VA, and runs northeast to Roanoke, VA, where connection is made with the Norfolk & Western, Virginian, and the Charleston, Roanoke & Eastern Railroads.

In addition to providing bridge service, the P&W traverses a prosperous and growing area which provides significant on line traffic, bound for other on line destinations, and many off line destinations as well. Major on line industries include several coal mines, feldspar and kaolin facilities, pulpwood and timber producers, grain milling facilities, and many types of manufacturers and warehouses. Two large coal fired power plants are located on the P&W, providing the railroad with yet another lucrative revenue source. Furthermore, as prosperous towns exist along the P&W mainline, the railroad provides daily local freight service to these towns, deriving additional revenue from these sources.

Passenger operations are not as significant as freight to the P&W, but the railroad does provide daily first class service in both directions with its trains 1 and 2.

Passengers are also accommodated on the daily north and south mail and express trains, numbers 11 and 12. Limited local passenger service is also provided.

The Piedmont & Western is primarily a single track railroad operated by trains orders through a centralized dispatcher’s office. The track and roadbed are maintained in excellent condition through the personal oversight of the President of the P&W, Mr. Jack Parker. Both the excellence of the physical plant, and the dedication by traffic and operating employees to efficient, customer oriented rail service, contributes greatly to the success of the Piedmont & Western Railway.

The modeled portion of the P&W extends from Ashford, VA in the north, to Big Laurel, NC in the south. Huntington, WV and Charlotte, NC are represented by staging tracks, as are Kingsport and Johnson City, TN and Roanoke, VA.

Ashford, VA is a major freight classification yard. Here local freights to and from Misty, VA, Little Valley, VA, Mt. Holly, VA, and the coal mines at Little Valley, VA and Blue Ridge, VA are assembled, dispatched, and reclassified upon their return. Ashford also originates coal trains bound for the power plants at Riverbend, NC and Duke, NC. Through north and south trains are classified at Ashford, and the Kingsport and Johnson City branch trains originates in Ashford. Ashford is also a major engine terminal, and has extensive local industrial traffic.

Proceeding south from Ashford on the single track main, the first town along the line is Misty, VA. There is a passing siding here, as well as a water tank. The tank is primarily used by north bound trains as they face a stiff grade from Misty to Ashford. Misty also generates substantial local traffic.

Leaving Misty, again on single track, the P&W mainline proceeds south to Little Valley, VA. Blue Ridge Coal’s mine number 6 is located here, and is a substantial revenue producer for the P&W. Also located at Little Valley are the feldspar and kaolin facilities of Kona Mining.

Leaving Little Valley on single track, the next town south is Mt. Holly, VA. Mt. Holly is a prosperous town, producing substantial local traffic for the P&W. Mt. Holly is also where the branch connection to Kingsport and Johnson City, TN leaves the P&W mainline. Mt. Holly also provides passing opportunities, and many ‘meets’ occur at this point.

Leaving Mt. Holly on single track, the P&W mainline proceeds south to Morn Junction and Blue Ridge, VA. Morn Junction, located at the north end of Blue Ridge, is where the branch connection to Roanoke diverges from the P&W mainline. There is also a passing siding at Blue Ridge, but, most importantly for the P&W, Blue Ridge is the location of Blue Ridge Coal’s mine number 1. This large facility is a major revenue producer for the P&W. Blue Ridge is also the southernmost point served by local freights originating in Ashford.

Back on single track, the P&W continues south to Altamont, VA, another of the prosperous on line towns. Altamont has a passing track, and numerous local industries. Local service for Altamont is provided by the next town south on the P&W, which is Linville, VA.

Linville is reached by the single track mainline from Altamont. Linville is a substantial town. It has a small classification yard as well as coal and water facilities. Linville is the location of one of the P&W’s major on line customers, Interstate Milling. Linville also provides, as noted, local service to Altamont, and service via a short branch line to Dora, VA. Dora is the location of yet another coal mine, which provides significant car loadings and revenue.

Proceeding south from Linville, the P&W’s single track mainline continues to Marshallboro, TN. Marshallboro provides the P&W with many local customers, and traffic is so heavy to and from this town, that the P&W traffic department is considering requesting the P&W management consider serving the town with two daily local freights, instead of the one currently being operated. Marshallboro has a passing siding and a water tank.

