Railfanning the Virginian "West End"

[Gerry Albers asks:]

My wife and are going to do some railfanning while travelling in West Virginia. We (I) want to get some pictures along the NS (ex N&W, ex Virginian) line from Princeton/Mullens north to Deepwater for the model railroad I will be building in our basement in the near future. Could you or some of the society members help with the following:

1. Where can I get topo maps of this area, especially depicting the elevation of that line?

2. Can you recommend any good natural, railroad, or otherwise interesting areas to visit?

3. Can you recommend any motels/hotels in the Mullens/Princeton/Bluefield area for one night's lodging? And in the Charleston area for the next night? This will relieve some concern on my wife's part. A bonus would be any restaurants that you could recommend.

Thank you for you consideration and help.


Topo maps can be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey. Look at http://mapping.usgs.gov/mac/findmaps.html.
Sporting goods stores that deal in hiking and camping gear frequently carry these maps too.

One book I find helpful for railfanning is the "Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer", published by DeLorme, which has good detail of roads, rail and elevation. The DeLorme "West Virginia Atlas and Gazetteer" has been out since at least last August. I have used it for a couple of trips to railfan the 'Pokey'. It has excellent topo features and track locations. You can find it at a lot of Barnes and Noble book store locations. They also have a software package, TOPO USA that essentially duplicates all US topographic maps, (at least for the lower 48,) available for around $90. You don't have to buy very many topo maps for it to be a cost-effective alternative. There's also a regional railroad map series that just added Appalachia/Piedmont to its list, available from the Commissary. That map would be very valuable.

[From Ross Hunter:]
I've had good luck with county highway maps from the West Virginia Department of Transporation-Division of Highways in Charleston. 1900 Kanawha Blvd E, Bldg 5 25305. Phone 304-558-3505. They can send you an order form. These are invaluable
in finding your way around.

[After mentioning the WV edition of DeLorme, Bob Loehne writes:]
Enjoy yourself chasing the Virginian. I have been up there many times (always dreading what will be scrapped or otherwise missing anew on each trip). When I go to an area that is new to me, I take the DeLorme and make blown up copies of the appropriate DeLorme pages. Then, when I get there, I purchase local county maps ($2-$3) which often add insight or new local road names.

[M. R. Patrick adds:]
Much of the Bluefield area (all the way to Iaeger) is covered in DeLorme's Virginia issue. Their CD-ROM has outstanding detail of even the smallest areas. for example, both of the side streets under Cooper bridge are named, and the town of Davy is accurately mapped.

[And Marty Swartz gets the final word:]
Ron gave a good answer for "where". Here are the "which ones" to go with it. Following the line south from Deepwater to Mullens, you will go through the following 1:24,000 scale topo maps: Powelton, Beckwith, Oak Hill, Pax, Eccles, Beckley, Lester, McGraws, and Mullens.

FYI, the line west to Gilbert includes the following quads: Pineville, Baileysville, Gilbert, Oceana, and Matheny. The core of the Winding Gulf branch comprises the Rhodell, Lester (again), Crab Orchard, and Odd quads. To round out the west end, you'd be remiss to overlook the Clark's Gap grade: this is covered by Mullens, Rhodell (again), Crumpler, Matoaka, Athens, Princeton, and Oakvale.

Destinations & Attractions

When in Mullens be sure to visit the Virginian Caboose Museum, located downtown behind the City Hall / Library building. (Big red VGN C-10 caboose, you can't miss it.) The head curator is Jack Feller, who can usually be reached in person at the Feller Insurance Agency downtown (304) 294-4004, or at home (304) 294-6220. If you fail to reach him, the folks at the Library or City Hall can help you to gain access to the exhibits inside the caboose.

Though the main Virginian plant at Princeton is virtually all gone, the area is still chasable. As you wind toward Elmore and Mullins, you'll drive thru some great RR venues (eg., Rock, Matoka) and then as you approach Elmore you begin heading under and seeing other double wide, high trestles, all great for photos. The Mullins terminal has been hit pretty hard by the scrapper too, but you can follow Winding Gulf to the mines or take the north route to Deepwater. Out of Elmore you can head west toward Gilbert (connects with the NS Pocy mainline). Just out of Elmore on the right is a huge mine and loadout which is very shootable.

There's tons more ... don't let anybody tell you the Virginian is dead.

There are two coal mine exhibits in the area. One is near Beckley, the other is in Pocahontas. Although in CSX territory, the massive New River Gorge bridge is also a sight to see.

