Trackside Around West Virginia 1963-1968, By Bob Withers

Header Photo: Drew Jacksich

One of the all-time favorite books in my collection is one written by Bob Withers entitled Trackside Around West Virginia 1963-1968. Of course, I must admit that my primary interest in the book is due to the fact that I am a native West Virginian. In any event, the photography presented is absolutetly exceptional, although for anyone familiar with the publisher Morning Sun Books this likely comes as no surprise. The company is now highly regarded for the various railroad subjects it has released, most of which relate to classic railroads and all of which feature incredible imagery most of which is in color. Mr. Withers' book is no different. If you have any interest in West Virginia railroads or the railroads that operated there you shouldn't have any trouble enjoying this book. Lines featured include the Baltimore & Ohio, Chesapeake & Ohio, Norfolk & Western, New York Central, logging railroads, and steam shortline Buffalo Creek & Gauley.

If you are familiar with books related to trains in the Mountain State you have probably heard of Bob Withers. Aside from working for the The Herald-Dispatch in Huntington Bob has wrote numerous books over the years as well as contributed to various magazines, notably Trains. Some of his other titles include Baltimore and Ohio Railroad In West Virginia (another in my collection, it is also very good!), West Virginia Railroads Volume 3: Baltimore & Ohio, President Travels by Train: Politics and Pullmans, Baltimore & Ohio's Magnificent 2-8-8-4 EM-1 Articulated Locomotive, and many others published by Morning Sun. In Trackside Around West Virginia Bob opens the book with a short biography of himself and how he became interested in trains.

He then goes into to discussing the different railroads featured. If you are only interested in seeing the photos this section might seem a bit redundant but it is worth taking the time to read, even if you are familiar with the lines as Bob discusses their current state during the 1960s and the railroad industry in general. He also provides a system map of West Virginia's railroads during 1963. You may notice to lines absent from presentation in the book, the Western Maryland Railroad and the Pennsylvania Railroad. While the Pennsy only had a minor presence in the state, reaching the Northern Panhandle as far south as Wheeling/Benwood and a connection with the B&O it's somewhat disheartening that Bob did not feature the WM. Perhaps he simply did not have the photographs to feature (since all of the images are from his own collection) but the "Wild Mary" was another major player in the Mountain State.

Trackside Around West Virginia 1963-1968

opens by highlighting the Baltimore & Ohio. While Bob does offer some photos of the B&O in the eastern regions of the state such as at Harpers Ferry and even around Buckhannon, most of his photos depict the company's line west of Grafton and along the Ohio River Subdivision between Wheeling and Huntington. Perhaps the book's greatest feature of the B&O is that highlights some of the rarest scenes of the company's main line between Grafton and Parkersburg known as the Parkersburg Branch. This twisting and winding main line through the foothills of West Virginia was not often photoed due to its remote location. However, during a few trips over the line during the 1960s Bob snapped scenes around Pennsboro, West Union, Clarksburg, and Parkersburg.

More than half of the book is dedicated only to the B&O, which is a result of Mr. Withers not only working for the company at one time but also it was always his favorite railroad. In the second "chapter" the Chesapeake & Ohio is highlighted. Most of the coverage of the C&O is centered around Bob's hometown of Huntington although other areas of the state covered include the Coal River Subdivision, Sewell, Thurmond, Hawks Nest, Charleston, and even the interchange at Durbin with the Western Maryland. Back during those days the C&O used to sponsor the New River Train to this small town (today, the only remnant of trains in Durbin is the tiny section of the C&O's former Greenbrier Division used by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley).

The next section of the book looks at the Norfolk & Western, with Bob's photos of traveling aboard the railroad through southern West Virginia. Featured along here is Bluefield, Kenova, the hamlet of Kermit, Welch, and a number of small backwoods areas along the N&W's main line. The final areas of Trackside Around West Virginia 1963-1968 showcase the New York Central's operations around Charleston, a number of different logging lines still in service during the early 1960s, and the famous steam powered Buffalo Creek & Gauley. While these sections of the book are just a few pages in length they are quite fascinating due to the rarity of the scenes captured.

You really had to go out of your way during that time to snap photos of these railroads especially given their locations and lack of well paved highways (the NYC was located in Charleston but their coal branches were situated east and north of the city). Finally, the earliest years of the Cass Scenic Railroad are featured in the book along one of the C&O's railfan trips up the Greenbrier Division. Today, this line is but a memory making the photos that much more interesting to see. Overall, if you are looking for a history lesson of West Virginia's railroads you will find it in Bob's book but not in the way you might think. The history is presented through the photographs and not so much through text and information.