Four Seasons at Gaylord

Posted by George Hamlin
on Monday, January 1, 2018

Blink and you’ll miss it.  Although Gaylord, isn’t acknowledged by the Virginia official state highway map, it can still be located on Google Maps.  To put it in perspective, this is a place where passenger train service (on the N&W’s Shenandoah Valley Line) outlasted the local Post Office; there’s a sign on a building that housed the latter stating that it served as Gaylord’s P.O. until 1956; N&W numbers 1 and 2 survived several years beyond that, although they didn’t stop there on a regular basis.

Nonetheless, Gaylord, or more accurately, the bridge carrying the northbound lanes of U.S. highway 340, was (and is, although somewhat more ‘treed-in’ now) a good spot to view activity on what’s now the Norfolk Southern.  Beginning in the 1990s with an infusion of a significant amount of traffic destined to and from the former Southern Railway’s main line at Manassas, Virginia, (which had previously transited the Northeast Corridor and Potomac Yard), it became possible to see, in addition to the manifest/coal/hopper train mix dating back to O. Winston Link’s steam photography, an influx of intermodal activity, including, for much of the 1990s, Roadrailers.

Aside from the fact that traffic volume has increased, why pause at this location?  While the home road’s locomotives could be described as dignified, their tuxedo-like hues aren’t exactly colorful, although this was often relieved by Conrail’s “Dress Blue” prior to the CR breakup, and today BNSF and UP units make fairly frequent appearances, as well as CN, CP, KCS and even CSX, occasionally.

Another seeming problem with this location is that it isn’t a great spot for the classic “wedge” shot.  On this north-south line, getting light on the nose of a northbound (the view from the northbound lanes of 340 faces south) doesn’t occur for much of the year.

On the other hand, the lack of a screaming-sunlight-three-quarters photo opportunity could cause you to look beyond the obvious, and recognize the full visual potential of the place.  With this in mind, it’s easy to notice the beautiful scenery for which this part of the Old Dominion is famous – attractive farms set in rolling terrain punctuated by the distant Blue Ridge.  Trees are abundant – magnificent old ones to the west of the railroad, as well as their younger counterparts on the tree farm that was east of the right of way in the early to mid-1990s. 

The scene, of course, is not immutable, but changes significantly during the year.  Winter, while not as severe as experienced well north of the Mason-Dixon Line (about an hour’s running time north of here), can still feature significant amounts of snow, along with the opportunity to get shots that, from a lighting perspective, would be difficult to obtain during other seasons.  The black and white NS locomotives fit right in chromatically, as well, during this time of year. 

NS M56, February 13, 1993

Spring adds color to the palette, as renewed plant growth brings out bright greens on the trees, as well as in the surrounding fields.  In addition, warmer temperatures and increasing hours of daylight are conducive to making the trek to Gaylord, camera in hand.

NS 568, April 18, 1993

Summer can be a mixed blessing.  The days are long, and the sun is in its most northerly position, making possible decently-lit shots of northbounds in the afternoon, for example.  On the down side, however, the moisture responsible for the relative lushness of the area can create humidity that all but eliminates the view of the mountains in the distance.

NS 154, June 27, 1993

Fall, in many ways, produces some of the nicest conditions to either sightsee or photograph in this region.  Drier weather begins to banish the summer murk, and the changing foliage provides another element of visual interest.  While the deciduous trees nearest the railroad are not the most colorful in the area, they won’t leave you with any doubt that this is a four season climate. 

NS 154, October 22, 1993

Worth a stop?  I certainly think so.  As they say, beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  If you have occasion to be in the far northern end of the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia (the West Virginia state line is within a mile of the bridge), behold Gaylord, and its trains, by all means – whatever the season.

(Photos by George W. Hamlin)

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