Potts Valley Branch Question

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Oct 10 12:58:24 EDT 2017

QUESTION:  The N&W held charter rights to extend (what became) the Potts
Valley Branch all the way to Potts Creek, Va,  five or so miles north of
Paint Bank, Va.  Did they ever exercise this privilege, and actually build
to Potts Creek ?

I have just spent two days with Google Earth, mapping and scaling off
distances given in Radford Division T.T. No. 35,  dated April 20, 1930.
(Google Earth is a powerful tool, and enables one to scale off and measure
distances on the satellite imagery to tenths of a foot.)  I was looking for
places which no longer appear on maps, e.g. Crafts, Foley and Petit listed
in the T.T. (none of which had sidings in 1930.)

One thing for which I was looking was the highest elevation on the Branch,
and I found it to be about a mile south (Time Table "east") of Kire, Va.,
at 2700 feet.  This was the watershed between the Big Stony Creek which
flowed southward to New River, and the Potts Creek which flowed northward
to the James River at Covington.

I was unable to locate Petit and Foley with any reasonable accuracy.  The
T.T. gives a distance of 7.5 miles between Ray Siding and Kire, which are
known points.  (Ray Siding at 15.6 miles south of Paint Bank, Petit at
19.2,  Foley at 21.9, and Kire at 23.1.)  The Time Table overstates the
distance between Ray Siding and Kire by better than a mile, so measuring
along the right-of-way  from either known point (southward from Ray Siding,
and northward from Kire) gave conflicting locations for Petit and Foley.
And there is  virtually no possibility that the present highway in the area
uses an alignment different from the railroad's alignment.   The T.T. is
simply wrong... it is not that far from Ray's Switch to Kire.  Only an
examination of the Valuation Maps would resolve the issue.

As someone who spent 20 years as "keeper of the Time Table" for one-forth
of a certain major Eastern railroad (about 3,000  miles of it,) I am well
aware of the subjectivities and vagueries of Time Table mileages.  First of
all, they are (usually) given to only one decimal place, which introduces a
potential measuring error of 1/10th of a mile,  520 feet.  Second, almost
never were they subjected to scrutiny or the attempt to correct them...
whatever had been printed in the T.T.  forever was just perpetuated in
following Time Tables.   Third, in the absence of a depot or station name
sign, mileages were usually stated by referring to the first switch of the
passing siding, calculating from MP 0.0 on a branch, and those things often
changed, or even went away entirely, and I am unaware of the N&W's practice
of assigning T.T. mileages with respect to siding switches.

Here is a little story to show you how such things go...  Some years ago I
was involved in a six month project to install a big interlocking where
three main lines and one branch line came together.  One problem was that
the new interlocking was over a mile long.  What mile post + decimal would
I use to show it in the T.T. ?   Some investigation and conversations with
the oldest heads in the System Signal Department Office (guys who had been
around forever and knew everything) revealed that the protocol had always
been (but unknown to me) to use the location of the "instrument house" as
the decimal location for an interlocking.  But this new, big interlocking
was over a mile long and had THREE "instrument houses," with express cable
extending between them, and they were not close together.  We finally
decided the right thing to do was to base the Time Table mileage on the
location of the PRINCIPAL "instrument house," that is, the one with the
most relays in it.  And that is what we did, and the Time Table mileage I
used for that interlocking two decades ago still stand in the present N.S.
Time Table for that territory, although I am sure no one left today
understands why that number was chosen !

The USGS Topo maps have been of little help in my investigations, as maps
were only published for this area in 1923 and 1945 (after the branch was
abandoned.)  The 1923 topo does not show the Potts Valley Branch extending
north of the wye at Paint Bank depot.  And the 1945 topo does not indicate
abandoned railroad grades.


Your reward for having read through all the above blathering is the
attached PDF, which shows the Potts Valley Branch  station pages from the
1930 T.T.

-- abram burnett
                  Sent to You from my Telegraph Key
Successor to the MAGNETIC TELEGRAPH LINE of 1844
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