East of the Blue Ridge

Chronicles of an On30 quarry railroad

Industrial Railroads

Relics of an Old Soapstone Railroad

For a few years in the 1920s, soapstone rode the rails along the Tye River and Rucker Run in Nelson County.

Looking across the tops of old bridge abutments at Rucker Run

Several soapstone operations were consolidated by Thomas F. Ryan to form the Standard Soapstone Corporation.

Bridge abutment just outside Norwood, Virginia

Ryan built a new stone cutting and assembly plant, and a new railroad to connect the factory to the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad at Norwood.

Railroad grade along Rucker Run

The new railroad was built across rugged country and required extensive grading, with high fills, deep cuts, and tall bridges.

Railroad track hardware on a soapstone boulder near Variety Mills

The new railroad shared a few miles of right-of-way with an older narrow gauge railroad. Dual gauge track was built to handle the narrow gauge trains from the quarries, and the standard gauge traffic connecting to the C&O.

Bridge abutment on the bank of Rucker Run

Ryan’s Standard Soapstone was in operation for a very short time. Shortly after his death in 1928 the entire operation was shut down and scrapped.

Riverton Lime Kiln

This lime kiln once stood up close up to the Norfolk & Western’s Shenandoah line near Front Royal, Virginina.

Of particular interest to me was the fact that the operation used a narrow gauge tram to charge the kilns with limestone quarried nearby.

The narrow gauge tracks were on a high, narrow bridge, with several sections apparently set up to dump carloads of limestone into storage silos.

The tram reached the high bridge by way of a steep incline. I imagine a cable was used to get the cars up and down this steep grade.

The tram ran on 30 inch gauge track to connect the kiln to the quarry.

It was powered by this small Plymouth Diesel locomotive.

The lime was hauled in these small side dump cars, which appear to be homemade.

Rails to Schuyler - What is it?

Sitting on a siding adjacent to the engine house loading platform was a flatcar with an unusual load.

The load consisted of a wood sheathed box with a tarpaper roof, and some unidentifiable machinery mounted on I-beams.

Historian and author Garth G. Groff knew what this unusual flatcar load was.

The mysterious contraption was a marine steam turbine that had been moved to the mill in the 1970s. Whatever use the mill foreman may have had in mind for the turbine apparently never materialized.

Rails to Schuyler

This soapstone quarry is near Schuyler, Virginia. It is one of a series of quarries in a line along a hillside east of the Virginia Alberene soapstone mill.

The quarries were connected to the mill by a branch of the Nelson & Albemarle Railroad. This is my unscientific way of determining that the rail used to serve the quarries was about 3 and a half inches tall.

Sitting in the brambles on the quarry spur is an old railroad car. This is a Chesapeake and Ohio pre-World War One vintage flatcar. The Nelson & Albemarle Railroad leased flatcars, a ballast car, and a passenger combine from the C & O. Over the time these cars were leased, they became the oldest cars owned by the Chesapeake & Ohio that were still in service.

Little locomotives were knocking these flatcars around between the quarries and mill long after arch bar trucks had been banned from the interstate rail network.

Looking toward the soapstone mill from the deck of the flatcar.

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.