Busy tracks make McDowell inn a mecca for railroad fans

LANDGRAFF, W.Va. (AP) — After a lengthy do-it-yourself restoration of their newly bought 1922-vintage three-story brick building following devastating floods in 2001 and 2002, Dan Clark and Elisse Jo Goldstein-Clark were able to spend their first night in what would become the Elkhorn Inn.
After getting four feet of mud and water in the first floor, Dan had gutted and power-washed the building and stripped plaster off all the walls and pulled out all the insulation,” Goldstein-Clark recalled. “We were staying in a third-floor room with no door when the first train of the night went by. It felt like the whole train was coming through the building. I started crying, and after more trains went by, I stopped crying and started thinking, ‘We have to find people who love trains!'”
That task didn’t turn out to be as difficult as she imagined the following day.
“When I Googled ‘people who like trains,’ the whole world popped up,” she said. “It turned out that ‘railfans’ are everywhere.”
It also turned out that railfans around the world are familiar with the Norfolk Southern Railroad’s Pocahontas Division, nicknamed the “Pokey,” which sends 35 or more trains and helper engines up and down the dual tracks fronting the Elkhorn Inn each day.
“We’ve had railfan guests from England, Wales and even Australia who were passionate about the Pocahontas Division long before they came here,” said Goldstein-Clark. “We’ve got the best legal train-watching in America. In addition to all the trains passing by, we often have coal trains stop here to change crews.”
“You can sit on the porch and watch trains coming through all day, or drive to nearby scenic and historic spots to photograph and video them, as I like to do,” said Michael Saverino of Spartanburg, South Carolina, a 10-time guest at the inn. A number of trestles, tunnels, loading and fueling facilities found within a few miles of the Elkhorn Inn make great backdrops for Pokey line rolling stock passing through the rugged terrain of McDowell County. “The scenery and the mountains here are truly spectacular,” Saverino said.
While the just-out-the-window presence of rail traffic was briefly seen as a nightmare to Goldstein-Clark, it ended up creating a dream niche market for the Elkhorn Inn, located in a remote section of a county that has seen better times.
“Over 60 percent of our guests are railfans,” she said. “They are great guests. They are interested in the inn and the area’s history, and they tend to make return visits, even in the dead of winter, to photograph trains in the snow. Dan and I have become personal friends of many of them, and we’ve become railfans, too.”
To reach out to former guests and attract new ones, the Elkhorn Inn recently had a railcam installed on its second floor, making it possible to watch and hear passing Pokey Line traffic in real time from anywhere with Internet access. The remote camera is part of a railstream.net system of 12 railcams, placed at busy railroad sites from Nebraska to Pennsylvania.
Saverino developed a program that uses automatic train control signals to map rail traffic along the Pocahontas Division tracks between Bluefield and Williamson, allowing railfans at the Elkhorn Inn to view location displays on their personal computers, hear comments from railroad dispatchers, and estimate when the next train will pass by.
“Sometimes you will find as many as 75 people at a time looking at the feeds for this line at sites across the country,” Saverino said.
Saverino said he caught the train bug from his grandfather while growing up in the Pennsylvania coal town of Windber, founded by the Berwind family, for whom the McDowell County town of Berwind was named.
“My grandfather taught me how the coal trains worked the rail yard and introduced me to the guys who ran the trains and worked the yard,” he recalled. “Since the age of 5, I’ve never lost my interest in trains.”
Severino’s son, Mike, also a railfan, accompanied him on his most recent trip to McDowell County.
“For railfans, there are really only a couple of other places in the country — the Station Inn in Cresson, Pennsylvania and the Izaak Walton Inn in Essex, Montana — that come close to offering what the Elkhorn Inn offers,” said Severino. “You’re right on the tracks here, but Dan and Ellise are what really make the place. They make you feel welcome and anxious to come back.”
The waters of the inn’s namesake, Elkhorn Creek, draw the second-largest group of visitors to the former Empire Coal & Coke miners’ clubhouse.
“You just don’t find streams like this anywhere else in the east,” said inn guest Mike Trunzo, who works for the fly-fishing retailer Orvis in Arlington, Virginia. “The fishing is really phenomenal. I caught over 20 fish this morning, and the crazy thing is that they’re all wild, with beautiful colors and blue spots on their cheeks.”
Several multi-pound brown trout were among fish landed and let go by Trunzo, along with numerous smaller rainbow. Elkhorn Creek, which has produced trout weighing more than 11 pounds, is the only place in the state where brown and rainbow trout, neither of which is native to West Virginia, spawn and reproduce in the same stream. The phenomenon can be traced to the mechanical breakdown of a trout hatchery tanker truck on U.S. 52, which parallels the creek and passes Elkhorn Inn, in the early 1970s.
Once polluted by outflow from coal processing sediment ponds to the point that it could not support aquatic life, Elkhorn Creek had begun to rebound by the time of the historic breakdown, with cold water steadily released from a non-acidic deep mine near its source keeping the stream cold enough to support trout. When no other hatchery truck could be found to offload fish from the disabled tanker, the driver released his cargo of trout into Elkhorn Creek, apparently figuring they had a better chance of surviving there than on the highway berm. He turned out to be prophetic.
“I’ll be back,” Trunzo told Clark, after loading fly gear into his car and beginning his journey home.
Goldstein-Clark served in the Israeli Army and later produced a series of paintings commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard, while her husband had a career with the U.S. Army before they both joined the Federal Emergency Management Administration. In 2001, they were sent to McDowell County to help in the flood recovery effort. It was then that the two spotted the former coal company clubhouse — one of the few buildings in Landgraff still standing — and decided they would give the building and themselves new careers.
“If you would have told me before I came down here that I would be operating a bed and breakfast in West Virginia some day, I would have called you crazy,” Clark said. “But we’ve always been satisfied here. I’ve enjoyed learning to modify and improve recipes I’ve learned over the years and it’s been good to get to know our customers so well.”
“Where else can you photograph trains, take off on your dirt bike and ride trails, and then have Dan fix you dinners like African clay pot chicken or Vietnamese pork chops?” Saverino asked. “It’s combination of everything I like.”
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Information from: The Charleston Gazette-Mail, http://wvgazettemail.com.

