In O. Winston Link country

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Sunday, October 4, 2009

Vesuvius is the mountain in Italy that popped its top in 79 AD and buried Pompeii in volcanic ash. There’s a Vesuvius in Virginia, too, nestled in the Shenandoah Valley, and it had an eruption as well.

The second eruption of Vesuvius occurred at a B&B about 15 years ago. The soon-to-be-former art director of Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine popped his top at an editorial planning session. Criticized about some aspects of his recent redesign of the magazine, he flipped us The Bird and stomped out. He returned a few minutes later, suitcase in hand, to add some F words to the denunciations. Then he stomped out for good. I never saw him again. That was when the magazine's managing editor, who would later become an Episcopal priest, suggested it was okay to use the F word frequently among ourselves, but just say "banana" in its place. Try it, please. But I digress.

It was also in Vesuvius, Va., that photographer O. Winston Link created the immortal image shown here. You will find it on pages 62-63 of Steam, Steel & Stars (Harry N. Abrams, 1987; text by Tim Hensley).   The image is staged, but that fact doesn’t make this scene any less memorable. The gas-station attendant from half a century ago is no longer with us. The two teenagers qualify for Medicare. The gas pump itself now resides in the O. Winston Link Museum in Roanoke, Va. What I see in this photograph is an instant in village life, and the train in the background is as familiar and ordinary to these people as is the wood stove inside that general store.  I passed through Vesuvius today as I followed Norfolk Southern’s line from Roanoke to Hagerstown, Md. The B&B where we stayed is still in business. But the general store where I had gone for a soft drink during my earlier visit, and where Link staged his photograph, is no more.  I enjoyed the trip despite the difficulties of staying close to the railroad. It follows the Shenandoah River, while roads generally hue to the ridge lines far above. The railroad’s heritage remains abundant in color-position signals and no-trespassing signs stenciled “N&W.” I just wish there had been a few trains.—Fred W. Frailey


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