Recently, we have received a number of queries from patrons who can see or hear local trains from their homes or offices…who do they belong to, where are they coming from, where are they going? What are they carrying? I have done my best to find information for them. But a few weeks ago I moved into my new loft in the Arts District and discovered that I could see many of those trains from my windows. So I did some more in depth research and came up with information that I thought many of our readers might find interesting.
The North Carolina Railroad was chartered in the 1850s and ran from Wilmington to Charlotte. But the towns of Winston and Salem were left out, the line passing through Greensboro, then curving southwest to High Point and beyond. Local leaders realized that this might be the financial death knell for them, so organized and financed a company to build a spur line from Greensboro to Winston and Salem.
Local industrialist Francis Fries was put in charge. The line was quickly completed from Greensboro to Salem Creek. But the ravine there proved too daunting. The cost of spanning the creek was simply too much. So the local group cut a deal with the Richmond & Danville Railroad, which took over and completed the project. It was the most important event in the history of the towns of Winston and Salem. Had the line not been built, there would have been no tobacco warehouses, no tobacco and textile factories, no Hanes, no Reynolds.
Once in place, the line sprouted like kudzu, sending feelers north, south and west to connect with Asheville, Roanoke, Atlanta and Chatanooga. By 1920, the quiet backwaters of Winston and Salem, with a combined 1870 population of about one thousand citizens, had become the city of Winston-Salem, the most populous in North Carolina with over 45,000 residents.
The boom continued well into mid-century. From the 1920s into the 1950s, there were so many trains moving through the city that it was difficult to get from Church Street to Linden Street in any reasonable amount of time. But the construction of the interstate highway system in the 1950s and 60s brought an end to the railroad era. Today, our old rail lines are still used, just not as often. But for those who still lift their heads at the sound of a train blowing for a crossing, the map below shows both the past and present of railroading in Winston-Salem.
Our current railroad lines are shown as gray and white dotted lines. Each lettered entry gives the following information: Where does the line go? When was the line built? Who built it? The dates are approximate, because railroads were not built in a day.
Today, our city is served by three railroads, the huge Norfolk Southern line, a merger of two early giants, Norfolk & Western and the Southern Railway, and two class 3 shortlines, the Yadkin Valley Railroad and the Winston-Salem Southbound. The shortlines feed local traffic into the Norfolk Southern system, and, in the case of the WSSB, the CSX at Wadesboro.
Norfolk Southern is a major national railroad. Their PR person told me that (1) their trains do not necessarily run on a fixed schedule, and (2) that even if they did they would not give out those schedules for security reasons. Indeed, their black and white painted engines can be seen moving through downtown at any time of the day or night. But on most weekdays, if you take a look a little after eight A.M., you will probably find a significant mixed freight, with five or six engines, moving southward through the area. One of their main presences in the area is the auto yard in Walkertown, an 80 acre site that can accommodate 77 railcars on its siding and 6,743 vehicles in its parking area. According to their website, Ford, Chrysler, Mazda and Honda use this facility. Allied Trucking moves the vehicles to local dealers.
The Yadkin Valley is a subsidiary of the national Gulf and Ohio system. They are headquartered in Rural Hall and operate 93 miles of track between Rural Hall and Wilkesboro, to the west, and Mt. Airy to the north. They have around 20 employees and 10 engines and serve about 16 industries, moving around 12,700 carloads of poultry feed ingredients, wood products, steel, plastics, gas and ethanol per year. One of their major customers is Louisiana-Pacific, located between Booneville and Elkin. I have also seen their trains, usually late at night, at Hanes Dye and Finishing Company in downtown Winston-Salem. Their engines have the G&O logo on them, along with a painted Yadkin Valley Railroad or YVRR insignia.
The Winston-Salem Southbound was built by local investors between 1905 and 1910, when the first train departed for Wadesboro. It operates over 90 miles, from Wadesboro, where it connects with CSX, to Winston-Salem where it connects with Norfolk Southern. Their trains move grain, sand, gravel, stone, forest products, paper products, coal, coke, cement, clay fertilizer, aluminum, chemicals, iron and steel.
Their principle shipper is Corn Products International, a huge company with a presence on several continents, located in Winston-Salem near US 52 south of Clemmonsville Road. Corn Products is one of the world’s leading producers of sweeteners and syrups and starches. You will see their distinctive black tank cars branded with their logo in white, and many less distinctive gray covered gondolas moving up and down our local tracks.
WSSB does not seem to have any engines of its own, so you might see CSX or Norfolk Southern or other logos on their trains. In the era of cabooses, you could always recognize their trains by the logo on the caboose, but I have not seen a moving caboose in many years.
Norfolk Southern train pulling covered gondolas through Winston-Salem. Below are other pics, identified from top to bottom.
Winston-Salem Southbound caboose #670.
Yadkin Valley RR engine on siding at Donnaha in western Forsyth County.
Aerial view of Corn Products International Facility in Winston-Salem. The dark colored train cars are tankers; the gray ones are covered gondolas.
A scale model of a Corn Products tanker. You will see many of these moving through our local yards.