Although the early-afternoon sun had retreated behind some billowing gray clouds on that hot, late-May day in West Virginia, the actual gray smoke rising above the wooden, yellow depot serving the Tonongahela Forest-nestled, single-street town of Durbin originated from the small, black, Moore-Keppel and Company #3 steam engine, a scene somewhat brightened by the colorful blue, yellow, and red open, roofed, and caboose cars it stood poised to pull on its 11-mile round-trip, afternoon run. The multiply-shaded, green-carpeted Cheat Mountain, like a vast background to a vintage painting, rose from behind the four-car chain, which itself was alive with journey-anticipatory chatter created by its full passenger complement. Https://

The day’s train may well have been short, but the historical period which had led to it had, indeed, been long, and carrying fare-paying tourists could not have been further from its original purpose. That purpose had been sparked by the resources the area could yield, the tracks which could facilitate their movement, and the specialized steam locomotive which could pull them.

Timber, cut from pine plantations located along the Greenbrier River, had traditionally been river-transported in the form of log drives during high tide levels in the spring to Ronceverte mills, but higher-elevation spruce forests remained inaccessible, and the high cost of rail line construction, despite some 20 post-Civil War attempts, never proceeded, leaving mountain obstacle-laden Upper Greenbrier Valley the last area of the state to be so connected.

The Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, which had been formed as a result of the 1868 amalgamation of the Virginia Central and Covington and Ohio railroads, had, by 1873, already carried passengers, freight, and coal on track which stretched from Richmond, Virginia, to Huntington, West Virginia, and therefore seemed the most logical company to forge this last link, especially since it had two water-level routes at its disposal: the first followed the Greenbrier River from Ronceverte, while the second followed both Anthony’s and Knapps Creeks from White Sulphur Springs.

Urgency for either line had been sparked by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company’s contemplated, but yet unbuilt, mill in the town of Cass.

Surveys of the latter route, conducted in 1896, and from Durbin, at the forks of the Greenbrier River, to Marlinton, the following year, resulted in the decision to construct a line in a northerly direction, from Ronceverte into Pocahontas County. It would be an extension of the Chesapeake and Ohio’s existing track, operated by a subsidiary incorporated in 1897 and designated the “Greenbrier Railway Company.” It later became known as the “Durbin Route.”

Work commenced two years later, on August 5, in Burnside and had reached Marlinton 23 days later. Construction members, housed in strategically located camps, numbered some 1,500 by September, and actual track laying occurred by the end of the year, extending four miles north of Renick in northern Greenbrier County by means of the newly-completed Knapps Creek Bridge in Marlinton and officially opening to this destination on October 26, 1900. Service to Cass followed in December.

Durbin, rapidly expanding into a boom town because of prevalent logging, sawmill, and railroading ventures, received its inaugural Greenbrier Railway Company service on May 26, 1902, sprouting stores, saloons, and hotels, in order to cater to the workforce needed to sustain the local operations. When Henry G. Davis and Stephen B. Elkins, US Senators and business partners, completed their own rail line there the following year, it served as the junction between the Chesapeake and Ohio and Western Maryland railroads on track which connected Lewisburg, West Virginia, with Cumberland, Maryland. Crew changes occurred in Durbin.

The Greenbrier Railway Company, which was also known as the “Greenbrier Division” of the Chesapeake and Ohio, operated over a branch line from Whitcomb which extended northward and then entered Pocahontas County, with stations in Droop Mountain, Beard, Seebert, Watoga, Buckeye, Marlinton, Clawson, Clover Link, Sitlington, Cass, Hosterman, Boyer, Durbin itself, Bartow, and Winterburn along the Greenbrier River, facilitating industrial development in the area for the first time.

By yanam49

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