Link's Color photo--a witness account

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Fri Sep 3 17:41:07 EDT 2010

Thanks to Ed King for posing the "Highball" discussion, which I, too,
and no doubt others have pondered for some time.

I ran down the eyewitness citation to which I referred several days
ago. It is in /Classic Trains/, summer 2001 (v.2, n2), p. 32, where
there appears a "box" on Highball within a feature article on Link's
sounds of steam. Quoted within the "box" is Link's assistant for the
Highball shot, David Plowden:

"That train...I remember it whistling through the night when it started
coming up the mountain. It took, I would say, 45 minutes to a hour to
get to us. It was going no more than 15 miles an hour, working
absolutely flat-out, both engines. It means, it was a hair-raising
experience to be right next to the track when these things went by, I
tell you."

The "up the mountain" business and the 45-60 minutes: sound like
anything near Bonsack? I know there are problems with the Blue Ridge
analysis, but does not that description favor a location well to the
east of Bonsack?

Harry, I will eagerly await your finding on a shanty between Boaz and
Bonsack. Useful to a Blue Ridge-area modeler!

For those who do not have the CT article, I will add more from Plowden:

"This was a double-header they ran especially for Link; it was a sort of
farewell present to him...

"You know," I said to Link, "the packings on these engines probably are
going to be pretty loose. They're old, being retired. If we shoot them
straight on, you're going to get nothing but [leaking] steam."

Link considered this, and said, "Yeah, you're probably right."

"Indeed, when the engines appeared, they were leaking from all ports
possible. If we had shot it head-on, all we'd have gotten was a great
cloud of steam."

So: an inimitable Highball going-away shot, thanks to an alert
photographer assistant's caution.

Notwithstanding the CT "box" citing Boaz as Highball's location (by
Robert McGonigal, the "box" writer, not by Plowden, the witness, who is
silent on the location), I think in light of the discussion over recent
days we are presented with a story easily "up the mountain" to the east
of Boaz.

The article notes that "Link got N&W employee Bill Tanner to hold up a
white lantern in a highball gesture"--having failed to get Plowden to
pose with a red lantern. Plowden: "I'm an old railroader. Red means
only one thing. If somebody holds up a red lantern in front of the
train, they're going to dump the air."

Plowden continues: "Link was incredibly nervous...because he realized
that he had /one shot/ and that was it. Here was the railroad that had
put on a doubleheader for /him.../the last time this would happen. It
was his /last chance--/can you imagine the strain on this man? And so I
remember him standing there as those engines came...He had predetermined
exactly where he was going to fire the shutter, when the N or the O on
that second tender passed a certain place. So, when that engine passed
the spot, Link fired the shutter, and lit up the night."

...and imaginations for generations to come.

Frank Gibson

On 9/2/2010 9:00 AM, NW Mailing List wrote:





> -----Original Message-----

> From: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>

> To: NW Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at>

> Sent: Wed, Sep 1, 2010 5:04 pm

> Subject: Re: Link's Color photo




> Info from Link's notes is hard to contest. But was there a shanty at

> Bonsack?


> Frank:

> I think the photo was made at the Bonsack crossover -- not

> in Greater Metropolitan Bonsack. Note the "WATER" sign.

> It's ABOUT 2 mi. from the tanks you could see on U.S. 460.

> The Bonsack X-over is hard to get to and that may be why

> there were no photos made there.

> The N&W retirees are having the annual luncheon next month.

> "Little K" Tanner wasn't there last time, but maybe if he

> shows up this time, I can ask him --- if I don't forget.

> Understand Tanner has some health problems. He'd been Supt.

> Norfolk Terminal in the 70's.

> Harry Bundy @ MP 252.1




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