“Hear the whistle blow”…the sound of the steam whistle of Winston-Salem Southbound engine #301, 1956…

 

Norfolk Southern mixed freight crosses Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem

Norfolk Southern mixed freight crosses Fourth Street in downtown Winston-Salem

Six years ago we received a number of queries from patrons who could see or hear local trains from their homes or offices, mostly downtown…who do they belong to, where are they coming from, where are they going, what are they carrying? I did a blog post in an attempt to answer those questions. In the interim, things have changed, so herewith a new post bringing matters up to date.

The first North Carolina Railroad train, 1856

The first North Carolina Railroad train, Charlotte to Goldsboro, 1856

The North Carolina Railroad was chartered in 1848 by the NC General Assembly. Ground was broken for the line in Greensboro in 1851 and the first train ran the complete 223 mile line from Charlotte to Goldsboro in 1856. That same year, the company began opening workshops in selected towns along the route such as Burlington, originally known as Company Shops, and Spencer, near Salisbury.

The 1854 Schroeter map shows the existing railroads in NC and the soon to be completed North Carolina Railroad

The 1854 Schroeter map shows the existing railroads in NC and the soon to be completed North Carolina Railroad

But the towns of Winston and Salem were left out, the line passing through Greensboro, then curving southwest to High Point (so called because it was the highest point on the line), Salisbury and beyond. Local leaders realized that this might be the financial death knell for them, so shortly after the Civil War organized and financed a company to build a spur line from Greensboro to Winston and Salem.

The state Constitutional Convention of 1868 chartered the North-Western North Carolina Railroad to run from some point off the North Carolina Railroad to the town of Salem. Later legislation authorized its extension either northward to Mt. Airy or westward to Wilkesboro and beyond. The company quickly organized, with Salem resident Edward Belo as president, and by the end of April in 1868, Greensboro residents had secured its eastern terminus for their town by agreeing to finance the grading as far as the Forsyth County line.

In 1869, the North Carolina Railroad acquired $20,000 of the new road’s stock and arranged with it for joint terminal facilities at a location just west of Greensboro, to be named Salem Junction (now Pomona), but funds ran out before any track could be laid. In June of 1870, the NWNCRR proposed a merger with the North Carolina Railroad, but their terms were not acceptable to the NCRR stockholders.The North Carolina General Assembly then allowed the North-Western North Carolina Railroad to merge with any connecting road that would complete its track to Salem. The Richmond & Danville Railroad acquired the NWNCRR in early 1871, and completed the road to a point between First and Second Streets in Winston in 1873. They extended the line to Bethania Station in 1888 and to meet the Cape Fear & Yadkin Valley Railway at Rural Hall in 1889.

 

Early Richmond & Danville locomotive and tender

Early Richmond & Danville locomotive and tender

In the spring of 1873, the first Richmond & Danville train crossed the Salem Creek trestle into Winston. On board was the Greensboro Cornet Band. They disembarked to play a concert in Winston while the Winston Cornet Band boarded and returned the favor in Greensboro less than an hour later.

 

It was the most important event in the history of the Twin City. Had the line not been built, there would have been no tobacco warehouses, no tobacco, furniture and textile plants, no Hanes, no Reynolds, no booming economy to build a real city. And the social impact was at least as great. Soon the railroad was offering cheap excursions from Winston and Salem to Greensboro, Charlotte and even the distant capitol, Raleigh. For the first time, Twin City citizens got to meet their Tarheel cousins. Sunday schools particularly embraced the transportation revolution. Almost every week the locals hosted a Sunday picnic, or traveled to another town as guests of the local Methodists, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, and so on. Pretty soon, young men and women from distant towns were getting engaged and married.

 

Once in place, the line sprouted like kudzu, sending feelers north, south and west to connect with Asheville, Roanoke, Atlanta   and Chatanooga. But none of it came easy. Local citizens had to work hard to build all three of the early rail lines that connected Winston and Salem to the rest of the country.

