Abandoned Rails


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Shops Yard - Richmond, VA

 

 

Photographs of Shops Yard are very hard to come by.  I am extremely appreciative of Herman Wilkins, Doug Riddell, Walt Gay, Charles Curley, and the Old Dominion Chapter NRHS for allowing me to share these images. 

 

If you have any information or photographs that you'd like to contribute, please contact me at jl.hawkins@comcast.net.

 

 

This historic photograph reveals how Shops Yard appeared in first half of the 20th Century.  The dominant landmark is the wooden coaling tower which likely dates back to the late 1800's.  The Robert E. Lee Bridge, which is visible to the left of the coaling tower, was only three years old when this photo was taken on August 17, 1937.  An enlarged version of this image reveals seven steam locomotives gathered around and in the roundhouse.  Present are Atlantic Coast Line Class E-10, E-13, and K-16 locomotives.  Because the original photograph was taken at an angle, the image has been rotated approximately four degrees counterclockwise to level out the view, hence the void area in the bottom right corner.  

 

Photographer Unknown - Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (August 17, 1937)

 

 

Much had changed around Shops in the 15 years since the previous photo was taken.  The wooden coaling tower is gone, however the water tank still stands.  Also note one of the roundhouse stalls has been boarded up.  Judging by the multiple stacks of ties in the foreground, it would seem that some track work is on the horizon for either the yard itself or possibly somewhere along the old mainline between Shops and FA.

 

Photo by Ed Patterson - Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (May 1952)

 

 

Looking west across Shops Yard towards the roundhouse area in 1952 reveals a near empty yard.  ACL GP7 No. 127 can be seen idling next to the roundhouse along with two other locomotives visible on the far right.  The ACL owned the fifth largest fleet of GP7's with 154 on it's roster.  They were numbered 100 to 253.  Out of the 73 railroads who ordered them, only the Santa Fe, Chesapeake & Ohio, New York Central, and Missouri Pacific owned more. This photo also offers one of the best views of the turntable, which is estimated to be 80' in length.  Note the addition of "ATLANTIC COAST LINE SAFETY FIRST" on the roundhouse roof. 

 

Photo by Ed Patterson - Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (May 1952)

 

 

Compare this 1955 view of Shops to the 1937 and 1952 photographs.  Obviously the coaling tower has been removed as has the water tank.  Also take note that the far right door appears to have been removed and permanently replaced with a wall.  Replacing the steam locomotives are the ACL's new motive power staple, the Visible on the left is the three stall roundhouse with either a GP7 or GP9 parked next to it.  The Richmond skyline can be seen in the distance across the James River.  If one examines this image closely, you can see across the ACL's James River bridge in the upper right quadrant of the photograph. 

 

Photographer Unknown (1955)

 

 

This excellent color photograph is rare in that it was taken looking east across the yard and shows the north side of the roundhouse.  The cleanliness of the entire area almost gives it the appearance of a model train layout.  Note how the trim of the roundhouse is painted purple. 

 

Photographer Unknown (1955)

 

 

GP7 No. 147 is getting underway with a cut of transfer cars that will be delivered to the RF&P.  The train will proceed south to Clopton where the engine will run around the entire consist to pull it north to Meadow and continue on to Acca Yard.  The run around move at Clopton is the reason for the caboose being in the position that it is.  Judging by the amount of cars on the other tracks, business appears still be fairly healthy late in the ACL era. 

 

Photo by Evan Siler - Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (April 1964)

 

 

Turning the other direction we see the rear of the transfer job passing under Semmes Avenue.  This view also shows the perspective that was had from the elevated position of the yard office.  The concrete bridge seen in the photo replaced the original Semmes Avenue bridge.  It was a one lane, steel truss bridge that was shared by both vehicles and trolleys.  Down at track level are two items of particular interest.  In the lower left corner is an ACL whistle post that warned crews of the Perry Street grade crossing just south of Semmes Avenue.  To the right of the train is round sign with a bullseye like resemblance.  It was a safety sign with the words "BE CAREFUL SAFETY FIRST ALWAYS". 

 

Photo by Evan Siler - Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (April 1964)

 

 

This aerial view is one of the best I've seen that illustrates the layout of Shops Yard and the surrounding area.  We're looking north towards downtown Richmond and a swollen James River which is running at records levels due to flooding from Hurricane Camille.  Note the box cars visible on the interchange track in the upper center of the image.  This meandered down the hillside to the Southern Railway's yard.  The roundhouse and engine service area are easily seen just above the Semmes Avenue and Cowardin Avenue bridges. 

 

This is a crop from a much larger photograph.  Click here for a hi-res version of the original image. 

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of the Library of Virginia - Virginia Governor's Collection (No. 69-2157)

 

 

Here is a good close-up view of the yard office.  How about the lettering and purple trim?  There is no doubt as to whose railroad this was.  The yard office was divided into three different rooms.  On the north end (closest to the photographer) was the office of the chief clerk.  The middle room, where the main entrance is visible, was occupied by the yardmaster and yard clerks.  Occupying the third room of the original brick structure were the crew clerks.  An addition was added on to the south end of the yard office that was used as a locker room for the yard crews.  To replicate this photograph today would require standing in the turn lane from southbound Cowardin Avenue to Semmes Avenue westbound. 

 

Photo by Raymond Knight / Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (June 13, 1970)

 

 

In the late 1950's the turntable at Shops was removed.  The turntable pit was filled in and built over to the point that there was hardly a trace of it ever existing by 1970.  With the roundhouse no longer hosting locomotives, the doors were replaced with walls as the structure took on a new role. 

 

Photo by Raymond Knight / Old Dominion Chapter NRHS Collection (July 18, 1970)

 

 

This view from the mid-1970's shows the fuel tanks along with the oil house (red building) still intact.  Both tanks sport the Atlantic Coast Line herald, albeit severely weathered.  The white metal shed visible between the tanks still stands, now surrounded by trees and thick overgrowth, and is the just about the only remaining physical evidence that Shops Yard ever existed. 

 

Photo by Walt Gay (Circa 1975)

 

 

The yard office at Shops was situated above the tracks in the northwest corner of the intersection of Semmes Avenue and Cowardin Avenue.  Herman Wilkins, who worked at Shops Yard in the early 1960's, photographed this pair of SCL GP16's idling by the yard office.  In this photo looking south, Cowardin Avenue is directly above the 4794 while the bridge in the distance carries Semmes Avenue over the tracks.  Everything you see here has been filled over with dirt and the area is now unrecognizable from the scene above. 

 

Photo by Herman Wilkins (January 1984)

 

 

 

SCL GP7 No. 877 idles in front of the yard office at Shops in the spring of 1984.  As you can see in the top of the bottom photo, there doesn't appear to be much activity as the yard is completely empty.  The locomotive was built in November 1950 for the Columbia, Newberry and Lawrence Railroad (CNL), a 75-mile shortline in South Carolina.  Because the CNL had been under ACL control since 1924, it's locomotives were painted in ACL's classic purple and silver scheme which can be seen bleeding through the black paint.  The engine was later renumbered to ACL 277 and then 877 under the SCL.  Within two years the 877 would be retired and takes it's place in the deadline at Waycross, GA. 

 

Photo by Herman Wilkins (April 1984)

 

 

By the mid-1980's the remnants of Shops Yard were hanging on by a thread, including the roundhouse.  The structure was razed not long after this photo was taken in 1984.  By the late 1980's all of the tracks had been removed and Shops Yard was just a Richmond memory.   

 

Photo by Herman Wilkins (January 1984)

 

 

 

Copyright 2002- | Jeff Hawkins

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