SAL Portsmouth - Norlina in 1938 (the parlor-diner cars)greenspun.com : LUSENET : ACL and SAL Railroads Historical Society : One Thread
Am writing a counterfactual novel set in April, 1938, about a young man who inherits a sum of money a travels across America by train from Maine to California. Right now, he's taken the steamer across from Cape Charles to Norfolk, ferried to Portsmouth, met the local switcher crew and rode around for a hour with them aboard SAL eng. #1054, now he's sat down in the parlor-diner aboard #17 for a lip-smacking dinner of pan-fried Spots. [QUESTION]-If there's somebody out there who knows the heritage of the parlor-diner and what its number or name was after the SAL rebuilt it, I'd be obliged. Also any anecdotes at all about the Portsmouth - Norlina line in the late 30s would be excellent. All correspondence answered. I am a retired train dispatcher living in Rutland, Vermont.
-- Jim Warsher (email@example.com), December 11, 2004
Dear Mr. Battle -
What a beautiful story. I mean, it wraps up some things in a couple of paragraphs that I seem to be taking more than three chapters of a book to tell. The advantages that I have of being set in 1938 and having access to "props" like parlor-diners and steam locomotives are far outweighed by the advantage of it being your home and you grew up knowing it. Now when you say it won't do me any good, there are ways to look at it. As far as facts are concerned, no, I might have some trouble trying to get 1965 shoehorned into a size 1938. But people don't change all that much, not people in Vermont, where I live, and not people in eastern North Carolina where you're from. The Seaboard, the Coast Line and the SCL left deep, lifetime impressions on many people. I am trying to get closer to some of those impressions as I write this fictional story set in 1938. Every time I hear from someone like yourself, I get a little closer. Thank you. JimW --
-- Jim Warsher (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 20, 2004.
Well....I can do thirty years later. This probably won't do you any good but I can't resist.
I grew up in Littleton, NC and can fondly remember the Tidewater. I've always been a "train nut" and everyone knew this...including my teachers. In elementary school, I was given a window seat so that I could watch the action on the nearby SAL.
The Tidewater was pretty fast compared to the other (freight) traffic. I remember one evening in particular back in 1965. My dad was getting some gas at the filling station in Littleton. Across the street (Hwy. 158) was the passenger/freight station. During the fill up, 17 arrived. I sat there praying that we would be able leave before the train pulled out. We did and I asked (begged) my dad to drive west out of town, hoping that we could pace the train. At the western edge of town we were running ahead of the train (at about 45 mph). The locomotive's mars light made it seem faster. At about a mile and a half out of town we were running neck and neck at 60 mph. I was in heaven. The engineer waved and what I thought was a greeting turned out to be a good-bye. The wave signaled an end to the fun and games and the train began to immediately pull away. My dad was not into speeding and when speeds exceeded 65, he let 17 go and turned the old Impala around. It has always fascinated me how that train could so deftly navigate those curves between Littleton and Norlina at bona fide passenger speeds.
17 and 18 pulled away for good before the decade was out and by 1984, the rails (through Littleton) were silent and rusting. Now there's just grass and memories.
-- Turner Battle (email@example.com), December 20, 2004.
Wes and the board: I see in the Oct. 30, 1960, S.A.L. timetable that there are only 17 & 18 left at that date. But changes have been made to improve the service. 17 & 18 now run through between Portsmouth and Raleigh. There is a 4sec-4rtte-5DBR-1Comp sleeper Portsmouth - Atlanta [car B-3 southward in #33 beyond Raleigh and car B-4 northward in #34 Atlanta to Raleigh] and also a through unreserved 52-seat coach between Portsmouth and Atlanta handled as the sleeper is handled. No food service shows being available between Raleigh and Portsmouth on 17/18.
My confusion as to manned/unmanned stations between Norlina and Portsmouth stems partly from the Feb. 1938 'Guide" which shows the "+" symbol at Weldon and none at Roanoke Rapids. Just as confusing was the boldface entry for Warren Plains where there is/was virtually no population and what there is, is counted with Norlina by the U.S. Dept. of the Census. I think I will stick with calling the mill Albermarle Paper and 'hope' that it's right for 1938 because it 'sounds' right. The Lewiston Branch in the same 1960 'Guide' shows "Freight & Express" service so the combine must still have been around then. Harry Bundy says a time table he has shows the Lewiston Branch good for "D" class engines.
The Feb. 1938 'Guide,' which is the one I am using, shows three psgr trains in each direction, daily, between Portsmouth and Norlina.
Thanks for the big boost to my education, Wes.
-- Jim Warsher (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 14, 2004.
I am guessing that a lot of the pulp for the mill at Roanoke Rapids come up from Lewiston [Woodville] on the branch from Boykins.
Don't know where it came from, but there were lumber trains going both east and west out of RR both empty and loaded.
A nice little industry for a town and a railroad to have -- loads in and loads out. Some say it was Union-Camp and some say another company name.
The paper mill used to be called Albermarle Paper mill, since then it has changed hands a number of times. There is still a railroad to the paper mill, and 2 - 3 trains a day travel to it.
in an edition of Lines South. Was the train referred to in the timetable [sometime after 1938 it must have been] as The Tidewater?
There was an article in Lines South a few years ago called "I remember the Tidewater". IIRC, the afternoon train to Norlina and Raleigh was #17, and the early morning train (through RR) was #18. Growing up in the 50s, there were only these two trains each day. I'm sure in earlier years passenger trains ran more frequently.
When you refer to "the junction," Wes, what are you referring to? Is/was there a junction in Roanoke Rapids?
