By October 23, 2017 Read More →

“Our train has been running on time”

By MATT COMBS

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — In what may be the state’s largest festival dedicated to the railroad, West Virginia may also have its largest family reunion.

Although not all related by blood, those who come to Hinton’s Railroad Days are all related by a love of the railroad, of southern West Virginia and of the City of Hinton itself.

On a clear, warm Sunday afternoon the quiet sounds of birds chirping through the usually quiet streets of the once great railroad town were interrupted for a few hours to welcome friends and strangers to the city by the New.

Young train enthusiast Liam Smith, 5, is incranced by a massive functioning model railroad town with several running trains during Hinton Railroad Days Sunday.
(Register-Herald photo by Brad Davis)

Ben Vest, the vice president of the Summers County Historical Society, said the four days in October known as Railroad Days remind him of his days growing up in Summers County.

“Railroad Days are a good throwback to that time,” Vest said. “And probably the best situation we could have to sort of reinvent that day and to memorialize those days.”

Vest can remember going down along the track to pick up ordered goods with his father and the giant wheels of the steam engines standing large in his young eye.

“I was 6 years of age, and the smoke coming up and the whistles blowing — it was an exciting time. There was a lot of vitality in Hinton,” Vest said.

The Summers County native said people identify with the railroad and that brings them, and their descendants, back to see Hinton busy again.

“Many, many people come back here from all over the country during Railroad Days,” Vest said.

Some of those visitors make their way into the Hinton Railroad Museum to see the artifacts of a bygone era.

Every year the family of James L. Davis sets up tables inside the museum during Railroad Days to show off Davis’ collection.

For over 40 years Davis was a crew dispatcher for the C & O Railroad; he worked in the railroad’s roundhouse.

Part of his duties included documenting the crew members who came through Hinton with photographs.

That collection is now in the hands of his family, archived and databased for the descendants of railroaders to easily find their loved ones during Railroad Days.

“It’s our father who did all the work,” said Becky Wheeler, Davis’ daughter.

Wheeler told the story of a woman who came in to look at the photographs with her two sons.

The woman found a picture that she had never seen before of her father, a man her sons had never known, and began to cry.

“When they see a picture they had never seen before, it just makes you feel good that you are sharing that history,” Wheeler said.

Not all the roots of the city run deep.

The festival has brought in new blood to the city as well, in the form of new guests and vendors.

Matthew Hackworth is a wood and metal worker from Fayette County who has been selling his wares during Railroad Days for the past three years.

Hackworth said the event gives his business a greater promotion outside West Virginia from the visitors whom the train and buses bring in.

“I’ve already sold things to people from California,” Hackworth said of the first weekend of the event. “We’ve met a lot of nice people.”

Vest also shared his opinion that the event was off to a good start.

The Summers County Historical Society vice president said his organization had already sold a record number of books to benefit their cause this year.

“I’ve heard several vendors this morning say that they had the best day yesterday they have ever had for Railroad Days,” Vest said. “That says something about the momentum of building and the interest involved.”

Much of the traffic of Railroad Days is brought in by train from Huntington.

Sunday’s train conductor, Leonard Claytor, said the trip that he has made countless times is very special.

“I started with the old C & O, started with them in 1969,” Claytor said. “It’s (Hinton) beautiful. I love old C & O towns, can’t beat them.”

Claytor said he hopes that in the rush to revitalize old railroad towns, the history of those towns isn’t forgotten.

Although the leaves this year have been a bit of a disappointment, Claytor said he and the passengers enjoy traveling through the New River Gorge and through old railroad towns like Thurmond and Hinton.

One woman, who made the trip between Hinton and Thurmond many times as a child and has been key in keeping Hinton’s railroad history alive, was also all smiles.

Dorothy Jean Boley, the curator of Hinton’s Railroad Museum, said this year has been fantastic so far.

Boley credited the weather and the fact that she has seen so many relatives and old friends in the first two days of the October festival for her excitement.

The curator said her museum had 1,400 visitors sign the log book on the first day, but expected that number was a low figure, citing those who didn’t sign in.

Although the museum is in the forefront of her life now, the retired railroad worker’s mind wasn’t far from the operation of the festival’s trains.

“Our train has been running on time,” Boley said with a big smile.

Hinton’s Railroad Days will continue next weekend Oct. 28 and 29.

Email: mcombs@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @mattcombsRH

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