 

The second line began in 1886 when a group of Roanoke businessmen and a group of Twin City businessmen began work on the Roanoke and Southern line between the two cities. Repeated shortages of funds delayed the project for six years until it was completed in 1892. That was made possible by a lease agreement with the Norfolk & Western railway, which four years later acquired the line outright and established it as the Winston-Salem Division, which would last well into the 20th century.
The first Roanoke & Southern locomotive

The first Roanoke & Southern locomotive

But the city still lacked a direct southern outlet, so in 1905, another group of local businessmen began the Winston-Salem Southbound Railroad, about a 92 mile run to Wadesboro in Anson County.

In 1891, a group of local businessmen began discussing a new rail line to be known as the Winston & Wadesboro Railroad, which would connect the coming Roanoke & Southern with the Atlantic Coast Line, the intent being to haul coal from Kentucky and West Virginia to the US Navy yard in Charleston, SC. More than a decade was spent haggling over the route.
WSSB construction train, 1910

WSSB construction train, 1910

On January 1, 1905, the N.C. General Assembly granted a charter for the Winston-Salem Southbound Railway. The incorporaters were Francis H. Fries, William A. Lemly, James A. Gray, A.E. Holton, C.A. Reynolds, John Cameron Buxton, H.A. Pfohl, James K. Norfleet, A.H. Eller, Henry E. Fries, and Cyrus B. Watson. Francis Fries was named chairman. In May, a contract to construct the road was awarded to the Wheeling Contracting Company. Then nothing happened.
The Southbound went everywhere, including right up the middle of Wachovia Street at Brooktown and Marshall

The Southbound went everywhere, including right up the middle of Wachovia Street at Brooktown and Marshall

A year later the Southern Railway quietly acquired a big chunk of the railroad’s stock, but due to tight money markets, still nothing happened. In October all construction contracts were cancelled.

 

The local officers sought help elsewhere. In 1909 the Norfolk & Western Railway and the Atlantic Coast Line acquired all of the WSSB stock and formed a joint venture. Contracts were signed on July 20 at a reception held in the Palm Room of the Zinzendorf Hotel on North Main Street. In September, the first track, to bring in construction material, was built, extending southward from the N & W  yard in Winston to the Salem Creek bridge. From there, work quickly progressed. The last spike on the WSSB was driven on November 23, 1910.
The 1st WSSB train ran on Thanksgiving afternoon, Nov 24, 1910. It departed Winston-Salem at 12:35 PM and, after stops at each station, arrived in Wadesboro at 7:00 PM.

The 1st WSSB passenger train ran on Thanksgiving afternoon, Nov 24, 1910. It departed Winston-Salem at 12:35 PM and, after stops at each station, arrived in Wadesboro at 7:00 PM.

Joint N & W and WSSB freight depot

Joint N & W and WSSB freight depot, Winston yard

 

Local rail map, 1917

Local rail map, 1917

By 1920, the quiet backwaters of Winston and Salem, with a combined 1870 population of about one thousand citizens, had become the bustling city of Winston-Salem, the most populous in North Carolina with about 47,000 residents.And the railroad boom affected many surrounding communities. Former bucolic crossroads such as Kernersville, Rural Hall, Clemmons, Walnut Cove, Stoneville, Lexington and Mocksville saw rapid economic growth. The main east-west and north-south lines crossed at a former nowhere which became Barber Junction, which overnight developed several hotels and a number of other local businesses totally dependent on the railroad.

As soon as Henry Ford introduced affordable cars and trucks just as the Great War was beginning, the railroads felt the competition. But the boom continued well into mid-century. From the 1920s into the 1950s, there were so many trains moving through the Twin 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, which subsidized the trucking industry, finally brought an end to the railroad boom era.

The North Carolina Railroad, the oldest incorporated business in the state, still owns the original railway corridor, now expanded to 317 miles, extending across 16 counties from Morehead City to Charlotte. Today, our old local rail lines are still used, just not as often. About 10-12 trains, ranging from a single engine with a few cars to five engines and up to 300 cars pass through downtown W-S at all hours of the day, seven days a week. But for those who still lift their heads at the sound of a train blowing for a crossing, the map below shows the current railroad layout in Winston-Salem.

currentrailsmap

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.

