Rural Retreat, VA, Train 42, December 24, 1957




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Published on Sep 8, 2009

Train 42 'The Pelican' headed by N&W 4-8-4 Class J No.603 arrives at Rural Retreat, VA eastbound from New Orleans to Washington shortly before 10pm Christmas Eve 1957, and thunders off into the night. The Norfolk & Western Railway's own Class J was perhaps the finest of all express steam engines, and Number 603 is heard here in its last days of main line service with a consist of 17 cars. The photograph is of Train 17 'The Birmingham Special' westbound arriving later that same night at 11.37pm, being waved through by Agent J.L. Akers. The photograph and sound recording were by O. Winston Link and his assistant Corky Zider who operated a Tapesonic recorder and non-directional microphone; chimes were played specially for the recording at the nearby Grace Lutherian Church by a Mrs. K. Dodson. Seven nights later, steam motive power would come to an end on the Bristol line. The building on the right still stands today, however its future seems uncertain.

Edit September 2012 in reply to a query:
The station: was built in the 1860's to serve passengers from the local community, was used also to store local farm produce for transportation, and is now not in use. It was recently in danger of being either demolished or relocated, but it's now safe for the time being. There is a contact for the Rural Retreat Depot Foundation, info given in this 'link': http://www.roanoke.com/news/roanoke/w...
The guy in the photo: Agent J.L. Akers was probably a local N&W employee, maybe some of the people posting here can help.
The sound recording: edited from 'Fading Giant' (Sounds of Steam Railroading Vol.2). O. Winston Link Railway productions, CD reissue 1997. According to the liner notes, the sound recording was produced using a 636 Electro-voice polar pattern microphone and Tapesonic recorder (a reel-to-reel built in N.Y.) Link built his own power supply unit comprising two lead acid batteries and a small DC to AC motor generator.
The photographer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/O._Winst...
The location: an arial view of the station and the railroad can be seen clearly on Google Earth (Rural Retreat, Virginia). The recording seems to last until the 603 reaches Crockett, a small settlement a few miles eastward down the line.
More information will be found at the O. Winston Link museum (particularly, more accurate information from Link's diaries regarding the date & time the sound recording was actually taken!) http://www.linkmuseum.org/
The photo: this photo, 'The Birmingham Special Gets The Highball At Rural Retreat' and many other famous ones, were published in 'Steam, Steel & Stars', America's Last Railroad', which gives a good historical background to Link, the area, the local people and the methods he used to achieve his photos.
There is a short interview with the organist of the local church who played the chimes at Link's request, elsewhere on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lqRwIK... I understand that Mrs. Dodson passed away only a few years ago.
I've never been to Rural Retreat, in fact I've never visited the US, but I hope to go there one day.


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