Officials: Man drowns at Cascade Falls while saving son

PEMBROKE, Va. (AP) — Authorities say a West Virginia man drowned while saving his son at Cascade Falls in Pembroke, Virginia.
Giles County Sheriff Morgan Millirons tells local news outlets that authorities recovered the body of the 34-year-old man Saturday evening.
Millirons says the man jumped in the pool area near the bottom of the falls Saturday afternoon after his son went under the water while swimming. The man was able to push the child to the bank, but the man went under the water and never resurfaced.
The body has been sent to a medical examiner’s office for an autopsy.
This is the second death at the area in less than a month. On June 25, another man also died after falling into the water during a hike.

West Virginia man gets 8 years for pill trafficking

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A Lincoln County man has been sentenced to eight years in prison for a Florida-to-West Virginia pain pill trafficking scheme.
Thirty-four-year-old Timothy Hallam of Branchland was sentenced last week in federal court in Charleston.
Federal prosecutors say Hallam conspired with others in Florida and in Lincoln County to distribute oxycodone and other prescription pills from 2012 to 2014. Proceeds of the sales were then funneled to bank accounts.
One of Hallam’s associates, Lester Taylor, of Daytona Beach, Florida, acquired oxycodone pills in Florida and sent them to West Virginia for distribution. Taylor was sentenced last November to 10 years in prison.

7,200 W.Va. customers without power 2 days after storms

BECKLEY, W.Va. (AP) — About 7,200 customers remain without electricity two days after severe thunderstorms in southern West Virginia.
Appalachian Power says on its website that about 6,000 customers in Raleigh County were without service Sunday evening. The company says broken and uprooted trees caused widespread damage in the county.
Other remaining outages were in Fayette, Logan, McDowell, Mingo and Summers counties.
The utility says nearly 65,000 customers lost service at the peak of the storm.

