CLIFTON FORGE — The Chesapeake & Ohio Historical Society, a group dedicated to preserving the history of the C&O Railway, has just published its yearly fundraising calendars for sale in support of the 52-year-old non-profit organization. These printed calendars include the famous Chessie “The Railroad Kitten” calendar, the longest-running railroad-themed calendar in the United States.
This 88th edition of the Chessie calendar features a selection of vintage C&O Railway advertising art from the 1930s-1940s. The art selected for 2022’s Chessie calendar represents the “golden” era of Chessie.
In the decade before and during World War II, the advertising mascot was new and wildly popular with the traveling public, who saw the famous kitten and her family used in the railroad’s nationwide marketing campaigns.
Beginning in 1933 she burst on the scene with unexpected vigor, surprising even the C&O Railway, which promptly hired a high-class advertising agency to promote her. The Wall Street Journal once called Chessie “the kitten of destiny.”
The Chessie calendar reached its peak distribution with 425,000 copies in 1947. The selections made for 2022 by the C&O Historical Society represent the best of Chessie, the Chesapeake & Ohio’s symbol of “PUR-R-R-fect Transportation.”
The society has also published its traditional calendar dedicated to Chesapeake & Ohio steam locomotive power, this year focusing on the C&O’s iconic 4-6-4 “Hudson”-type steam locomotives. One of the most recognizable examples of C&O Railway steam power, the Hudson locomotives could be seen throughout the Chesapeake & Ohio system.
Rounding out the fundraising calendars offered for 2022, the C&O Historical Society has, for the first time, published a special calendar dedicated to a specific region along the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway—what is now the New River Gorge National Park and Preserve.
Explaining why the C&OHS has created a calendar dedicated primarily to a geographic region, as opposed to a purely railroad-specific topic, the organization’s president, Mark Totten, explains, “There are instances where factors combine to create a completely unconventional set of historical circumstances on which we look back with wonder because of their uniqueness. Such is the case with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway and the surrounding industries in the 20th century throughout the New River Gorge.”
Totten saw fit to honor this region of West Virginia and its developmental ties to the C&O Railway, emphasizing the interconnectivity of both subjects, “The industrialization of the New River Gorge was a rise and fall of human technology and achievement amid one of the most rugged places in North America. It is a story of discovery, machines, nature, and human grit.”
The former C&O Railway, now CSX Transportation, still runs through the New River Gorge from Gauley Bridge to Hinton, W.Va.
In addition to showing historic scenes throughout the New River Gorge from its industrial peak, this calendar also includes special dedications to two living connections to railroad and industrial history in the New River Gorge, Mr. Marvin Plumley and Ms. Dorothy Jean Boley. Totten explains this decision, “As many historians will agree, our history is best brought to life and taught to us through living connections to a subject, era, or place. We revere the last living witnesses to wars, political dynasties, notable events, famous families, and historical tragedies. Less frequently do we recognize the real people who successfully clawed out a society that never previously existed, now vanishing into history as quickly as better-known survivors of world events. In our photographic selections, we hoped to capture this world where they lived, worked, and served. We also give thanks to their lifelong efforts ensuring their stories are not lost to time.”
Ms. Dorothy Jean Boley of Hinton, West Virginia is believed to be the last living female wartime hire on the C&O Railway with memories that include seeing German prisoners of war captured from the Afrika Korps, traveling west through the Gorge aboard C&O trains to stateside camps, as she hand delivered paychecks to C&O road crews who were too busy in wartime to leave their trains. In her railroad career she was secretary to the division superintendent and, in her later life, dedicated her retirement to the
Hinton Railroad Museum, serving as a living link to the history that organization preserves in this place.
Mr. Marvin Plumley of Meadow Bridge, W.Va., was hired onto the C&O Railway in 1967, beginning a decades-long career working various railroading jobs, including years at Thurmond, Meadow Creek, Hinton (HX), Raleigh, Gauley, Rainelle, and the White Sulphur Springs depot. From 1984 to 2007, Mr. Plumley worked for Amtrak as the station agent for Prince, West Virginia, serving the public throughout the New River Gorge.
Today Mr. Plumley is an active C&O Historical Society member and volunteer, working to preserve and teach the history he witnessed, and promoting the society’s mission, especially by contributing to projects at the C&O Railway Heritage Center in Clifton Forge.
These individuals represent just two of many thousands who lived and worked within this region of West Virginia for over 100 years. C&OHS President Mark Totten concludes, “Today the New River Gorge itself is silently returning to the wild, forever preserved as America’s newest national park, an example that nature is a stronger force than any technology that attempts to conquer it. But for a time, humankind conquered the wilderness, changing history and contributing to the world’s progress throughout the 20th century. This calendar captures pieces from that unique intersection of history, when an industrial symphony echoed against the gorge, and people and machines briefly ruled the landscape.”
The calendars are available now and can be purchased three ways: in person at the C&O Railway Heritage Center Museum Gift Shop, online at ChessieShop.com, or by calling 540-862-2210 Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Proceeds support the C&O Historical society’s mission to preserve and interpret transportation history.
The C&O Railway Heritage Center gift shop is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 705 Main Street, Clifton Forge.