A Trip Backward in Time

I recently had an opportunity to visit and photograph the little town of Thurmond, West Virginia. Tucked deep into the mountainous region in the New River Valley central to the state, it was once a thriving center for servicing the mammoth and frequent Chesapeake & Ohio coal trains that traversed the rails through this beautiful but rugged countryside. With a population now totaling five, it has virtually become a ghost town. For all that, it retains many of the symbols of a bygone era, including the black layer of cinders laid down decades ago by the giant steam locomotives that once hauled freight through the town and stopped here to replenish their coal and water loads. Several classic brick structures are reminders of the vitality of this once-bustling and still charming railroad town.

“All around the water tank waiting for a train,” as the 1929 Jimmy Rodgers song had it. In Thurmond, this is pretty much what you get, a siding, an abandoned coaling tower, and a few brick storefronts, also lifeless. But no water tank, which was long since removed.
The signal is red and there’s no train in sight. One is promised in the next hour. If you’re into train watching, the waiting game is familiar. This time, no train made an appearance and the signal remained red.
We’re 391 miles from home. But where’s home?
The bank was once a central institution in the town. The hotel that had also graced the trackside is no more.
Wow! Three percent? Can I still get that?
Dinah, blow your horn!
Now this bank had character!
The signals show there’s plenty of rail traffic through this double-tracked territory that lies alongside the New River.
A parting shot as we leave Thurmond and return to more populous areas. It’s appropriate, perhaps, that this epitaph to a dying town is an ad for a coffin maker.

Published by Norman Reid

I worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 27 years in the field of rural community and economic development. I retired a few years ago and have been devoting my time to photography and writing. I've been a semi-pro photographer for more than 25 years and sell my work on the Web. I live in rural Virginia not far from the Shenandoah Valley.

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