Interview with Dr. French H. Moore, Jr.
Page Two.

Conducted on November 17, 2009, in Abingdon, Virginia


(FM)    Now, after I came back here in 1960.  I was in the Kiwanis Club, the passenger service was gone then.  We would have a train excursion.  And sell tickets and go to West Jefferson.  So I was kind of doing that.  The first year we made money, the second year we broke even, the third year, we lost our shirts.

(RS)     And the fourth year it didn’t happen.

(FM)    Yeah, we didn’t do it.  And we were ….when you bought your tickets you got your lunch,and a drink.  And the old restaurant that was down there in front of the main line.  A drive in restaurant and they would cook the chicken for me. And we might have a 100 or so people.  So they would fix me the…. so we’d go in and they’d do those and I guess we’d do the excursion on Saturday and we’d go in and pick those up on Friday night or very early on, and we’d delivered them to the people on the train.  We told ‘em, finally it was such a job delivering all of it on the train and it was going.  (laughter)  We were giving ‘em a free ride and we were just charging them to deliver the food.  (laughter).  Anyhow, but it was a fun thing.  And now it’s popular, these train excursions.  And now it’s over $100.  We didn’t charge anywhere near that.  And Norfolk Western had a couple of gondola cars that they took the ends out of so you could get from the train into the gondola.  And they had wooden frames built with just wooden bench seats.  And if you didn’t mind getting cinders all over you and in your eyes, you could go out there and ride in the open car. 

Anyhow, I did that, that was after 1960 that we did that.  I was going to say about 3 years.

(RS)     I rode the train in ‘64 and passenger service by then was gone.

(FM)     In '57 the steam engine was replaced by diesel engines, in ‘62 the last passenger train ran, and by that time they were down to two freights a week and in ‘71 they started applying to close the service.   And the people over in there kept going to Richmond and raising cane trying to get them not to.

(RS)  Who was it then?

(FM)   N&W (Norfolk and Western), they had applied to abandon the service.  So finally in July of ‘76, they got approval to close the line.

(RS)  Now was that when you got involved, at that point?

(FM)  No …. no that went along  around in ‘77, the last train ran on the track.  And Chicago contracts out of Chicago bid to pay $402,000 for the track as scrap and the right of way, in North Carolina,  reverts back to the landowners.  And actually they not only sold all that, but they sold the crossties too.  Cause they had dollar value too.

(RS)  So the rails and crossties were sold?

(FM)  Yeah, to a company from Chicago.  And Mr. Frye, Bill Frye.  I got to know him very well because he was down here supervising.  And Chicago contractors was a company, he had a second marriage and had small children and so he had been a big contractor in Chicago, Rogue Building and all that stuff.  So he bid on that and set up the company and matured it on the side.  And he was running it for them and so they bought the right of way, I mean the crossties and rail.  In the contract by a certain date certain he had to tear  down the trestles and get all that out of there.  And that became a problem as things went along.  That deadline that he had.  So anyhow, I met his superintendent who was down here and then Mr. Frye got to come down real often.  We became good friends. I was in Chicago one time and he came and picked me up and took me to dinner.  And we drove all over Chicago and he showed all the highways he’d built and the other projects he’d built and he was a Daly fan....

"I guess it was the County Planning Commission and one night Dave Brillhart came walking in and he said, 'You know I just read something in the paper and they just converted a railroad bed down in Iowa to a hiking trail'”

And one of the things that tickled me to death, because he had several people working for him down here.  And one of the boys he had working for him got a traffic ticket or something.  And so Mr. Frye……. I got a serious call, he said “where do I go to get this taken off of this guy?”  He said, “well in Chicago if somebody gets a ticket or something, you call a certain place, you pay so much money and the ticket goes away.  (Laughter)  I said Mr. Frye, I really hate to tell you this, but it really don’t work that way here.  (Laughter)  It’s a little bit different from Chicago,  I  don’t know who you’d call to get the ticket taken away, I don’t know anybody to call.  I don’t believe there is anybody to call.  And he just could not, absolutely could not understand how we operated down here that we couldn’t pay somebody off to get the traffic ticket or anything else you wanted to get fixed you could get it fixed in Chicago. 