Student helps flood victims in southern West Virginia

By KATIANN MARSHALL, The Journal of Martinsburg
BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) — Kaitlyn Hoffman, a sophomore from Berkeley Springs High School, has reached out to help the flood victims in southern West Virginia.
Kaitlyn, 15, said as soon as she heard of the June 23 devastation the people in the southern part of the state had experienced, she knew she wanted to jump into action to lend a hand in any way she could. She enlisted the help of her father, Jay, in order to get the project off the ground.
“I saw it on the news and I just thought it was so awful. My dad was at work Friday morning and so I called him and said, ‘Dad, I want to help. I want to do something and just get out there and help people He said. ‘OK, I’ll cover the logistics part of it. You just do your thing,'” Kaitlyn said.
First, she organized a place to use as a donation drop-off site, which ended up being the gymnasium of the local high school.
Kaitlyn said she then took to Facebook to bring awareness to the community and even used it to reach out to local businesses for help.
“I was trying to use Facebook as a more positive thing since it’s so negative these days,” Kaitlyn said. “And all the local businesses were so, so generous.”
Kaitlyn started collecting non-perishable items, cleaning supplies, hygiene products, among other things, to take to those in need.
What started as a seemingly small project, ending up turning into something bigger than Kaitlyn could have ever imagined. Kaitlyn said the community’s support was amazing and that Morgan County Sheriff Vince Shambaugh offered to help once he heard what she was doing.
“It originally was supposed to be me, my dad and then the sheriff, taking his truck down with the smaller trailer with us. But it turned out once it was all said and done that the trailer only managed to hold only half of our paper products to donate,” Kaitlyn said.
Kaitlyn said she had enough donations to load up the small trailer plus a 53-foot tractor trailer, full of items for the flood victims.
Jay said the tractor trailer was donated by a local trucking company and that it was packed to the brim within days.
Kaitlyn said they took the items down to Clay County and what she saw broke her heart.
“We saw major rock slides, we saw the river down there and it was so high that it was wider than this gym right now. It was orange and it was just terrible. We also saw a lot of bridges collapsed, houses demolished. And we weren’t even allowed to go to the bad part of it all. It was really heartbreaking,” Kaitlyn said.
Kaitlyn said she visited a fire station in Lizemores that said it was trying to help its residents get back on their feet.
Sheriff Shambaugh said what Kaitlyn is doing is great and that she was the “brainchild” behind the whole idea.
Kaitlyn, however, said she isn’t doing anything special.
“I am really just here to help and that’s it, nothing more. These people need our help and I want to do it in any way I possibly can,” Kaitlyn said. “Like my parents say, it only takes one person to start something,” Kaitlyn said.
“And I think what really got me started was when my dad took me down to help the people affected by Hurricane Katrina. I was about seven and the local radio station was looking for volunteers to go down and help. I took a day off school, he took a day off work and I was just so happy to be down there and helping people,” she added.
Jay said Kaitlyn has continued helping the community all through her childhood.
“Ever since then it’s been, ‘Hey dad, let’s go do this. Let’s go help somehow,'” Jay said.
Kaitlyn’s father also said that she is a mature young lady and holds good values, something he tried to instill in her as a child.
“That’s the one good thing about her. No matter what, she is always very understanding and has a good understanding of life. She is wise beyond her years you could say,” Jay said.
Kaitlyn said she is very thankful for the outpouring of support she has received from her local community. She said it says a lot about Morgan County and the Eastern Panhandle.
“We may be a small town but people really know how to come together and step up. The power of West Virginians is something great. It is really special. I’m thankful to be in a community like this,” Kaitlyn said.
Kaitlyn plans to continue her efforts and organize more fundraisers within the next couple of weeks. She and her father want to have a furniture drive once the clean-up efforts are near completion.
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Information from: The Journal, http://journal-news.net/

Man’s body found in Buckhannon River

BUCKHANNON, W.Va. (AP) — Authorities in Upshur County are investigating the discovery of a man’s body over the weekend in the Buckhannon River.
Upshur County Sheriff’s Sgt. Marshall Powers says kayakers found the body of the white male Saturday afternoon in Buckhannon.
Media outlets report the man had a tattoo on his chest and he was wearing a gray T-shirt, orange shorts and tennis shoes.
The body wasn’t immediately identified and has been sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Charleston for an autopsy.

Berkeley County couple found dead in murder-suicide

KEARNEYSVILLE, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia State Police say a Berkeley County couple has been found dead in a murder-suicide.
The Hagerstown (Maryland) Herald-Mail (http://bit.ly/29qVPqL ) reports the bodies of 46-year-old Jerald W. Moran II and 42-year-old Melissa Moran were found Saturday morning at their Kearneysville home.
According to a State Police news release, a trooper in Martinsburg determined that Jerald Moran shot his wife with a handgun, then killed himself.

Ex-sheriff’s captain sentenced for gun embezzlement

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. (AP) — A former Berkeley County sheriff’s captain has been sentenced to 10 days in jail in a gun embezzlement case.
Media outlets report Dennis Streets was sentenced last week in Berkeley County Circuit Court for selling department-issued guns and pocketing the cash.
A judge also noted that Streets lost his retirement pension due to the felony conviction. Streets retired from the department in January 2014 after a 32-year career.
The state Supreme Court last month reinstated the conviction and overturned the lower court’s decision to grant Streets a new trial.
Prosecutors had sought a sentence of one to 10 years.

Ohio man accused of restaurant drive-through window robbery

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Police in West Virginia have charged an Ohio man after he allegedly forced open a McDonald’s drive-through window and stole cash.

Media outlets report 22-year-old Jonathan Gibbs of East Liverpool, Ohio, was arrested Saturday in Charleston.
Charleston police Lt. Steve Cooper says Gibbs squeezed into the restaurant’s drive-through window, showed a gun and robbed the store of an undetermined amount of money. Police were notified and officers tracked him to a nearby riverbank where he was arrested.
Gibbs was being held Sunday on $20,000 bond in the South Central Regional Jail. Jail records didn’t indicate whether Gibbs has an attorney.

West Virginia 2016 revenues $426M less than first expected

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia brought in $426 million less than state officials initially expected for the budget year that ended June 30.

Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss said Friday the shortfall was largely due to dramatic drops in coal and natural gas tax collections.

Kiss said the severance tax brought in $260 million in the 2016 budget year, $177 million less than in 2015. Kiss said severance tax is the state’s third largest revenue source behind income and sales taxes.

Deputy Revenue Secretary Mark Muchow said severance tax revenue from coal fell by 30 percent and revenue from natural gas dropped 62 percent in 2016. Natural gas sales were up 8 percent, but prices fell dramatically.

Still, Kiss said the shortfall didn’t reach the $464 million worst-case scenario his office had said was possible.