North Winston yard, across from Smith Reynolds Airport

North Winston yard, across from Smith Reynolds Airport

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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.

New car delivery facility, Walkertown

New car delivery facility, Walkertown

But on most weekdays around eight A.M., you will probably find a significant mixed freight, with four or five engines, moving southward through the area, with a similar train moving northward a short time later. One of their main presences in the area is the new auto delivery yard in Walkertown, an 80 acre site that can accommodate 77 railcars on its siding and 6,743 vehicles in its parking area. Ford, Chrysler, Mazda and Honda use this facility. Allied Trucking moves the vehicles to local dealers.

NS triple header hauling new cars to Walkertown past Salem Lake

NS triple header hauling new cars to Walkertown past Salem Lake

NS also moves coal to the Duke Energy Belews steam plant. About 210 carloads of coal are consumed daily.

The Yadkin Valley is a subsidiary of the national Gulf and Ohio system since 1994. 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.

Yadkin Valley freight rolls past the restored Rural Hall station

Yadkin Valley freight rolls past the restored Rural Hall station

Principal shippers are Tyson Foods at Roaring River – a poultry feed mill; Detroit Salt – salt; Weyerhauser at Elkin – manufacturer of fiberboard; Wayne Feeds and Perdue Farms at Burch – poultry feed mills; ABTCO at Roaring River – producer of logs, fiberboard, and wood chips; and NC Foam Inc. at Mount Airy – manufacturer of foam products. Their engines have the G&O logo on them, along with a painted Yadkin Valley Railroad or YVRR insignia.

The Detroit Salt Company dates to the early 20th century, comprising about 1,500 acres of salt mines and over 100 miles of roads 1,200 feet beneath the city of Detroit, MI. They produce mostly salt for deicing of roads and sidewalks. This is their facility in Siloam, NC.

The Detroit Salt Company dates to the early 20th century, comprising about 1,500 acres of salt mines and over 100 miles of roads 1,200 feet beneath the city of Detroit, MI. They produce mostly salt for deicing of roads and sidewalks. This is their facility in Siloam, NC.

The Winston-Salem Southbound still operates independently under the joint ownership of Norfolk Southern and CSX, from Wadesboro, where it connects with CSX (formerly Atlantic Coast), to Winston-Salem where it connects with Norfolk Southern (formerly Norfolk & Western and the Southern Railway). Their trains move grain, sand, gravel, stone, forest products, paper products, coal, coke, cement, clay fertilizer, aluminum, chemicals, iron and steel.

Corn products in Winston-Salem

Corn products in Winston-Salem

Their principle shipper is Corn Products International, a huge company with a presence on several continents, located in Winston-Salem near the old Schlitz plant on 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 at High Rock Lake

WSSB at High Rock Lake

Their other principal shipper is Owens Brockway Glass Co. of Eller, in Davidson County – manufacturer of glass products.

WSSB does not have any engines of its own, so you might see CSX or Norfolk Southern or other logos on their trains.

WSSB freight on the trestle at the Midway Drive-in Theater, April 27, 1957

WSSB freight on the trestle at the Midway Drive-in Theater on Vargrave Street, April 27, 1957

Winston-Salem Passenger Depots
The first Richmond & Danville depot, 1873, was east of Chestnut Street between First and Second Streets

The first Richmond & Danville depot, 1873, was east of Chestnut Street between First and Second Streets

An early Richmond & Danville locomotive leaves Winston Station

An early Richmond & Danville locomotive leaves Winston Station

The second Winston station, the first to be called Union Station, was designed by famous southern architect Franklin Pierce Milburn. It was intended to impress visitors, so had a fountain on the platform.

The second Winston station, the first to be called Union Station, was designed by famous southern architect Franklin Pierce Milburn. It was intended to impress visitors, so had a fountain on the platform.

unionstation

The 1904 Union Station about 1920. In the background is Building 12a at RJR Tobacco Plant 256, now the Forsyth County Government Center.

The 1904 Union Station about 1920. In the background is Building 12a at RJR Tobacco Plant 256, now the Forsyth County Government Center.

The second Union Station was built in 1926

The second Union Station was built in 1926

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ticketoffice1959

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