So then, so then.....  I guess it was the County Planning Commission and one night Dave Brillhart came walking in and he said, “You know I just read something in the paper and they just converted a railroad bed down in Iowa to a hiking trail” and about the same time Rails to Trails Organization came into being, and I’m almost a charter member of that.  So anyhow he said we ought to think about that for this over here.  But part of that…..  One of the members was Board of Supervisors, he sits behind John…John… his brother was the sheriff…  Can’t think of it right now… but he got the idea that Washington County, Grayson County and whatever the county is in North Carolina, they would get together and buy the track and rails and some cars and actually operate the train.  It would be county owned and operated….  Well as usual they couldn’t put it together…..  They just couldn’t put it together, you know two counties, three counties two in Virginia,  one in North Carolina, it just wasn’t going to happen.  So they had to give up on that.

(RS)     Was the concept to operate it as a commercial railway?

(FM)    Well, I think they would haul freight and they would haul passengers.  Because they felt was the actual desire of the people really who were used to having the train service to get between the communities over there also to get over here to get to the main line, because the trains, the passenger train was still going through here.  But anyhow, that fell through.  So then, Dave brought this up about turning a rail line into to trails and so Tom Taylor, who is now Board of Supervisors was working for Mount Rogers and we were writing the zoning ordinance for Washington County at that time and he was helping us, or the Planning Commission was, and so Mount Rogers (you probably ought not to put this in there) wasn’t looked at with great favor by a lot of people.  And so, Tom said let me work on this, but just keep it under the radar screen, the guy that’s doing this.  So he really did help us, and his son works for us now.  Sean, Sean Taylor on Board of Supervisors and served for a lot of years as the Director of Mount Rogers until Dave Barrett took his place.

(RS)     I remember Tom from many years ago.

"It was deeded land, it wasn’t right of way, it was deeded."

(FM)    But Tom did a whole bunch of stuff to help us with that, and getting information and that kind of stuff.  So then, we had a real tragic thing happen, the guy that was on the Planning Commission, who lived out there at Watauga, I’m working on his name it’s in the back of my mind, I’ll come up with it in a minute.  His family still lives out there….  But anyhow, he inherited land that was adjacent to the Creeper Trail there at Watauga Road, he didn’t talk to us, but on his own and he went and talked to all those landowners and said if you’ll give me permission, I’m going to get the railroad to give you back your land.  And of course everybody jumped on that.  So they could get their land back.  It was deeded land, it wasn’t right of way, it was deeded.  And see that’s what happened in North Carolina.  Their right of way was not deeded, so it went back to the original landowners.

(RS)    Then it reverted back to private property in North Carolina....

(FM)    It could have been saved if they had rail banked it.  If you rail bank it, that means that the right of way is preserved.  And if at any time in the future the government needed to open it back up again, they would have the right of way.  But you could use it.  It was called rail banking.  So that’s what I thought they had discussed in North Carolina.  That that was they needed to do was rail bank that section.  So that if they ever decided they wanted it back, they’d have to give it back.  But the chances of the right of way from here to West Jefferson are zero to none.  But anyhow…..

(RS)  So who was on the Planning Commission?

Near Alvarado
View of the old railroad bed near
Alvarado in 1981.

(FM)    Oh gosh, I was on the County Planning Commission, that was 17 or 18 years ago, served as Chairman for  about 6 years. In fact I was Chairman of the Town Planning Commission at the same time, cause I was on it for 27 years.  But anyway, he had promised these people.  But when word got out that we were wanting to make a trail out of it.  Well all these people that lived out there, they were just furious with me and anybody who talked about it.  I lost my patience, they were coming to me, oh yeah.  They were so mad about it.  I had already talked to Norfolk and Western, and Norfolk and Western says they’re not going to give it to anybody.  The only thing they were going to do was sell it and you gotta buy the whole thing, cause they knew the minute they sold to one farmer, then that stopped it from ever being a trail, to get across his property. 

"So the Board of Supervisors told me I had to wait 3 or 4 months to give the farmers a chance to come up with the money.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen."

So they would not sell it, and so we, the Town Council went to a VML, a Virginia Municipal League meeting up in Arlington and there’s a real nice trail up there that’s been there for a long time, the W & O Trail.  I think it’s the Washington and something, and they have run a nice trail they did.  You know, the city and so I called their director we went up there to a meeting and set up a time and members of the council, I think we all hiked that trail for maybe a mile.  But anyway we walked that trail with this director, and you know the people had landscaped their yards right up to the trail.  They had the old signs on it and the people weren’t at first that they wanted it and they were tickled to death with it.  It went right through the community, and there were people hiking and biking and having a good time, so that convinced the Council here that it was not going to be a bad deal for the community.  And so we ended up having to go to the Board of Supervisors and uh…. We went to the Board of Supervisors and the farmers had gotten to them.  So the Board of Supervisors told me I had to wait 3 or 4 months to give the farmers a chance to come up with the money.  I knew that wasn’t going to happen.  In the meantime Norfolk Western had made me get the land appraised, like they were going to do an appraisal.  So I finally found a guy in Bristol, who had done some other appraisal for me, that was willing to appraise a piece of land that was 20 feet wide and 40 feet wide, 20 feet wide, 40 feet wide.  (laughter) 

