East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Crossing the Creek

In March I drove up to Nelson County to try to find more signs of the long abandoned railroad of the Standard Soapstone Company.

In the woods near Variety Mills, a rural and remote area, abandoned railroad grades and soapstone quarries can still be found.

This soapstone railroad grade runs between the soapstone mill near Phoenix, and the transfer yard on the C&O at Norwood. Not far from where this picture was taken is a junction with a branch line that ran to a pair of quarries.

The pair of quarries are close to each other, separated by a creek.

The quarry to the left of this photo was served directly by the railroad, with the old grade up on the hillside above the quarry leading to a switchback down to the area where stone was loaded onto railcars. The loading track angles directly to this creek in the direction of the second quarry, so I searched for signs of a trestle that carried the loading track across the creek.

I found no signs of a trestle, but right where I expected a trestle to be, I found two large cables crossing the creek.

I traced the cables to a heavy foundation near the second quarry.

Nearby was a taller foundation that was shaped roughly like a cradle to hold something cylindrical that was about 6 feet in diameter. And near the "cradle" foundation I found the remains of a metal pipe.

I believe the metal pipe may be a smokestack for a boiler that was mounted in the "cradle". It may have driven a winch that was mounted on the foundation near the cables. Framework may have held the heavy cables up above the winch.

An aerial tram may have been used to get the stone from the second quarry over the creek to the railroad spur. If so, is this an unusually short distance to haul stone via aerial tram? The trip over the creek to the rail spur may be 100 yards or so. Also, is it unusual for a carriage to ride on 2 heavy cables? All the information I have on aerial trams indicate one cable carries the weight.