C&O Reclamation Plant
took the old and made it like new.


In this 1954 photo, the C&O Reclamation Plant's name can be seen
spelled outin rock letters on the lawn.


The cost-conscious Chesapeake & Ohio Railway went for reclaiming material and machinery in a big way.
For more than 70 years, the former C&O Railway Reclamation Plant at Barboursville was a beehive of
 activity as workers took a myriad of old items and made them like new again. Doing so enabled
the railroad to recoup the maximum return on its investment.

Today the old Reclamation Plant, located on U.S. 60, is only a memory. The plant's long vacant and
disused 52-acre site is now slated to be home to Tanyard Station, a new $86 million complex
with retail stores, restaurants, a hotel, bank and gas station. The first phase of the
development is scheduled to be completed by June 1, 2018,
 with a second phase by June 1, 2019.

The Reclamation Plant was established in 1918 and initially served only the C&O's Huntington Division.
 In the beginning, the plant was little more than a lumber yard. In those early days, the company kept its
scrap rail at the Locomotive Shop. Later the scrap rail yard was consolidated with the lumber yard
at Barboursville. Little by little, other materials were brought there for storage and refurbishing.

Impressed by the plant's performance, the C&O in 1923 designated it to serve the railroad's entire
 system. The plant's first superintendent was W.W. Ward. He was succeeded in 1923 by
William W. Constance. When Constance died in 1937,
 he was succeeded by Robert K. Johnson.

Writing in the May 1938 issue of the C&O Employee Magazine,
Johnson described the plant's unusual operation:

"Unlike a plant where one product is manufactured, or a locomotive repair shop where locomotives
 are the outstanding work at hand, the Reclamation Plant, if a human figure of speech might be
 applied, is a 'Jack of all trades.' The place might be likened to a saw mill, boiler factory,
machine shop, paint shop, blacksmith shop, a monument maker's
 place of business or any one of a dozen others."

As many as 9,000 carloads of material were hauled in and out of the plant every year. Lofty cranes
unloaded incoming railcars filled with old or damaged items gathered from points all over
 the C&O's far-flung system. In Johnson's words, the incoming items were "salvaged,
reclaimed, restored, repaired, stored or scrapped." Once made like new again,
items were loaded on railcars and shipped off for reuse where and when needed.

When the C&O needed serviceable spikes to use in laying new tracks, the Barboursville plant
had them by the thousands. Pulled out of old crossties after years of service, the spikes
 were cleaned, straightened and made useful for many more years.

At first the spikes were straightened in a hand-operated mechanical contraption powered by brute strength.
 As Johnson recalled, sometimes the machine's operator was forced to "call upon a fellow worker
to lend his weight" to the task. Eventually the manual spike-strightener went the way of all
outmoded machinery and was replaced by one powered by an electrically operated
 motor. "Two spikes at a time are straightened as fast as the operator
 can insert them in the slots and trip a foot lever."

Another development at the plant was a saw without teeth that sliced off the ends of 130-pound
steel rails with the ease of a hot table knife going through a stick of butter. As Johnson
 explained, "A magician would say it is done with mirrors. At Barboursville, the
 word is 'friction.' Rails, after use, become battered on the ends. Therefore,
 instead of selling (them) as scrap, as was the custom years ago, they are
brought to the Reclamation Plant where they go through the Rail
Saw Mill. They are afterwards used, in these shorter forms,
 on the branch lines of the system."

Machines used in railway maintenance work - ballast cleaning machines, tie-adzing machines,
 spike-pulling machines and railroad crew cars (generally called "motor cars")
- were repaired and overhauled as necessary at the plant.

Was a bridge needed for a new spur track somewhere? They had it at Barboursville.
Perhaps it usedto be located down in Kentucky where it had to be replaced by a
 heavier span. If it was too long for its new location, it could be cut down
 to size as easily as a tailor would alter a pair of hand-me-down pants.

The plant's ingenious workers were adept at finding new uses for old items.
 Thus, ancient boiler tubing was turned into roadway sign posts,
all brightly painted and ready for use.

The plant's Monument Shop was where the railroad's mile, whistle
and marker posts were fashioned from precast concrete.

A newspaper article on the plant, published in the Huntington Advertiser on Jan. 28, 1956,
noted that it had 300 employees - machinists, electricians, carmen, blacksmiths,
sheet metal workers, painters, skilled technicians and others.

The plant's 15 buildings housed the Office and Store Room, Motor Car Repair Shop, Carpenter Shop,
Scale and Pump Store Room, Motor Car Paint Shop, Machine Shop, Signal Repair Shop,
 Frog and Switch Shop, Angle Bar Plant, Rail Saw Mill, Monument
 Shop and others - totaling 72,700 feet of floor space.

Advertiser reporter James R. Hayworth described what he saw when Johnson took him on a
 long walk around the plant grounds: "Great stacks of bridge girders and rails, mountains
 of used-up tie plates, hills of bent and rusty spikes and great mounds of worn switches."

Visiting the plant's Signal Shop, Johnson showed Hayworth a group of technicians bent over
 a long table. "Looking for all the world like so many watchmakers," Hayworth later wrote,
"they are assembling the devices known as relays that, when activated by an
electrical current, start other electric devices in operation,
 such as railroad switches and signals."

Hayworth asked a supervisor how many relays were in operation on the C&O system.
The supervisor hazarded a guess of from 75,000 to 80,000. "We never run out of
work here," he added. The relays next went to the assembly bench, where
 faulty parts were replaced and the devices became new again.
 In a room nearby, other technicians rebuilt and restored
 switch mechanisms and circuit control apparatus.

"This place is unique," Johnson said, "both for its size and wide variety of work for which
it is equipped. It differs from reclamation plants on other railroads in that all materials
released from line-of-road by track, bridge and building, water supply
 and signal departments are shipped to Barboursville."

In her "The Lost Village of Barboursville," historian Jeanette M. Rowsey credits
 the Barboursville Reclamation plant with playing "a huge role in maintaining the
security and stability of area families," especially during the Great Depression.

"Even in the worst of times," writes Rowsey, "keeping hundreds of miles of C&O tracks
maintained through the repair, replacement and recycling of various parts and
devices provided good, steady work for men of the area. Through the
subsequent decades of railroad consolidation - the 'Chessie System'
years of the 1970s and into the mid-1980s under the corporate
 behemoth known as CSX Transportation - the plant
 continued to provide jobs for over 100 people
 who helped keep the tracks in running order."

According to Tim Hensley, retired West Virginia resident vice
 president with CSX, the plant ceased operation about 1990.

This article was prepared with the assistance of the Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society,
 a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and interpreting the C&O's history.
 To learn more about the Society, go to its website at cohs.org.


Note:  This Article and picture appeared in the Herald-Dispatch Newspaper on April 2, 2017.


[ Back ]