South of Marshallboro, the mainline continues as single track. The next towns south are Glen Raven, TN and Thompson’s Creek, TN. These are small, rural towns, but they do produce significant car loadings for the P&W in the form of pulpwood, timber, and cattle. There is a passing siding located at Thompson’s Creek.

South of Thompson’s Creek on the single track main, the P&W arrives in Loray, NC. Loray is the major classification yard on the south end of the modeled portion of the P&W. It is a large facility, and produces a large amount of local industrial traffic. Loray is also the location of one of the P&W’s major customers, the Riverbend power plant. In Loray, north and south bound through freights are classified, and local freights to Thompson’s Creek, Glen Raven, Marshallboro, and Linville are classified, dispatched, and reclassified upon their return. Loray serves as the origination and destination point for the daily transfer freight to and from Big Laurel, NC (which is further south on the P&W). Loray is a major engine terminal.

Leaving Loray, the P&W mainline continues south on double track to the next town, which is Oak Hill, NC. Oak Hill is a small but prosperous town, whose local industries generate enough traffic to usually justify daily service from Big Laurel, NC.

The P&W reverts to single track south of Oak Hill. The mainline continues through Yadkin, NC, where the only activity is at the Yadkin trestle. Ashes from the ash pits at Ashford, Linville, Loray, and Big Laurel are collected and dumped at Yadkin trestle. Rather than replace the trestle, the P&W is slowly but surely, creating a fill with the waste ash.

South of Yadkin, the P&W next reaches Jackson Siding, which is nothing more than a rural passing siding. The P&W continues south on single track, and next reaches the southernmost modeled town, Big Laurel, NC.

Big Laurel is a growing town and provides significant local traffic for the P&W. In fact, Big Laurel has grown to such a degree, that the P&W recently stationed a full time crew there to handle the local traffic and to serve Oak Hill. Big Laurel is also the site of a major traffic source for the P&W, the Duke power plant. The Duke plant is served by daily coal trains from both Ashford and Loray. Big Laurel is also home to other major P&W customers such as Gelner-English Electric and Blue Ridge Steel. Big Laurel is a coal and water stop, and has a wye.

Leaving Big Laurel, the P&W continues south on single track to Charlotte (south end staging).

In Summary

In all, not counting passing, yard, or industrial trackage, the P&W has about 600 actual feet of mainline, and is located in two separate buildings connected by enclosed viaducts. It is owned and maintained by Jack Parker, who began construction of the P&W in the 1950s. The railroad was recently converted to DCC using Digitrax products.

The Piedmont & Western is an operating model railroad, in conception a part of a larger transportation system. The P&W uses a car forwarding system consisting of car cards, one for each car operating on the railroad, a sample of which is included in this operations manual. The car cards, list the commodities being shipped in the car, (including empty car movements), car destinations, and specific car spotting locations. Referring to modeled town maps, also included in this operations manual, each industry has one or more specific car spots, and each card specifies the spot to which the car should be delivered. Each card has anywhere from two to ten routings, thus each car has from two to ten destinations. This system is commodity, thus customer driven, and produces a varying degree of traffic densities for each customer and town. Although not randomly generated, traffic density can vary at any time from heavy to moderate to light for individual customers and towns, while maintaining high overall traffic volume over the railroad as a whole. Thus some locations may experience light traffic during one operating session, while another location, possibly another industry in the same town, may experience heavy traffic during the same session, and during the next session, these customers may reverse, or may not.

The car cards are computer generated from a database that contains every modeled town, industry, car spot, commodity, and every car running on the railroad. As well as hundreds of off line industries, towns, and car spots. This database contains thousands of possible car destinations. The card program is not, however, a random “switch list” generator. Each car has specific routing, and movement of the car is controlled by moving a paper clip down the card to the next destination, as each delivery is made. When the bottom of the car card is reached, the paper clip is moved to the first destination shown on the card, and the sequence of deliveries is repeated. Noticeable repetition of car movement is avoided through the sheer traffic volume on the P&W, there are about 400 cars on the railroad, although nowhere near all 400 move during any given operating session. The car forwarding system was developed by Jim Thomas, one of the regular P&W operators, while much of the actual car routing was done by Jim and Larry Keller, another of the P&W regulars. On behalf of the Piedmont & Western Railway, we hope you have enjoyed your visit, and we welcome your return.