Last year when I was still working on the railroad I discovered this little town, or should I say it discovered me. Thurmond, West Virginia has got to be the nicest place on earth. At least it is for me, because it has everything I love, woods, a river and especially trains. I love trains. Long ago the last few residents moved away when coal went belly up in the early 70's. Since then the US Forest Service has taken it over and is going through the long process of restoring the town and what's left of the buildings. The station is still there and a bi-weekly Amtrak still makes a stop, but mostly it's an out of the way museum of sorts. CSX still uses it as a main line for many coal trains on a route to and from Charleston & Huntington.
Walk a little ways in either direction along the tracks and you'll see peering through the kudzu the skeletons of the old coke ovens and coaling stations. It's like taking a trip back through time. You could almost smell the coal smoke and steam, hear the lonely whistle of the old Chesapeake & Ohio steam locomotives pulling through, making a whistlestop to drop off freight and mail for the town's residents, for until recently the only way in or out of the sleepy little town in the New River Gorge was the railroad. It was Thurmond's lifeline to the world. No roads led to this part of West Virginia.
The last time I was there I went with someone very special because I wanted to be there with them for one, to share a little, very private part of my hopes, dreams and aspirations. It was also nice to be there not covered in coal dust and hydraulic oil because the times before I was working along the tracks and had no time to really explore.
We walked hand in hand along the side track by the station, checked out the old buildings like the bank, post office and hotel, standing empty like reflections of a long ago time. I thought I could feel the ghosts of the past looking at me from the bare windows, and it oddly felt reassuring. We sat down on a bench at the station and she sidled up next to me, putting her arm in mine and head on my shoulder. No words were exchanged as we enjoyed the twilight. I can still feel her arm in mine, the warmth of her body so close, the smell of her hair...
We sat like that for a while and I noticed the signal had changed from red to green. Soon a train would be rumbling through the town. I heard the horn of a locomotive, and coming around the turn was one of the many coal trains heading from Charleston to points east. In the fading light I saw the engineer wave to us as it sped past the station, and as it past I felt my companion pull me closer.
All was right with the world at that very moment in time. I had never been happier in my life until that very moment.
The train slipped past and as the light of the ELF on the last car blinked out of view, headlights splashed across us from another car pulling into the station's parking lot...
And the moment was gone forever.
But it will forever be etched into my memory, always there for me to pull out on dark days and scan... Something to lift me up when I'm feeling low.
A perfect memory of a beautiful evening with a lovely woman.
This morning I'm heading to Bluefield to another hiring session with Norfolk~Southern railroad. Wish me luck! Maybe today I'll be one step closer to achieving at least one of my dreams.
Copyright 2005 Thomas J Wolfenden