Saturday, April 6, 2013

Off topic: There were trains here, once

This afternoon I found myself in the village of Vinton, Ohio, near Gallipolis. I got to wondering about the old CSX tracks that went through here. They started north of town in another county, went south to Gallipolis and turned up the river until they met up with Conrail across from Point Pleasant, W.Va., and headed north toward Pomeroy. From there the tracks veered north toward Columbus, I think.

If memory serves, CSX stopped using the tracks sometime between 1978 and 1981. I remember seeing a an occasional train on them, and it was usually a short one. On a personal note, one of my ancestors died along this track in Gallipolis about a century ago after a Saturday night of heavy drinking. He apparently chose the wrong place to sleep it off.

The tracks toward Gallipolis have been turned into a walking and cycling path. Here in the Vinton area, not so much.

Standing where the old track crossed Dodrill Road, looking south toward Vinton.

On Dodrill Road, looking north.

As you can see, the old road bed remains clear of trees and such. The rails and ties were removed long ago, but a lot of the ballast is still in place. It looks like some sort of vehicle (ATVs?) might still use the old railroad right of way, but I didn't see any ATVs sitting outside in this area today. Or anyone riding one. Not one anywhere.

CSX and Norfolk Southern still have their tracks along the rivers in my area -- the Ohio, Kanawha, Guyandotte and Big Sandy come to mind. Growing up, I saw from time to time the trains on the old B&O line across the river, but I never thought much about them. That track became part of the Chessie System, later part of CSX.

When I was in college in Athens, Ohio, the Chessie tracks ran through campus, and it wasn't unusual for us to have to wait for trains to pass as we walked from class to our cafeteria. Every now and then someone would have to put pennies on the track to see if they really would make the train derail (they wouldn't). Once some friends of a friend decided to grab ahold of the ladder on a slow-moving boxcar. Before they got off, the train got out of town and sped up. It was an hour or more before the train slowed enough so they could get off and call someone to come get them. The first articles I had published in Ohio U. student newspaper (The Post), in 1975, had to do with efforts to get the Amtrak train that used the tracks to stop there in Athens.

But as with the Hampden-to-Gallipolis line, CSX abandoned its track between Parkersburg, W.Va., and Cincinnati.  In the early to mid 1980s, I saw an article and photo in an Ohio U. alumni publication that the rails, ties and perhaps even the ballast were being removed. The last time I was in Athens, I looked for signs the tracks ever exited but saw few. You would have to know what you were looking for to see it.

I never got into rail the way I did the river, but I try to follow what's going on with CSX and NS. I have noticed that coal traffic on the Ohio seems to be way down lately, just as coal traffic on the two Class I railroads around here has dropped of significantly the past two or three years.

As I stood along the old track near Vinton today, I thought about the trains that people no longer see. Perhaps half the people who live in the area can even remember the trains. I wonder if kids used to stand along the tracks and wave at the engineers. Or if many people even cared that the trains no longer ran.

And fifty years from now, if the coal-fired power plants along the Ohio have switched to natural gas and if coal is barely used as a a fuel, I wonder how people will remember the boats and traffic of today.

I won't be here to find out, but I will leave behind words and photos to document at least part of it.

My absence from the river

In case you're wondering why I've not posted anything lately, it's because I've had to spend some time with this beauty.

That plus there haven't been many interesting boats around when I was available, and I'm waiting for the trees to green up before I get out the camera again. But the main reason is my interest that's more homebound.

But I will be back out there this weekend looking for something to shoot or to talk about.