(RS)     17 feet wide in parts of the Town of Damascus …. (laughter)

(FM)    So, he appraised it at fifty eight, fifty six thousand dollars, fifty eight thousand, somewhere in that neighborhood.  And it was a MAI (Members of the Appraisal Institute) appraisal, and he was a qualified appraiser.  So then they told me I had to wait cause Norfolk Western said they weren’t going to give it to him to buy it.  And also in the meantime I had approached the TVA, which has a real presence in Damascus.  Cause that’s when Damascus was having all that flooding and they were to doing work trying to slow down the flooding in Damascus and so they were putting money up in this end of the state.  Cause they actually come up to the watershed, the South Holston Lake, the South Holston River, so Damascus was included.

(RS)  So now the TVA is involved....

(FM)    So I got, it took a special something to get $100,000 so they gave me like $98,000.  We stayed underneath that.  And then, Rick Boucher was a Senator then in Richmond and Rick was very interested.  And so we had to get the state involved in that grant.  I don’t remember why.  But anyhow, I had to go to Richmond, we had to get them to vote to accept the money and to give it to us.  Then I approached the Commissioner of Outdoor Recreation of Virginia and they gave me around $100,000 for this project and Rick helped me with that.  And Bill Shelton, who is now the head of Housing and Urban Development, back then worked for the Department of Recreation.  So Bill and I became good friends in this 20 or 30 years ago, we still are good friends.  And he is the one who helped me get the artisan center.  Going back to the old days to our friends on the Creeper Trail.  So we waited our time out with the County, and the farmers did not come up with the money.

(RS)     How close did they get?

(FM)    Well I never knew.

(RS)     Cause there are some pretty wealthy guys out there.

(FM)    Yeah, but they weren’t going to buy something that, you know….. Wish I could think of that guy's name.  It was more his idea than anybody else’s.  And they thought they were going to get it for nothing.  I think that thought if they held us up long enough Norfolk and Western would give it to them.  They were adamant, they weren’t going to give it to anybody.

So when we ended up buying it.  Uh, let’s see, I think it was $56,000 ….

(FM)      Anyhow, I said you know guys, we don’t have a lot of money.  How about giving us half of  it and taking a tax write off.  Since the town could give them a tax write off.  Then it was also determined that even though it was in the County, it belonged to Abingdon, that Abingdon owned it.  And that it was no longer County Property.  It was in the County, but it was part of the Town and we could police and do whatever we wanted to with.   Anyhow, we then approached the Job Corps.  Jacobs Creek, cause they had a carpenter class and we talked them into sending their students to put the floor down and to put railings up.  And we got the plans that the Forest Service had,  you see the Forest Service had bought their right of way, Forest Service in 1978 bought the right of way between Damascus and North Carolina line.  And then I never did know, yeah it must have been $56,000, cause we bought it for $28,000.  It says in here that Abingdon and Damascus bought it, but really in truth Abingdon did it.  But I had worked with Mayor ....

(RS)    McKee?

(FM)    No, the guy that had the restaurant down there at the end of the street.  He moved over here when he really retired.  Oh shoot……  anyhow, he and I had done a lot of running back and forth to meetings in Roanoke, and so when they started to write the deed, and so I said well, you know we’ve worked together, spent a lot of time in Damascus together put it in both our names.  And we did.  And that has worked pretty good, every once in a while both councils have to approve anything that’s done on the trail, it has to go to your council and our council.

(RS)     So it is not separated, Damascus does not own a  particular part…..

(FM)    We’re in it together from Abingdon to the sewage treatment plant.  That’s where this part we bought.  From the sewage treatment plant into Damascus, somehow they (Town of Damascus) got ahold of that and I have a feeling that Norfolk Western gave it to them, cause see  they had built the treatment plant and they built the sewer line in the right of way.  And they were petrified that somebody would get ahold of that right of way and their sewer line’s gone.  So they got ahold of that, it’s about 4 miles from the east end of Damascus.  So what I was dealing on was just the… from here to the sewer plant. 

(RS)  That’s interesting.  So most of the Creeper Trail is jointly owned...?


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