24 December 2011
Christmas Eve in Rural Retreat, Va. 1957
Train 42 'The Pelican' headed by Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 Class J 603 arrives at Rural Retreat, VA eastbound from New Orleans to Washington shortly before 10 pm Dec. 27th, 1957, and thunders off into the night. The Norfolk & Western Railway's own Class J was perhaps the finest of all express steam engines, and 603 is heard here in its last days of main line service with a consist of 17 cars. The photograph with the video is of Train 17 'The Birmingham Special' westbound arriving later that same night at 11.37 pm, being waved through by Agent J.L. Akers. The photograph and sound recording were by O. Winston Link and his assistant Corky Zider who operated a Tapesonic recorder and non-directional microphone; the Christmas carols on the chimes were played specially for the recording at the nearby Grace Lutheran Church by Mrs. Kathryn Dodson. Seven nights later, steam motive power would come to an end on the N&W main line through Rural Retreat and Bristol.
Alternate recording, with different photo of an eastbound and possibly of better audio quality:
NPR interview with Mrs. Dodson in 2001:
The station still stands in 2011, in poor condition but the subject of a preservation effort: