One of my favorite rail lines to photograph is the local short line, the Winchester and Western. Since it’s birth, the line became known by locals as the “Ole Weak and Weary” in part due to the fact the original mainline between Gore, VA and Winchester, VA contains many steep grades and twists and turns in its very short 15 mile trek through the Northwestern Virginia rolling hills and valleys and rarely goes beyond ten miles per hour. Today, it is a regional shipper and gaining traction as new business’ come online.
The W&W was chartered in 1916 as a logging line and later used by retreat vacationers in the mountains of Virginia and West Virginia. The line stretched from Winchester to Wardensville, WV and originally was named the Winchester and
Wardensville Railroad. The majority of the steam power was bought second hand off the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and was a thriving freight operation until the 1930’s when the Great Depression gripped the nation. The track was shortened in 1934 to Rock Enon Springs and passenger service to Capon Springs ended. In 1944 the line was cut
again, this time to Gore, VA and has been the western terminus since. The railroad scrapped it’s two steam locomotives and dieseled in 1952. Unimin purchased the railroad in the late 1970’s to ship the sand from it’s Gore mine and upgraded many bridges and rails along the mainline.
The W&W saw limited use in the 42 years shuffling sand to Winchester as it stayed tucked in the hills while railroading transformed as time progressed. The B&O turned into Chessie and then CSX. The Pennsylvania Railroad to Penn Central and then Conrail.
In 1986 the railroad grew exponentially. It purchased the Conrail line from Hagerstown, MD to Winchester bringing the length of the line through three States, approx fifty miles of rail and provided another avenue to ship via Norfolk Southern. The railroad also purchased a small segment of a Conrail line in New Jersey thus creating two divisions (the Virginia and New Jersey).
Business continues to grow along the W&W Virginia Division. A recent branch into the former Essroc quarry at the south end of Martinsburg entails daily switching. A Procter and Gamble plant is due to come online which could double the online freight with an estimated 3,000 carloads once the plant is in full operation. The “Ole Weak and Weary” is no more and has become a force to be reckoned with in the Mid-Atlantic.
EDIT NOVEMBER 2020—————————
In September of 2019 the railroad was purchased by Omnitrax, a transportation holding company based in Denver, Colorado. It primarily owns and operates railroads, with a network of 21 regional and shortline railroads in 12 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. Since that time the parent company has made some changes to the operations in the VA Division. Most notably, the cessation of the older GP9 and GP10 models and shipping those units to other OMTX properties.
This seems to be a common occurrence when I specifically go to document things along the railroad such as signals. I’ll come away with something totally different which adds to the excitement of night shooting. In a PREVIOUS POST I talked about documenting the Norfolk and Western Color Position Light signals at Shepherdstown on the Norfolk Southern H Line in January 2015. Well, in late 2014, I had gone to document the signals at Shenandoah Junction as their immediate retirement was near. Norfolk Southern had been extending the siding the signals here controlled to the north and their replacements were moved from staging at Charles Town to the Junction sometime in August.
After multiple trips over the course of the month, I set out for one final night along the rails. I arrived and decided to shoot the northbound signals that sit roughly 100 yards south of a road crossing. There are 3 tracks here, facing north left to right are the siding, the main, and the lead into the former N&W/B&O interchange yard.
Upon arrival I found NS had parked some ballast cars on the interchange track. 12R was in the area so I turned the camera around to face south and got set. The red hue on the rear of the hopper is the reflection from the light of the dual bracket mast signals immediately behind me and 12R’s headlights light up the main and siding tracks as a gentle fog rolls by.
As the night wore on and into the early morning hours as I focused my attention to the signals. The fog was heavy at times and non-existent at others. The traffic on the rails however was somewhat lacking which is unusual for this stretch at night, Finally, a southbound train could be heard rumbling far off in the distance through the very thick fog. It’s sounding horn, very faint until its arrival.
The dense fog let up quite a bit by the time southbound manifest train 15T arrived on the scene. The dispatcher previously notified the crew on board they were to wait for a northbound and take the siding. It was as 15T rolled past I had an idea but it hinged on where exactly the rear of the train would stop, how fast the approaching train would be going and of course the fog. Sure enough, the train stopped in an almost perfect location, With it being so dark, i could not gather any intel on the density of the fog other than my visibility with my headlamp ceasing at about 10 feet. So there I waited and took a few test shots to try and time the blinking end of train or EOT device as I know I did not want the light to blow out its exposure. “214 clear Daniels” was announced on the radio and i began my finishing touches, including focus. Soon the headlights of 214 announced it’s presence and I held my shutter trigger cable release in my hand. I quickly again checked the focus through the viewfinder and noticed to my surprise the fog was very light. I picked a spot to begin firing off the shutter in succession. The scene to the naked eye looked awesome! I began hitting the shutter in coordination with the EOT device.
214 passed by, giving a salute of the horn to myself and the grade crossing ahead, I looked at the cameras lcd display and was very pleased with the result. Soon after, 15T disappeared into the again heavy fog. I packed up my things and headed back to the car. I downloaded the SD card contents to my desktop and played with the photo on Lightroom. After only a few minor tweaks, the final version can be seen below.
FOCAL LENGTH: 123mm
In the latter months of 2013, word got out that the Genesse and Wyoming, Inc., a holding company of short lines was planning on repainting the classic blue and orange scheme the line had used since its founding in 1983 and also replacing the GP38 armada with rebuilt SD45 into SD40 car bodies. The MMID was purchased by the G&W in 2008 and had left it largely intact until now, except for some minor changes of operation and the painting into the G&W orange, black and yellow scheme and renumbering of MMID 301 to MMID 2601. Rail buffs from around the country, including myself flocked to the Maryland countryside to capture what turned into the last days of the blue and orange regime.
I made a total of three visits in January, 2014. I had grown up nearby but not knowing much myself about the line, I met up with a few friends who I had previously communicated with via Facebook. We chased the railroad together on several instances, and on different locations each time. The line is the former Western Maryland Railway Baltimore main line which being a history buff, really got me to delve further into study. What started as just a few trips to document change, ended up turning into a project, one that ended up on the pages of Railroads Illustrated March 2014 issue as my first published featured article.
Now, lets fast forward to January of 2015…
It’s a week shy of a year between this and the 2014 photo at the plant above and much has changed on the Maryland Midland. 5 of the 7 original GP38-3 engines have been painted into the G&W orange, yellow and black scheme and shipped to another line. 2 GP38-3’s remain… One given a fresh blue and orange coat, renumbered (300 sans 2060) and has become the lines own “heritage” unit in honor of the railroad’s prosperity and dedicated employees. The other (2061), was painted into the G&W colors a few years back. Enter 4 SD40-2’s to replace them, all in G&W colors. 2 of them leading this UBHF train out of the plant after performing switching duties before heading west to Highfield.
Delivered in the Fall of 2014, two of the four rebuilt SD45’s redesignated SD40-2’s lead both GP38-3’s on a UBHF train down the mountain from Highfield at Lantz, known as Deerfield Station in the Western Maryland Railway days on January 16, 2015.
A year may have past since my previous documentation of this line but the railroad seems stronger day by day. Minus the 2060, all the MMID engines sport G&W colors and provide a new face for the railroad. The super duty locomotives on site now since late 2014 have proven their worth and any doubt of them operating sufficiently on these rails has been diminished significantly.
J-Dub January, 2015