[From Ross Hunter:]
Don't miss the town of Bramwell off US 52.


The I-77/US460 Princeton exit contains many hotels and eating places. The Hampton Inn is relatively new. The Texas Steakhouse there is a good value too.

There are some places in Bluefield as well. The last convention there was at the Bluefield Holiday Inn on the US460 bypass.

[Ron Gentry recommends:]
There is an excellent Comfort Inn just outside Bluefield, Va. Go to their web site and make your reservations or to
check out others. The road from Bluefield, Va. to Pocahontas, Va. follows the railroad and there are many places to stop and take pictures because they haul coal on that line constantly. There is a railyard at Yards, Va. too. Pocahontas is my hometown and the exhibition mine and museum is an excellent place to visit.

[From Ross Hunter:]
There are a handful of motels and places to eat at Princeton (jct of I-[77] and US 460): Days Inn, Comfort Inn and others. I've stayed in a couple of them and they are fine. Charleston has all the national chains. Check the internet. Try Cagney's (Washington Street) restaurant in Charleston. It's near the Marriott if that's where you stay. Steak and Ale (South Side Expressway) is good also. You'll also find Red Lobster and Bennigans.

[M. R. Patrick adds:]
Much of the Bluefield area (all the way to Iaeger) is covered in DeLorme's Virginia issue. Their CD-ROM has outstanding detail of even the smallest areas. for example, both of the side streets under Cooper bridge are named, and the town of Davy is accurately mapped.

[Marty Swartz:]
If you enjoy something in a more natural setting, a little off the beaten path, I highly recommend the lodge at Twin Falls state park, which is in the Mullens area. I always stay there when I am in that part of the world. It's an intimate little place in a gorgeous setting. There is a 18-hole golf course available. Last time I was there, upon returning from dinner just at dusk, I encountered a herd of 20 or so deer grazing through the woods just outside my room, so close I could hear them chew. Just astounding.

For info, visit http://www.twinfallsresort.com . This resort is part of the West Virginia state parks system, more info on all of these can be found at http://www.wvparks.com .

If you ARE going to stay there, and are coming from Mullens, be advised that the main route to the park (through Pineville) is very circuitous. A more direct way to go is to take Route 54 from Mullens north to Lester. At Lester, turn left (west) onto Route 97. Proceed about two miles, passing under an ex-VGN trestle, until you reach a Freewill Baptist Church on the right. Just beyond the church will be a log cabin on the left. Turn left onto the road beside the cabin. This will take you directly onto the park grounds, alongside the golf course. It's easier than it sounds, and this is the route that all of the Mullens folk who work at the park use.

And all in one nutshell:

[Judy Riffe writes (uh types?):]

Hello, railfans!! My husband just read your email, and told me "you need to respond to this email". Well, here goes!!!

In Beckley, the exhibition mine is "the Beckley Exhibition Mine". It opens for the season in April. You will find much area information at Tamarack, exit 45. Tamarack is a pleasant experience in itself. It features WVa's "finest" atrists and their crafts. Crafts are rather expensive in my opinion, but demonstrate unique skills. Crafts everything from glass blowing, wood, jewelry, quilts, toys, etc. I've found it very interesting just walking through and browsing through the various displays and sales areas. Also, the Greenbrier has the food bar. They offer some "specialty " dishes, and although I'm not a coffee person, I've been told their coffees "are to die for." All of the food I've tried is quite tasty, and reasonably priced.

There is a train - mining related exhibit at the north side of the New River Gorge overlook. I haven't personally seen it, but have been told it is interesting.

Some of the most interesting history in the area is along the New River, in the national park. (Rt. 19 N out of Beckley to Thurmond, check at Tamarack for the Gorge and park information). Talking with a helpful ranger,
can point you in the direction of some old abandoned mine remains along the New River -- if you're the outdoor type. My husband and I like to explore those areas.

I don't know your route, but if you are wanting to follow the railroads, I would suggest as you leave Princeton, take 19,to 10, to Mullens and go to Beckley from Mullens. This will give you some "rail" time. Also after crossing Herndon Mountain while traveling to Mullens, you will see the railroad trestle. I always like to look at that as I travel in that area at least once a month. Unless you are just interested in going to Charleston, I believe that is out of your way. The trip up 19 (New River Gorge) is really the quickest and most direct route.

[Posted 3-May-99]

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