C&O Through the New River Gorge 2023 Calendar
The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway’s completion of their great east-west connection at Hawks Nest in 1873 set in motion a history of infinite depth that, in this century, is still a subject studied at great lengths. Briefly captured with these images, and in past writings, we have framed the Chesapeake & Ohio in the New River Gorge as the machine in the garden. The railroad brought people into this part of the country who would have never otherwise witnessed the towering walls of the gorge, caught glimpses of its hidden waterfalls, gazed up at its stone cliffs, or heard its rushing waters.
Before the C&O clawed out the right of way along the New River and through the Appalachian Mountains, a person from Cincinnati or New York would have little reason (or option) to see the New River Gorge in this life. What wonder must have filled the minds of those who came into the mountains for the first time aboard the earliest of trains. Continuing toward 2023, what of that wonder remains in a passenger who, having boarded Amtrak’s Cardinal in Chicago or Manhattan, looks out a window at the turbulence of the waters in our ancient canyon, or looks up its steep cliffs at the same stone formations seen by the first visitors over rail 150 years before?
The C&O Historical Society again dedicates this calendar to two living connections to the history responsible for bringing thousands through some of the most rugged terrain in North America. Like the legendary mountain railroaders before them, our honorees, Mr. Leonard L. Claytor and Mr. Eric S. Pack, captained the machine through the garden. Believed to be two of the last active C&O Railway hires at the time of their retirements, these gentlemen added their own pages to history during their illustrious careers.
Mr. Leonard L. Claytor hired onto the C&O on November 10, 1969. He began work in St. Albans, West Virginia and worked in the yards at South Charleston, Huntington, and Handley. Working through Chessie System and CSX Transportation at places like the Coal River and Cabin Creek Subdivisions, Mr. Claytor transitioned to Amtrak in 1985. During these years, he was a well-known fixture on The Cardinal, working the territory our calendar covers and continuing the history and hospitality of the Chesapeake & Ohio into the 21st century, even as twilight fell on the old railroad.
Growing up in a railroad family, his father, Mr. Howard Winfred Claytor, Sr., retired from the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway as a track supervisor after 32 years of service. Mr. Claytor guided countless numbers of travelers over what was always, to him, the C&O, retiring as a conductor on December 19, 2021. Now volunteering with the C&O Historical Society, his love of people and storytelling keeps our history alive.
Mr. Eric S. Pack is a retired locomotive engineer, retiring June 26, 2020, after 50 years of combined service with C&O, C&O/B&O, CSX, and Amtrak. Early in his career, he ran trains from Hinton to Durbin on the Greenbrier Subdivision. After transitioning to Amtrak, Mr. Pack piloted The Cardinal on the same route used by the C&O in its original east-west connection, through the New River Gorge in all conditions resulting from mountain railroading’s perils and pitfalls.
Mr. Pack is descended from C&O Railway employees who were part of the machines, nature, and human grit that conquered the wilderness of the New River Gorge. His father, Cletis Pack,
was a railroad car inspector with 30 years of service. His mother, Betty Jo Pack, was a telegraph operator with 32 years of service. Eric is one of eleven children and the only one that ended up working for the railroad, where on his first day, he worked at the current location of our C&O Railway Heritage Center museum in Clifton Forge, Virginia. His maternal grandfather was the
section foreman at Fire Creek, West Virginia when his mother was born. His paternal grandfather cut cross ties and sold them to the railroad. Mr. Pack’s family story represents a chapter in this region’s long, beautiful history.
While unknown is the number of people who have taken with them a piece of this experience, what is more known to us are the captains of the rails who have existed within, as the poet said, the intersection of the timeless moment. From the Chesapeake & Ohio’s original cut completed through the wilderness in 1873 to the present day, this journey of exploration has not ceased thanks to a long history of individuals who continue to bring the traveling public through this region that is still most accessible by train.
Large 12x12 size with bold dates