The Durbin Rocket operates out of Durbin, WV, from May to October. During July and August, there are two daily services Thurs-Sun, one leaving at 10.00am and one at 2.30pm. The rides are very popular, particularly on weekends and during Fall runs.
The train is hauled by Moore Keppel #3, one of only three surviving Climax geared locomotives still operating in the world today. The five and a half mile Durbin Railroad, on which the Rocket runs, is owned by the West Virginia State Rail Authority and operated by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad under contract.
The D&GVR was incorporated in 1996 to bring rail excursions back to Durbin and, since then, has become one of the great American heritage railroad success stories. As well as the Rocket, the D&GVR runs other passenger and freight services in West Virginia, including the West Virginia Central Railroad and Shenandoah Valley Railroad. It operates three excursion trains out of the railroad's base in Elkins, WV: the New Tygart Flyer, the Cheat Salamander and the Mountain Explorer Dinner Train.
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Durbin is located near the confluence of the East Fork and West Fork of the Greenbrier River. Settlement began in the mid 1790s, but it was only in the late 19th century that interest had grown sufficiently in constructing a railroad up the Greenbrier River to take advantage of the huge reserves of lumber in the Allegheny Mountains of eastern West Virginia.
Construction by the Chesapeake & Ohio of the Greenbrier Division started in July 1899 and was completed to Cass in December 1900, to Durbin in 1902 and to Winterburn in 1905.
There was another boom during WWII, when gas rationing curtailed car travel but, after the war, passenger travel declined again and the last passenger service on the Greenbrier Division ran on 8th January 1958. Freight service continued for almost another twenty-one years but, in 1975, the C&O requested authority from the Interstate Commerce Commission to abandon the line. This was granted in 1978 and the last train ran on 28th December that year.
Today, parts of the old Greenbrier Division have been converted to hiking trails.
The Coal & Iron Railway built down the West Fork from Elkins to form a junction with the C&O at Durbin in 1903. In 1905, the C&I was taken over by the Western Maryland.
In its heyday, Durbin was a bustling town. Passenger and freight services thrived but, by the late 1920s, the logging boom was over, the mills began to close, motor vehicles began to affect railroad traffic and passenger services were curtailed. Freight service continued because of a 1923 agreement between the C&O and Western Maryland for the interchange of rail cars at Durbin, and rail traffic through Durbin was so steady that, at one time, there were eight employees at the Durbin Depot.
In 1917, the company formed the Three Forks Coal Company to operate a coal mine near Cassity, WV. The coal company used the logging railroad to haul coal and, although the sawmill at Ellamore closed in 1946 after exhausting the timber, the railroad continued to be used by the coal mines until the late 1960s.
In 1961, #3 was sold to the Connecticut Trolley Museum where it was restored and went on display until 2001. On 12th November that year, it was shipped to the D&GVR and, the following year, began a new life on the Durbin Rocket.
Above and right, #3 was coaling up when I arrived at Durbin. It was built in 1910 for the Moore Keppel Lumber Company by the Climax Company of Corry, PA.
Established in 1902 to mill timber in northeastern West Virginia, Moore Keppel built a sawmill on the Middle Fork River, and the community that grew up around it was named Ellamore after Ella, wife of co-founder John B. Moore. Twenty-two miles of track were laid to extract the lumber and, between 1906 and 1919, the company purchased six Climax locomotives (#1-#6). The last of these, #6, has also survived. You can see it awaiting a major overhaul as CSRR #9 on the Cass Scenic Railroad page of this website.
In the sequence above (left-right / top-bottom), #3 returns from the river, picks up the day's passenger carriages and pulls into the station.
The most characteristic aspect of the majority of Climax locomotives is the angled cylinders (below).
#3 has 14½" x 15½" cylinders with slide valves and Stephenson valve gear.
The main rod drives a flywheel attached to the locomotive frame. This is attached to a transmission located under the centre part of the frame.
Above, views of #3's main rod, flywheel and transmission.
Below, passing the Durbin wye.
The West Fork of the Greenbrier River is just to the left.
The Durbin Division of the Western Maryland originally ran north from here. The old grade is now the twenty-seven mile long West Fork Trail from Durbin to Shavers Fork.
On the first leg of the trip, #3 pushes the train.
Below, after crossing the West Fork of the Greenbrier, the train turns south and joins the Greenbrier River on the west bank.
The next five miles of track are all that remain of this part of the old C&O Greenbrier Division.
Below, a restored milestone marker along the route.
It's a downhill grade from Durbin but, because of the condition of the track, the average speed of travel is about 5 mph.
We emerge onto an open expanse that
was once the settlement of Nottingham.
A settlement of about forty houses was once located here under the brow of Sandy Ridge.
Below, the river briefly splits in two here, the resulting island giving the location its name.
On the return trip, #3 is climbing up the Greenbrier valley. Parts of the grade reach 2%, so #3 has to work hard.
Right, leaves are blasted from the trees by the exhaust and fall back on the carriages with coal cinders and soot.
Above, coasting through Nottingham and, below, #3 whistles at the old grade crossing.
Photo on the left: just north of Nottingham, #3 crawls to a halt at Whiting.
There was a station here between 1904
and 1957, from which local residents took daily trains to sawmilling and tannery work at towns along the line.
Below, before finally pulling into the depot at Durbin, another caboose was coupled to the train.
This was one of D&GVR's "Castaway Cabooses" to be taken out on the afternoon trip. For a fee, people can hire the caboose, be towed to Piney Island and stay overnight beside the Greenbrier.
Built as stock by the Heisler Locomotive Works in Erie, PA, in 1939 this locomotive was sold to the Middle Fork Railroad, successor to the Moore Keppel, in 1941 and numbered #7. It was the last to leave the Heisler plant before production of geared locomotives ceased.
In 1964, it was sold to the City of Washington, NC. In 1980, it was acquired by the North Carolina Railroad Museum and, in 2004, was bought by the West Virginia Railroad Museum in Elkins, WV, which plans to restore it some time in the future.
Meanwhile, #7 is being stored at the D&GVR Durbin depot.
A 3 truck Heisler, #7 weighs 160,000 lbs. It has 17¼" x 15" cylinders and 38" drivers. Operating at a boiler pressure of 200 psi, it delivered 38,480 lbs tractive effort. You can see another 3 truck Heisler on the Travel Town page of this website.