Blue Ridge Country - May/June 2018 - 42
She made sure I didn't miss Humpback Bridge, Sandstone Falls, and Hawk's Nest Dam, behind which the
New River runs dry. She pointed out two renovated train
stations in Covington-where Amtrak doesn't stop. So
why did I wait for the train in nearby Clifton Forge in a
mobile unit without electricity or plumbing?
"It's coming," she said.
Turns out the CF waiting area will soon move to the
1906 C&O Building, now owned by CSX Corporation,
owner of the tracks. As CSX's poor cousin, Amtrak must
occasionally pull to the side to let higher priority freight
trains pass. This can create delays.
E. Duane Howard of Roanoke doesn't mind because
it gives him more time to enjoy the Amtrak experience.
"You're not just traveling from point A to point B on
Amtrak; you're having an onboard experience, enjoying
the sights and people you meet," Howard says. "I always
carry a deck of cards, and I welcome being seated at tables
with others in the dining car. I like meeting people and
hearing their stories."
People do seem friendlier on Amtrak, where they're
relaxed and not defending their space. I met Amish
couples, mothers with small children, grandmothers, inveterate adventurers, as well as "Super
Conductor" L.L. Claytor, who's worked
on the Cardinal run for 47 years.
The nation's shortIn the Virginias, the Cardinal oper- est St. Patrick's
ates on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fri- Day parade ends
at Clifton Forge's
days, with eastbound trains arriving in Irish Inn.
the morning and westbound trains in
Stories of the Amtrak Landscape through West Virginia
Historical Interpreter Joanna Dunlap shares the
history of the passing sites on eastbound trips.
oanna Dunlap doesn't meet everyone who rides the eastbound
Amtrak Cardinal when she volunteers
as the historic narrator. But she comes
How the 77-year-old volunteer
can greet and remember any of us
is a mystery to me. Dunlap spends
most of the trip standing alone in the
vestibule between passenger cars,
sharing local history via a PA system.
Her eyes are riveted to the window,
scanning for the mileposts that cue
her narration. She's also plugged into
a scanner headset, ingesting a steady
feed of info about the train's location,
speed and other news.
But she manages to smile at anyone
passing her. During lulls and station
stops, this extroverted West Virginia
native meets and greets well more
than half the train.
"Most people have a story to tell-
of a family member who worked on
the railroad or an early train ride they
took or that this is a dream vacation,"
she says. "It's usually a positive story,
unlike the ones I hear in the media."
In her Amtrak travels, Dunlap met a
schoolgirl who sang the John Henry
ballad when she spotted Henry's
statue near Hinton; she's also chatted
with the brother of four-star Admiral
Thomas Lopez just after they passed
the Kanawha River bridge named for
Lopez. She's visited with a former resident of the New River Gorge town of
Thurmond (pop. 5) who returns each
New Year's Eve to ring the church
bell for each calendar year with other
Dunlap heard of the narrator opportunity not long after her husband's
death. The 12-hour round trips could
fill idle time, she reasoned, so Dunlap
plunged into training with her charac-