C&O E8 #4021 with sister unit #4002 leading the very first New River excursion at Hawks Nest on May 17, 1966. The train was actually backing across the bridge so those patrons who wanted to photograph the train going across the bridge could do so then get back on the train for the trip to Hinton, WV . This is known as a photo runby.
As Autumn approaches each year my thoughts go to West Virginia and the New River excursions through the New River Gorge. I was fortunate to have been a member of the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society, a chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society, in the mid 1960′s. It was during this time that the chapter had planned to run its first ever New River Excursion from Huntington, WV to Hinton, WV with intermediate stops at St. Albans, Charleston and Montgomery. Much work went in to planning the trip as this was something new to us all.
John Killoran who was a charter member of CPH was the trip chairman and did most of the contact work with the Chesapeake and Ohio Ry. John was also with the state of West Virginia and was instrumental in starting up Cass Scenic Railroad which today attracts numerous riders each year. The success of today’s New River excursions can be traced back to those humble beginnings on May 17, 1966.
The first New River train was so popular that another trip was run in October of the same year to take in the fall colors of the New River Gorge. Needless to say, this trip was a total success. From then on these trips became a yearly operation on the C&O and later run by Amtrak when they took over passenger operations from most of the major U.S. railroads including the C&O.
Today’s New River Excursions do not have open air cars nor do they stage photo runbys at Hawks Nest as was done for the first few excursions but it is still a trip that will continue for on years as long as the people keep coming to take in one of the most scenic areas in West Virginia.
Left: The open air cars are actually two N&W gondolas that have a center benches facing outward for viewing the scenery. They were crowded at times especially while travelling through the gorge. Right: View of downtown Charleston across the Kanawha River. For those familiar with this area, the road in the foreground is two lane MacCorkle Ave which today sports four lanes.
Left: Going past South Ruffner. A control tower was located here until 1953. See my October, 2011 post on CTC on the C&O. Right: Passing through Kanawha City.
Left: Old round house at Handley, WV. Right: Looking westbound at Handley. This was a crew change for freight crews only. Most everything you see in the photo is gone including the yard tracks that were used for switching coal, the control tower, coaling tower and the roundhouse. You can look at the satellite view of the area on Google maps. It is truly amazing.
Left: Crowd waving to the engineer on Westbound Train #3 the Fast Flying Virginian. Right: Rear of #3. This was the only daytime passenger train through the New River Gorge until May 12, 1968 when it made its last trip. You can view my story of the last run of the FFV on my April 30, 2011 post.
View of the train in the distance as it has backed up so people can photograph or just watch the train coming across the bridge. Some people got off just to look around.
View of what is was like crossing on Track #1 over the New River on the two thru truss spans. The two main lines of the old C&O split at Hawks Nest and runs along both sides of the river for a distance of approximately 15 miles eastward to Sewell. At Sewell, the #2 main crosses the New River on a similar type structure and rejoins the #1 main.
Left: Coming around sharp curve toward Hawks Nest station. The curve has a 15 mph speed restriction for all trains. Right: Sightseeing gondolas are full of folks as the train is backing up for the photo runby.
There are a bunch of smiling people on the ground as well as in the gondolas.
I hope this has given you a flavor of what the first New River excursion was like. It was an exciting time for all and hopefully many memories were made especially for this writer as being a part of the working crew.