We called the spot where the railroad crossed Roanoke Avenue (NC Highway 48) "The Junction" - probably a local term. This was where the eastern part of the wye which went to the paper mill branched off of the main line.
And, out of curiosity, was there an enginehouse as well?
Not that I remember
Harry Bundy talked about the Roanoke Rapids switcher in his posting. I see Weldon [much smaller town] had a station agent and there was none at R.Rapids. Was there a station building there?
Yes, there was a passenger station on the east side of Roanoke Avenue (NC 48) at "The Junction" and a freight station on the west side of the avenue. Both buildings are still standing, I believe, but only the freight building is still in use.
I have not lived in Roanoke Rapids since 1972; I get back and visit there once a year or so, so my info may not be the most current. Things don't seem to change much, however.
Wes Woodruff Orlando, FL
-- Wes Woodruff (email@example.com), December 14, 2004.
Thanks to Wes Woodruff for the interesting answer. I am guessing that a lot of the pulp for the mill at Roanoke Rapids come up from Lewiston [Woodville] on the branch from Boykins. A nice little industry for a town and a railroad to have -- loads in and loads out. Some say it was Union-Camp and some say another company name. Keep searching for that photo of parlor-diner #1050 and if you find anything, let Larry Goolsby know and he likely would run it in an edition of Lines South. Was the train referred to in the timetable [sometime after 1938 it must have been] as The Tidewater? When you refer to "the junction," Wes, what are you referring to? Is/was there a junction in Roanoke Rapids? And, out of curiosity, was there an enginehouse as well? Harry Bundy talked about the Roanoke Rapids switcher in his posting. I see Weldon [much smaller town] had a station agent and there was none at R.Rapids. Was there a station building there?
-- Jim Warsher (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 13, 2004.
Your story sounds very interesting. I was born in Roanoke Rapids (on the Portsmouth - Norlina route) in 1950 - a bit too late your time period, but do remember the Tidewater very well, especially the one running from Portsmouth SW to Norlina. It would come through in the late afternoon/early evening, and you could hear the whistle all over town. It would stop at almost every town (even in the 50s); Seaboard, Weldon, Roanoke Rapids, Littleton, Macon, etc.)
I used to bug my parents to take me up the "The Junction" to "see the train" a lot. An anecdote might be that one at least one occasion, I recall seeing the Tidewater in the first Wye (right after Roanoke Avenue); it stayed there a while, another train (freight, IIRC) went by, and then the Tidewater backed up onto the main line and went on its way.
A friend of mine's brother had the front of his car taken off by the passenger step; they were coming back from fishing in Lake Gaston (built in the 60s but you could use the Roanoke River in your story), and did not see the RR crossing until it was almost too late. They slammed on the brakes, and slid to a stop, coming to rest right at the train as it was speeding by. According to my friend, the retractable steps were not retracted on one car, it caught the front of their automobile and tore it right off (they were OK, but shaken up a bit)
Wes Woodruff Orlando, FL
-- Wes Woodruff (email@example.com), December 13, 2004.
Thanks, Harry and Larry. Larry, I lean toward the car in question being the 1050 and here's why. The February, 1938, Official Guide, p.597, shows the consist for trains 107-807 with this entry: "Parlor Car Portsmouth to Norlina 12 seats." Conversely, Nos. 808-108 northbound shows "Parlor Car Norlina to Portsmouth 12 seats." These are, as most of you who are reading this know better than I, handled in trains 17 & 18 between those points. The consists also show "Dining Car Portsmouth to Norlina" and "Dining Car Norlina to Portsmouth" for these trains. I agree with Larry that a photo of the 1050 would be as delicious as the pen-fried Spots it was reputed to serve to knowing customers. I suspect there was a wye at Norlina that turned everything off No. 17, the three cars and the "P," for No. 18's train.
No. 18 was scheduled to leave Norlina for Portsmouth at 7:50am if No. 108 was on time. So tuck into a car 1050 breakfast of fried ham, shirred eggs, a nice hot biscuit and ham gravy over grits.
Good detective work for sixty-six years ago, guys.
Jim Warsher --
-- Jim Warsher (firstname.lastname@example.org), December 12, 2004.
SAL rosters show two parlor-diners. No. 1021 was built by Pullman in 1916, and apparently was bought new then by SAL. A 1934 Pullman photo of it (apparently after rebuilding, probably to install air- conditioning) shows the car with an observation end. It had 20 parlor seats and 24 dining seat.
No. 1050 was built by Pullman in 1917 for the Western Maryland (as W.M. 405) and bought by SAL in 1926. SAL remodeled the car in 1932. A diagram page of the 1050 shows it looked like SAL's full diners on the outside. It had 12 parlor seats and 18 dining seats.
Does anyone have photos of either car in the 1940s or 1950s?
-- Larry Goolsby (email@example.com), December 12, 2004.
I don't know how long the ritual had been in existence. I was conned into the game in 1960. My high school buddy had found employment at the pulp mill at Roanoke Rapids. On my rest days, I went for a visit. Remember when Coca Cola came in glass bottles ? The bottom of the bottle was stamped with a city and state. When time came to "take twenty" (that means the lunch period), the crew of the Roanoke Rapids switcher convened in the lunch room. Each laid a dollar bill on the lunch table. Then each got a bottle of Coke from the fridge. "Your money is as good as ours" said the fireman. So I put a buck on the table and got a bottle. The moment of truth-- every one disclosed the location stamped on the bottom of the bottle. I had Tuscon, AZ. The conductor has Phoenix, AZ. Too close to call ? On the wall was a map of the USA with a nail driven into Roanoke Rapids. From the nail, a string was attached to measure distance. I lost.....barely.
-- Harry Bundy (Y6B@aol.com), December 12, 2004.