Three years ago today

Posted by Chase Gunnoe
on Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Facebook memories have a way of reminding us where we were and what we were doing at a moment otherwise unimportant. It’s one of the few perks of social media.

A few days ago, I was notified that I had shared a photo on that date three years ago of NS’ Virginian Railway heritage SD70ACe in operation on the railroad’s Princeton-Deepwater District east of Mullens, W.Va.

At the time, it was just another Saturday morning exploring NS’ coalfields in south central West Virginia. I traveled to Elmore Yard, chatted with Virginian railroader and NS Yardmaster Pete Hypes before chasing the fittingly appropriate VGN-painted SD70ACe across Clarks Gap on a “hill run” move. When the Facebook memory surfaced, I smiled, I reflected on the moments and the good times experienced that day, but I quickly jolted into present tense, gulped down a hot cup of coffee, and got back to reality.

Retired Norfolk Southern Yardmaster and Virginian Railway veteran Pete Hypes chats with the P-D Dispatcher as NS'-specially painted Virginian Railway heritage SD70ACe leads a coal train east of Elmore Yard in Mullens, W.Va., in January 2015. Chase Gunnoe.

Six days later on Jan. 16, Facebook reminded me of another memory where I chased a CSX trash train east of Russell, Ky., enroute to a landfill just outside of Ashand, Ky., on the railroad’s former Lexington line. I snapped a photo of the eastbound trash train passing a classic three-track C&O signal bridge in Ashland. Again, I was pleasantly surprised to see the memory resurface and I took a moment to think back on that night and the times shared with good friends during a late evening out snapping photos trackside. But something else clicked this time.

The two photos that Facebook reminded me of depicted scenes we can no longer recreate, though when I took the photos, I had no clue what would follow in the months to come. For the NS photo of Pete Hypes and the Virginian Railway heritage locomotive, NS would soon discontinue rail operations across the Virginian’s famed Clarks Gap route, and instead, route trains on a westward line. Further, the railroad re-evaluated what personnel it deemed necessary at Elmore, which would mean no more days of chatting with Mr. Hypes and learning about his more-than-50-year-career with the railroad.

For the CSX photo that would resurface just days later, not only are the C&O-style signal now gone, but so is the train and the rail service captured on that frigid day. The landfill serving the Ashland, Ky.,-area is gone, but so is almost all of CSX’s traffic on that Lexington industrial track in rural eastern Kentucky.

A loaded trash train from New Jersey passes under the classic three-track C&O signal bridge at NC Cabin in Ashland, Ky., after nearly completing its run from New Jersey to rural eastern Kentucky. Three years later in January 2018, not only is the C&O signal gone, but so are the trash trains and virtually all rail traffic on the Lexington IT. Chase Gunnoe.

These realizations prompted me to take a closer look at my photos from 2015 and 2016, in which I learned that, unbeknownst to me, in February 2016, I was documenting some of the final days on NS’ West Virginia Secondary in my hometown of Nitro, W.Va. That's been almost two years now to the day.

There’s a takeaway here and something I want to remind others and myself. Don’t just take things for granted and don’t procrastinate. If you have an interest and passion for something, then do it. Go out there and capture and preserve an otherwise irrelevant moment in time because even though it may seem unimportant now, it’ll have more significance in the future.

I’m from Appalachia and an area that has seen a lot change in a relatively short period of time, but this idea applies to any trip or concept you’ve considered. An obscure shortline railroad, a neat Class I railroad operation, or even an off-the-beaten-path tourist line. Things change and in the fast paced environments in which we all live, opportunities are lost everyday.

Life is far better spent when you reflect on what you’ve done instead of resenting what you could have done.

Get out there. And do it. That’s my New Year’s resolution for you. 

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