The Virginian Railway (VGN) operated in Virginia and West Virginia between 1907 and 1959. It was created primarily to haul bituminous coal from southern West Virginia to the seaports in the Tidewater area of Virginia.
The VGN started out as a small 85-mile short line called Deepwater Railway in order to access the coal mines in the more rugged mountainous areas of West Virginia. The company then acquired the Tidewater Railway of Virginia allowing the transportation of its payload across Virginia to the Hampton Roads ports, especially to Sewell’s Point where a new coal pier was constructed. The joining of these 2 railways formed a new railroad named the Virginian Railway.
The Virginian ultimately became known as the “Richest Little Railroad in the World”. It was well-funded by the very wealthy Henry Rogers of Standard Oil who had joined with William Page, a civil engineer, to design and develop the railroad. During its 50 years of existence, it operated some of the best locomotive power available, including steam, diesel and electric. It became quite profitable as well, delivering the high-grade “smokeless” coal to hungry markets.
In 1959, the Virginian was finally merged with the Norfolk Western to form a large Class I freight company called the Norfolk Southern Railroad.
As one of the fallen flags of railroad history, the VGN continues to be remembered and revered by historians, modelers and others. In fact, there is a prominent Yahoo! group known as the VGN Enthusiasts. Preservationists have restored VGN passenger stations as museums in Suffolk, VA and Oak Hill, WV and are currently restoring the one in Roanoke.
In 1962, probably inspired by the VGN, W. Allen McClelland built one of the most famous model railroads to date called the Virginian and Ohio (V&O). The HO scale railroad was freelanced, but prototypically operated. The era was originally set in the 1950’s from Afton to Elm Grove, VA but was later extended to Kingswood Junction, VA and updated to the 1968 era. In the late 1990’s the railroad was again updated to the 1975 era. The V&O has been a tremendous inspiration to model railroaders all over the world and has been featured in many model railroad publications over the years.
Ultimately, Allen had to dismantle the layout when he moved to a new home, although part of the original layout was able to be preserved and is housed in the National Model Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, TN.
by H. Reid
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