On Sunday May 15, 1966, the Collis P. Huntington Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (CPH) in conjunction with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway operated the very first New River Excursion from Huntington to Hinton, WV., a tradition that has to this day been a popular event every fall. The excursions have drawn many not only from the tri-state area of West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky, but those from other states and countries. The fall excursions in 2016 will mark the 50th anniversary and special items will be on sale to mark the event.
The first excursion in May was so popular that a fall trip was added the same year. The trains now run in the Fall on the third and fourth weekends in October, and they are packed full all four days. Your author was fortunate to have been a member of CPH when the first trip was run. Chapter and charter member John P. Killoran was the trip chairman who worked with the C&O to provide locomotives and passenger cars and other details related to running the excursion. I remember the many meetings we had as John discussed these details with the membership.
Station stop at the Charleston Depot to load passengers. The two open cars were converted gondolas borrowed from the Norfolk and Western Railway. As the train got closer to the New River Gorge, the cars were jam packed with people taking in the scenery.
One event of the early New River excursions was a photo runby at Hawks Nest. The runby was an opportunity for passengers interested in photographing the train and took place on the way to Hinton. After crossing the bridge over the New River, the train would come to a stop at which time passengers were allowed to get off the train. The entire train would then back across the bridge and pull forward across the bridge again and run past those passengers on the ground. It then backed up to board them for the remainder of the trip to Hinton. Photo runbys are not done any longer but they were very popular in the early years of the New River Excursions.
Excursion passing by Handley, WV. This was a crew change point for freight trains running between Hinton and Russell, Ky. Handley had a control tower, round house and yard and a coal loading tower that one time was used for steam engines. All of the buildings and the yard are gone.
C&O Train, #3 the Fast Flying Virginian traveling westbound past the excursion. At that time it was the only daytime passenger train through New River Gorge. In two more years however this train would be history and for many years to come there would be no more daytime passenger trains through the gorge.
Crossing the New River. It was at this point at Hawks Nest that the two track C&O mainline split with a track on each side of New River for about 15 miles upriver to a point called Sewell where they rejoined. The mains were split so that they could serve coal mines that were located on either side of the gorge. The mines are no longer operated.
Rounding the curve on the open air gondolas. The curve is very sharp and has a 10 MPH restriction. This view allowed a person to see the entire train. That is why it was a popular place for a photo runby.
Your author on the right side of the photo standing behind the conductor and the gentleman in the blue shirt, sport coat and hat. I was 18 years old then so if you do the math you know how old I am today.
I hope you enjoyed this post. For more information about the New River Excursion Trains please visit the Collis P. Huntington Railroad Historical Society website at http://www.newrivertrain.com.