Rails were first laid to
the south bank of the James River in Manchester (now
Richmond) by the Richmond and Petersburg Railroad in
1838. The Richmond and Petersburg was also the
first railroad to span the James River into
Richmond. Additional information about the
bridges over the James River will be incorporated
into a separate feature that will encompass the
mainline between Byrd Street Station and FA. In 1898 the Richmond
and Petersburg Railroad was consolidated into the
Atlantic Coast Line Railroad (ACL).
The ACL established
their switching yard and engine servicing facility
across the James River from downtown Richmond.
Known as Shops Yard, the complex was comprised of 10
yard tracks, a single mainline track, and cab
engine rip tracks where engines were kept in between
Shops' status as the
ACL's primary facility in Richmond didn't last
very long. The completion of Broad
Street Station in 1919 resulted in the ACL
immediately shifting it's passenger trains from Byrd
Street Station to Broad Street Station. Just a few years later
in 1924, the ACL transferred all of it's locomotive
servicing from Shops Yard to the RF&P's new engine
terminal at Acca Yard.
Despite losing it's
mainline status, Shops
Yard remained an important facility in two ways.
There were still a large number of customers along the
industry laden four miles of the old mainline between Shops and FA
that were dependent on rail service. Other
sources of traffic included LCL (Less than Container
Load) freight from the ACL
freight station along with transfer jobs to and from
A great deal of
interchange traffic was also handled by the Shops
Yard crews. The ACL interchanged with both the
Southern Railway and the C&O. There was a steep connection
track etched into the hillside below Shops which
allowed the ACL and Southern to swap traffic.
After the bridge across the James River was removed
in 1970, it created an operational issue for the
transfer jobs. Because of the limited room between the switch to
the connection track and the end of the track at the James
River, it was common for transfer jobs to consist of seven
cars or less. This connection track remained in use into the 1970's.
Across the James River
to the west of Byrd Street
Station was a trestle that connected the ACL with
C&O's 2nd Street Yard. The ACL also
maintained a spur into the Tredegar Iron Works.
Many ACL employees recalled that trips across the James
River bridge were often terrifying, especially if
you were riding the cars. The ACL also
operated a transfer job between Shops Yard and the
RF&P's Acca Yard.
Herman Wilkins, a native of Petersburg, worked for the ACL and was
the 2nd trick yard clerk at Shops from 1960-63.
During his tenure, employees at Shops Yard included a general yardmaster, night yardmaster, and
twelve clerks. The clerk jobs consisted of a
chief clerk, four crew clerks, three yard clerks,
three swing job clerks, and a vacation relief clerk.
A crew sheet dated
October 16, 1963 reveals there were six daily jobs
calling at Shops. This included three yard
switchers that went on-duty at 7:00 AM, 3:00 PM, and
11:00 PM and were responsible for servicing all of
the industries between Shops and FA. In
addition there were also three interchange jobs that
called at 7:45 AM, 3:45 PM, and 11:45 PM.
These crews handled interchange traffic with the C&O
and Southern in downtown Richmond along with the RF&P
at Acca Yard.
In addition to the yard
itself, there were moderate facilities located at
Shops. The focal point of the engine service
area was a three-stall roundhouse situated in the
northwest quadrant of the property. In Shops'
early years, a wooden coaling tower and water tank
were located just west of the roundhouse.
There was also a scale house
located behind Martin Chevrolet between Perry and
Wall Street. Crews reported to work at a one
story, brick yard office at the south end of the
yard between Cowardin Avenue and Semmes
Avenue. The building was located on the west
side of the tracks and was situated at street level,
thus it overlooked the throat of the yard from an
An interesting piece of
information I received from a former SCL
employee stated that most crews at Shops Yard did
not utilize portable radios, although they were
available. The reason for this is that they did
not want the Brown Street Yardmaster, who was in charge of
the crews, to know what they were doing or
where they were. All movements were conducted
under the guise of hand signals and lanterns.
Fuses were even used for long distance couplings.
The Loop Train
As previously noted,
the ACL ran a transfer job to the RF&P's Acca
Yard. After the ACL merged with the
Seaboard Air Line Railway in 1967 to form the
Seaboard Coast Line Railroad (SCL), an extended
transfer move or "loop train" as it was known,
was created. The loop train originated at
Shops Yard where crews would build a consist
that was often 30 to 40 cars long. A caboose
was placed on the south end of the train and it
was shoved down the old main to Clopton where it
would reverse direction and proceed north to
Meadow, then to Acca Yard.
Upon reaching the
wye at Acca, the train would go around the west
leg and shove back into the yard. After
completing their set off and pick up
assignments, the train would then proceed south
along the Bellwood Subdivision to Brown Street
Upon arrival at
Brown Street, the yardmaster would assign the
crew a track to leave their cars in. Any
cars destined for Shops Yard would be assembled
and ready for pick up on a separate track.
The loop train crew would break for lunch prior
to departing Brown Street.
After their meal,
the crew would make a reverse move by shoving
south on the Bellwood Subdivision alongside Main
Street Station. This was necessary so they
could get south of the home signal at Brown
Street. Once clear of the circuit and
having received a clear signal, the engineer
would waste no time moving the locomotive's
throttle to notch 8. One crew member
recalls "It was always fun when you got the
signal, because it was wide open to get as much
speed as you could to try and climb that steep
grade back up the hill to the wye at Acca.
The GP7's and GP9's would transition just about
in front of the Brown Street Yard Office, and
then would really be making some power (and
smoke) when you went by." Occasionally one
of the Brown Street yard jobs would give the
loop train a shove up to Brook Road so they
could make the grade past Hermitage Road.
The loop train didn't typically stop at Acca on
the return trip, as the Brown Street crews would
usually handle any transfer moves between there
Upon returning to
Shops, the crews would tie the train down in the
yard, cut off the power and place it in the
engine track. The next shift of yard crews
would be responsible for sorting out the consist
and delivering the cars to various customers
along the line between Shops and FA.
After the formation of
the SCL, Shops Yard became a redundant facility and
was for all purposes left "as is" with virtually no
maintenance ever performed. By the 1970's, the
yard tracks at Shops were in absolutely deplorable
condition. Derailments in the yard were
frequent, and there were few spikes actually holding
the rails to the rotted crossties according to one
former SCL employee. That same gentleman
recalls his engine going on the the ground many
times due to poor track conditions.
By the mid-1980's the
City of Richmond began making plans to replace the original
Robert E. Lee Bridge built in 1934. This was
the closing act for Shops Yard. In
conjunction with the new bridge, plans called for
the bridge approaches and right of way on the south
side of the James River to undergo a major
realignment. Part of the realignment included
the elimination of the
bridges that carried Semmes Avenue and Cowardin Avenue over
south end of Shops Yard. The bridges and yard
demolished in 1988 and the entire area was filled in,
resulting in a completely new intersection which
left the area unrecognizable from just a few
years prior. The new Robert E. Lee
Bridge was completed in 1989.
If you visit the site of Shops
Yard today, don't expect to find much. In the late 1990's
a large office complex, now occupied by Sun Trust
Bank, was built on what used to be the north end of
the yard. The remaining area is an empty
field quickly being reclaimed by Mother Nature. There are however two remants of
Shops still visible. A lone pole
stands in the grass where Railroad Avenue and
Riverside Drive merge to form an entrance ramp to
the Manchester Bridge. In fact, this pole is
visible in a 1937 photograph of the yard. There is also a metal
shed in the wooded area below Cowardin Avenue that
was part of the engine servicing facility.