Switchtenders at Roanoke

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org
Tue Mar 24 10:09:18 EDT 2020

Abram, Excellent reply. Much appreciated. Never heard of ‘Huff Mill’ as a reference point for the Operating Dept in Roanoke Terminal. Interesting history.


That got me to thinking, based on my growing up in Roanoke, and your interesting post of late regarding train operations in Roanoke, to compile a list of ‘named’ locations that operating men commonly referred to in day-to-day operations. Obviously such a list would vary throughout the years but it still would be interesting to compile. It would help show the complexity of operating even a medium size terminal such as Roanoke . I’ve attached a rough starting point. If you (or anyone) cares to add to it or correct the geographical order please be my guest. My knowledge on the operating side is limited.


John Garner, Newportonian, Virginian


From: NW Mailing List [mailto:nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org] 
Sent: Monday, March 23, 2020 5:36 PM
To: N&W Mailing List <nw-mailing-list at nwhs.org>
Subject: RE: Switchtenders at Roanoke


Hon. Mr. Yanos von Garnerikovski, Excellency - 


That three story building was called "Huff Mill."   


Per an article which appeared in the MN&W Magazine in February 1932, that building was built by Roanoke industrialist W. P. Huff.  Huff sold it to two other early Roanoke businessmen J. B. Andrews and F.B. Thomas.  In 1905, those two sold it to the N&W, which apparently used it for office space and eight months later began to use it as a Salvage Warehouse. 


At some point, D.W. Richards, the N&W's first Signal Engineer, and W.C. Walstrum, the Superintent of Telegraph, began storing materials there.  The N&W's Signal Department was organized in 1906, and apparently at about that time the Signal Department took over the building for a shop and office. 


After that, the chronology is not clear to me, but here are some steps: 


1.)  Around 1951, or so, my father took me in that building one time when it was a Signal Department facility, but I am not sure whether or not some of the building had been removed by then.   That whole area between about 3rd St and 5th (Park) St, was called **Huff Mill** by all railroaders and, as I recall it, consisted of a number of ramshackle small buildings.  I do not know when the last of the old buildings at Huff Mill were demolished. 


2.  At some point, a nice two-story brick building was constructed for the Signal Department, on the north side of the right-of-way and immediately east of the Park Street OH Bridge,and it still stands.  That building shown in the photo you are asking about is the building with the pile of Position Light signals awaiting re-conditioning.   The building had its own siding and concrete ramp and loading platform.  On the outside and inside, this building appears to be 1950s construction. 


It is my belief that, at the time the Park Street Yard Office, down between the tracks, was demolished by run-away cars, circa 1959 or 1960 or thereabouts, the Park Street Yardmaster, clerks and crews were moved across the tracks to this circa-1950s building, and the Department vacated the structure.  


At that time, the Signal Department was moved to East End Shops, into a building near the wheel shop.  I was in that building at East End Shops once, in 1968, and it was a shop and repair facility.  I clearly recall there seeing for the very first time ring-type crimp wire connectors (today often called AMP connectors.)   I asked the gentleman for some and he gave me a handful and I still have a couple, after all these years.  The insulation on those crimp rings was something called "TC Green," which words send shudders up the spines of signalmen.  TC stood for Tower and Case and that type insulation was a circa 1950 product of Union Switch & Signal.  The insulation contained rat poison in the attempt to rid railroad signal facilities of those gnawing little creatures.  After a decade or so, TC Green insulation broke down and no longer insulated, and there were all kinds of crosses and grounds in railroad signal wiring, and a number of wrecks were blamed on it.  I have a four foot chunk of TC Green #16 case wire, on the ends of which I  have installed hippo clips, and it is now used as a jumper wire. 


Hope this helps you with the thee-story Huff Mill building, and subsequent things in that area. 


(The article referenced above is:  When Signals Were New, by C.D. Potts, N&W Magazine, February 1932, page 72.) 


-- abram burnett, 

brakesman-who-shoulda-been-a-signalman, pr bootlegger, or whatever else... 


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