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Railway project #2

The tracks cross a road before starting up a ridge along Prillaman Switch Road near Ferrum, Virginia. It’s possible that this little place was once a regular train stop. The passenger train between Roanoke and Winston-Salem was called “the Punkin Vine.” Its last run was on Feb. 18, 1961. Click here for high-resolution version.

Using Google Earth’s satellite images, I followed the Norfolk Southern train route from Belews Creek, North Carolina, northward into Virginia, looking for photogenic spots. In the satellite images, I saw a trestle bridge just south of Ferrum, Virginia. That’s about an hour-and-a-half drive north from the abbey, if you take the backroads.

I would have to say that the drive was somewhat depressing. I had expected the backroads to be a picturesque mixture of hills, forest, and farmland. But because my route kept fairly close to the railway, what I saw instead was mostly decayed industry and the falling-apart old houses of the people who worked in those industries. Once upon a time, living near a railway meant jobs. Now it means unemployment, decayed infrastructure, poverty, and Trump voters. There were shockingly few farms. Apparently people didn’t farm much if they worked in the old industries. Instead, they worked for wages and bought most of their food in little country stores. There also were quite a few of what I call nasty little churches. They are independent churches, falling apart just like the houses, of fundamentalist denominations such as “Holiness.”

A county or two to the west of the railway, rural Virginia is much more beautiful. Now I know.

The trestle is just south of Ferrum on Prillaman Switch Road. The railway is following a ridge at that point. The trestle bridges a small stream. The stream was almost roaring with snowmelt on the March day that I was there. To get from stream level up to railway level required climbing a steep and rather treacherous bank. I climbed the bank with my digital camera, but the film camera and its tripod are just too heavy for such a climb. These are all digital photos.

At some point I’m going to time these expeditions to catch a coal train on the tracks.

⬆︎ Click here for high-resolution version.


  1. Jo wrote:

    I enjoy your photography as much as your writing – you have an excellent command of both. Railway trestles are fascinating.

    Traveling via train is something that I enjoy. On a trip from Jacksonville, FL to El Paso, TX, made a stop in New Orleans, actually backing into the station there.

    Am still savoring a train trip from Emeryville, CA to Seattle, WA. We were late leaving, which was most fortuitous, as the train traveled through the Cascades during daylight hours.

    Wednesday, March 28, 2018 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  2. Lars Prillaman wrote:

    That little store was once run by Nick Prillaman. One family story I’ve heard,and it may well be true, is that during Prohibition, Nick would order sugar that would arrive by boxcar. The boxcar would get set on a siding and the door unlocked. Next morning the sugar would be gone and there’d be cash left in it from the moonshiners using the sugar to increase their production yields. Last time I saw this spot, there’s no siding rail that I can recall. I imagine it was closer to the store when it existed.

    Saturday, February 15, 2020 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

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