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.
My 12 year old son and I ventured out on a recent Saturday night to catch Norfolk Southern’s Pennsylvania Railroad Heritage unit 8102 leading a manifest through the area at nearby Sharpsburg, Maryland. Photographing signals such as the former operations’s Norfolk & Western Color Position Light (CPL) signals in the area has become a hobby of mine. Their days are becoming numbered as NS has begun in recent years replacing them with newer standardized varieties, most recently just six miles to the south at Shenandoah Junction, WV in November of 2014.
I arrived in town from just across the Potomac River just before midnight and the southbound signal was lit up green which gives a “clear” indication for a passing train. After seeing the indication and the star field behind it, I began taking a series of long exposure or “open shutter” photos.
Finally coming across a composition that I was happy with, I began exploring the scene even further. I had visited Shepherdstown countless times and each time always seems to provide another angle I had not thought of previously. Soon after the southbound passed a “Diverging Approach” (red over diagonal yellow) signal lit, meaning another southbound was approaching, but instead of going straight, would go onto the passing siding on which the CPL’s here protect.
The train (213) arrived but I almost missed it. Being cold, I sat in the car to warm up after setting up and was having a conversation with my son. Soon there afterwards, Evan brought it to my attention that the trees were lighting up and asked if a car was coming. I immediately jumped out and turned on the camera just as 213 arrived, switched and waited in the siding as 12R approached from the south. I was happy with the composition I had found when 213 arrived but again, something was missing. I could hear 12R blow at the road crossing just a couple miles away. I managed a couple test shots before it turned the curve and finally it hit me. back in September, I photographed a scene at Shenandoah Junction of on oncoming train illuminating the right of way and tracks between it and I as well as silhouetting the train in the siding with it’s “end of train” device lit. I quickly adjusted my ISO to 640 (was previously set at 400) and aperture to an f-stop 6.3 for more detail. 12R lit of the foreground and behold the scene developed before my eyes. I took 3 shots at 10 seconds, 7 and finally 4. Of the three, the final shot proved to be the winner.
Pictured below is the final product. Standing in the 10 degree heat with the light snow on the ground I believe made the image pop. At another time, say in the Summer may have had a different effect. What you see is the rear of train 213 sitting on the siding adjacent to the northbound N&W Bracket CPL Mast signals as the the still air and tracks shine. the southbound displays a “restricted” or stop signal and fills in nicely in the foreground. This scene will undoubtedly change in the future. How soon, I do not know. I am just glad I was able to be there to capture it and share it with all of you.