Image of the C&O for Progress monogram Image of the C&O for Progress monogram A graphic image of the words C&O Piedmont Subdivision

Virginia Air Line

Lindsay to Strathmore


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The Virginia Air Line (VAL) connected the C&O’s Piedmont Sub to the Rivanna Sub of the James River Line. The connection with the Piedmont Sub was at Lindsay and the connection with the James River Line was at Strathmore. The VAL was the brain child of George Stevens, president of the C&O from 1900 to 1920 and was incorporated on April 10, 1906. Construction stated in Lindsay in October, 1906 and was completed in October, 1908. The line was operated independently from its completion until July 1, 1909, when the C&O took over operations. This arrangement lasted until the VAL was purchased by the C&O in July of 1912. The C&O used the VAL to move loads that were too high or too wide to pass through the tunnels of the Mountain Subdivision west of Charlottesville. In addition, coal for Washington and northern Virginia came down the James River Line, then up the VAL and on through Gordonsville and then to Washington over the Washington Subdivision. In the 1950’s, a young girl named Ethel Mae Robinson lived along the VAL tracks. She waved at the passing trains so consistently that the trainmen began to look for her as they passed. She so brightened their days that they began buying her presents, a gesture that continued into her teenage years. Mae Robinson DeLong recently emailed me with information about her family. Her father and both of her grandfathers worked for the C&O, as did her husband (see the People of the Piedmont page). The VAL was removed in the 1970’s. Below is a brief summary of the VAL’s history.
This photo shows where the VAL branched off from the Piedmont Sub. The mainline is to the right. (Photo June, 2008 by Lindsay M. Harrington. Used with permission.)
Date Event
April 10, 1906 The Virginia Air Line Railway was chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia.
October, 1906 Construction began.
October, 1908 Construction was completed. Operation began under VAL control.
July 2, 1909 The C&O began operating the VAL.
July 12, 1912 The VAL was sold to the C&O.
February 21, 1927 Passenger service reduced to one daily train in each direction.
June 1, 1932 Passenger service replaced by mixed train service.
June 23, 1954 Mixed train service ended.
1971 The C&O announced that it would abandon the VAL.
October 26, 1971 Fluvanna Board of Supervisors begins a suit to keep the VAL open.
March, 1972 The ICC allows the abandonment to proceed.
August 1, 1973 Last round trip train from Lindsay to Strathmore.
1974 Environmental Protection Agency placed a one-year delay on the abandonment.
January 30, 1975 ICC formally approves the abandonment plans.
November 3, 1975 The VAL was officially abandoned.
August 25, 1978 Track removal was completed.

Photos


This undated postcard image shows the Fork Union depot when the railroad was still the Virginia Air Line. That suggests a date prior to 1912. (From the collection of Larry Z. Daily)
This undated postcard image shows the Strathmore depot. The VAL joined the James River Line via a connection behind the depot. (From the collection of Larry Z. Daily)
This is the Strathmore depot as it appeared in November of 1987. (Al Chione photo. From a slide in the collection of Larry Z. Daily)

Rockaway Wreck


These photos are part of a set of four that were provided by Mr. Charles Southworth. According to Charlie, the photos show the wreck of Train 47, the west-bound Sportsman, just east of Bumpass. According to Charlie, the accident occurred in about 1934 and his family was waiting to board at Bumpass. To my eyes, however, these two photos were of a freight train wreck and the other two (which are still on the Bumpass page) were of a passenger train and I couldn’t find any information about a wreck on the Piedmont Sub in the 1940’s. On the other hand, all of the other information that Charlie ever gave me checked out.

In February of 2021 I received an email from Chuck McIntyre. He also said that the photos looked like they were from at least two separate incidents. He also pointed out that the clothing and passenger cars in the passenger wreck look like they are WWI vintage. Chuck was sure - and I agree with his analysis - that these two show the 1942 wreck at Rockaway. Thus, I’ve moved those photos to this page.

Chuck provided an excerpt from ICC report from July of 1942

Third 402 engine 1546 departed from Strathmore at 3:46 p.m., according to the dispatcher's record of movement of trains, 7 hours 46 minutes late, passed the fouling point of the east siding-switch at Rockaway, where it was required to wait unless No. 403 was on the siding, and while moving at an estimated speed of 30 miles per hour it collided with No. 403 at a point 2,920 feet east of the east siding-switch.

No. 403, a west-bound third-class mixed train, consisted of engine 2335, a caboose, five loaded and six empty cars and one baggage-coach, in the order named. At Troy, 8.4 miles east of Rockaway and the last open office, the crew received a clearance Form A, a clearance Form B (a) and copies of train order No. 66, Form 19, previously quoted. The clearance Form B (a) authorized No. 403 to proceed expecting to meet Third 402 at Rockaway. No. 403 departed from Troy at 3:45 p.m., according to the dispatcher's record of movement of trains, 1 hour 13 minutes late, and while moving at an estimated speed of 6 miles per hour it collided with Third 402.

The force of the impact tore the boilers of engines 1546 and 2335 from their frames. Engine 1546 was derailed to the south and stopped, badly damaged, on its right side, at an angle of about 45 degrees to the track and with its front end at the foot of a 17-foot fill. The first to the twenty-first cars; inclusive, and the thirty-first to the fifty-third cars, inclusive, of Third 402, were derailed and stopped, badly damaged, in various positions across the track and on each side of it. The boiler of engine 2335 stopped on its left side at the foot of the fill, with its front end opposite the point of accident and 70 feet south of the track. The driving-wheel assembly, the engine frame and the tender remained on the roadbed in line with the track. The caboose of No. 403 buckled to the south side of the track and was crushed inward on its right side by the first car. The first to the sixth cars, Inclusive, were derailed. The first car stopped upright and diagonally across the track. The third car stopped on its right side, north of the track and parallel to it. The other derailed cars remained upright on the roadbed.

Chuck concluded, “The ICC account matches your photos, since the caboose was on the head end, right behind the locomotive 2335, it would sustain serious damage in a head on collision like this. Also their account of the other train, northbound 1546 went down the bank on its right side just like in your photo. Definitely the loco photo is the 1546 at Rockaway.”

Map


This map was prepared from a copy of a Side Track Record provided by Wendell McChord.

This map was prepared from C&O valuation drawings.

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