Tim Hensley has taken his love for railroad history and his talent as a former journalist and combined it into another book: “Norfolk and Western Six-Eleven – 3 Times a Lady.”
The book chronicles the 611 steam engine that rolled through the mountains of southern West Virginia pulling passenger cars. The beautiful maroon striped engine winded its way for many years from the state of Virginia towards Kenova, West Virginia.
Many from the Tug Valley can recall when these types of trains made their daily trips through the region.
Hensley, who received a Journalism degree from Marshall University and worked for the Williamson Daily News back in 1976, eventually became a railroader with CSX. He started out as a brakeman, became and engineer and worked his way up to Vice President of CSX in West Virginia.
The book has many color and black and white images of the 611 engine from its birth in the Roanoke, Va. shop, to the last excursions that came through the Williamson railroad yard.
Hensley has roots in Mingo County via his grandparents. Many of his family members worked for the railroad, including his grandfathers, which obviously influenced his love for the rail industry.
“They separated the Virginian, the Norfolk and Western and the Chesapeake and Ohio into the Pocahontas Region,” Hensley said. “That is what our book publishing company primarily focuses on – those three railroads back in the steam era.”
“I was born in Kenova and grew up in the last days of the N and W steam engines,” Hensley added. “They had steam up until I was 11 years old.”
“I always loved the railroad,” Hensley said. He began working for CSX in 1978 and less than two years later was promoted to engineer. Three years later he was vice president for the W.Va. district.
At one time in his career, Hensley was also an editor for a railroad magazine and did public relations work for the rail industry.
“I spent the last 13 years of my career as an Amtrak (passenger train) engineer,” Hensley stated. He ran that train from Huntington to Charlottesville, Va.
Hensley, who is retired, says he now has time to write the books he has always wanted to.
The longtime railroad buff also owns many old rail artifacts and antiques.
The book on the Class J, 611 has the complete history of the old steam engine and tells about everything a person would want to know about the classic train.
One interesting part in the book is about the 611’s “darkest hour” a January 23, 1956 train wreck of the historic Powhatan Arrow along the Tug Fork River at Cedar, W.Va. The wreck happened just after midnight on a cold, snowy winter night.
The engine and several passenger cars went over the bank toward the cold river below. The engineer, Walter Willard, was killed and 25 others were injured. Hensley interviewed the fireman, Ernest Hoback, who was aboard the train but survived, pulled out of the icy water by a bystander.
Hensley was able to interview Hoback a few years ago before he passed away and got his first-hand remembrances of that famed train wreck. The Williamson Daily News headline read “N & W Passenger Train No. 3 Wrecks at Cedar: Engineer is killed; 25 others are injured.”
Hensley’s book has so many other interesting facts and stories of the old steam engines and it caps off the restoration of the 611 and the expedition trips she ran along the now Norfolk-Southern rail lines, which run through the Tug Valley area.
The book is a must read for any railroad enthusiast or for those who love local history in southern West Virginia.
About Tim Hensley: His latest hardback covered book on the 611 is published by his company Pocahontas Productions. The book can be purchased locally at the Sycamore Inn in Williamson. It can also be ordered by sending a check or money order to Pocahontas Productions, Dept. F, P.O. 384, Kenova, W.Va.
Hensley authored “America’s Last Steam Railroad Steam Steel and Stars” back in 1987 with the great photographs of O. Winston Link. He also co-authored the book “Cass Scenic Railroad: Fifty Years a State Park — A Century of Steam on Bald Knob.”
After his stint as a reporter for the WDN, he spent three years working for Congressman Nick Joe Rahall, before working for CSX.
He also operates a bed and breakfast – the railroad themed Trainmasters House in historic Kenova, W.Va.
Note: Ken Miller assisted Hensley with the book. He is a photographer and graphic artist. Hensley praised Miller for his help.
(Kyle Lovern is the Editor for the Williamson Daily News. He can be contacted at [email protected] or at 304-235-4242, ext. 2277 or on Twitter @KyleLovern.)