Abingdon in Washington County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)
The Virginia Creeper
The Abingdon Branch
“The Virginia Creeper”
Norfolk & Western Railway’s Abingdon Branch began in 1887 as the Abingdon Coal and Iron Railroad (AC&IRR). The Virginia-Carolina Railroad (VCRR) bought the AC&IRR in 1900, and extended rail service to Damascus. By 1915, VCRR trains ran over the 76.5 miles of track between Abingdon and Elkland, North Carolina. The parking lot behind you was the VCRR’s Abingdon yard, where equipment was kept, and the VCRR jointed the N&W main line. In 1916 the N&W bought the VCRR, and the route became The Abingdon Branch. The track from Elkland to West Jefferson was abandoned in 1933.
The popular nickname, “Virginia Creeper” fittingly describes both the steep twisting mountain route and the speed of the trains. In some places, the posted speed was only 5 MPH.
The Abingdon Branch crossed some of the highest and most scenic terrain of any standard gauge railroad in the United States. In the 55½ miles from Abingdon to West Jefferson, there were 108 bridges, most made with timber, and no tunnels. In a classic series of photographs entitled A Day on the Abingdon Branch, O. Winston Link captured memorable scenes along the historic route during the last days of steam operations. Some photos from this series are on display at the Historical
The last train between Abingdon and West Jefferson ran on March 31, 1977. The Abingdon Branch rail bed was converted to the Virginia Creeper Trail through a cooperative effort of the Town of Abingdon, Town of Damascus and the U.S. Forest Service.
N&W Locomotive Class M, #433
Wheel Arrangement 4-8-0
Weight of Locomotive 206,200 lbs
Length (engine & tender) 67’6”
Driving wheels 56” diameter
Steam Pressure 200 psi
Tractive Effort 40,163 lbs
Water Capacity 10,000 gal
Coal Capacity 14 tons
Firebox area 45 sq feet
Cylinder Bore 21”
Piston Stroke 30”
White Flags – Green Flags
Green Lights – White Liqhts
The small lights on the front of the engine and the flags show the train’s classification (type). They were used before the days of two-way radio.
White flags and white classification lights identified an unscheduled train, called an “extra” – a train not shown on a posted schedule.
Green flags and green classification lights meant that another train – a “second section” is following.
Norfolk & Western Railway
Class M Locomotive #433,
American Locomotive Company
The N&W owned over 100 Class M locomotives from 1906 to 1961. Today, two survive — 433 in Abingdon, and 475 operated by the Strasburg Railroad, Strasburg, PA. By the early 1920s, heavier and more powerful locomotives had replaced the Class M on mainline service. Because of their light weight and small size the Class M had a useful life until the very end of the steam era, working in rail yards and on local freight and passenger train where roadbed conditions prohibited using heavier locomotives.
In 1952, 433 came from Roanoke to Bristol as a backup engine on the Abingdon Branch. While in Bristol, 433 was a common sight in the railroad yard and on the many industrial tracks lacing the Bristol area. Although 433 was then equipped with a spark arrestor smoke stack, it rarely ran on the Abingdon Branch.
Steam operations ceased on the Abingdon Branch in 1957, marking the end of an era and a way of life. Except for 433, all Class M locomotives based in Bristol were immediately scrapped. Number 433 avoided the torch and moved to Radford where it worked until retired in July 1958. In October 1958, the N&W donated the engine to the Town of Abingdon, and on November 24, 1958 it was moved to its current location at the junction of the N&W main line and the Abingdon
Roanoke, May 6, 1950 August A. Thieme
Bristol Roundhouse, September 1956 Ed King
Bristol Yard, July 1956 Ed King
White Top Station, circa 1952 Ed King
Location. 36° 42.546′ N, 81° 58.278′ W. Marker is in Abingdon, Virginia, in Washington County. Marker is at the intersection of Green Spring Road and Gibon Street SE, on the left when traveling south on Green Spring Road. Touch for map. Marker is in this post office area: Abingdon VA 24210, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. Site of Black’s Fort (approx. 0.2 miles away); Governor John B. Floyd (approx. 0.2 miles away); Stonewall Jackson Female Institute (approx. 0.2 miles away); Barter Theatre (approx. 0.2 miles away); Washington County Courthouse (approx. ¼ mile away); Martha Washington College (approx. ¼ mile away); John Campbell (approx. 0.3 miles away); Governor David Campbell (approx. 0.3 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Abingdon.
Also see . . . History of the Virginia Creeper. (Submitted on August 13, 2013.)
Categories. • Railroads & Streetcars •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on August 4, 2013, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. This page has been viewed 344 times since then and 21 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on August 4, 2013, by Don Morfe of Baltimore, Maryland. • Bernard Fisher was the editor who published this page.