Alleghany Central Scenic Railroad 1286, Jack Showalter, Oren Helbok, 1977 -- John E. Helbok photo

Honoring

Jack Showalter

May 2022

My father, John, and I volunteered for a month in each of three summers, 1976-'78, on the Alleghany Central Scenic Railroad in southwest Virginia.

The railroad's owner, Jack Showalter, had made us welcome from literally the first minutes that we met him, almost instantly inviting us into the cab of his locomotive, and between the ages of 11 and 13 I learned steam railroading from the ground up, taught how to get on and off moving equipment and operate a locomotive injector and run a track speeder, among a myriad of other crafts, while my father learned to hand-fire that locomotive, No. 1286, a former Canadian Pacific G5d 4-6-2 built in 1948 (and thus eleven years younger than my father).  In the photo above that my father made in the summer of 1977 (and the only one of his that shows Jack in the engineer's seat), I have run the speeder up the A.C.R.R. "main line" (the former Chesapeake & Ohio Hot Springs Branch, which ran northwards from Covington, in Alleghany County, to Hot Springs and its famous resort, The Homestead); we have come to a nameless location in the valley of the Jackson River so my father can photograph one of the two weekend-day passenger trains.  As a skinny kid (one of the other volunteers, C. & O. machinist Bill Bursey, called me "Caliper Legs", after the compass-like tool), I would not have offered much help as my father wrestled the motor car off the rails and into the weeds.  Off to the south, the Appalachian foothills made a lovely backdrop, with one steep section devoid of trees that my father and I called "the cliffs" and that would provide visual interest in the photo.  It turned out that Jack and his unidentified fireman (obviously not my father on that day), who knew to expect us there, made smoke for us -- obscuring the cliffs but, in the end, making for a more dramatic photo.

Jack died in 2014, and you can read his obituary here.  By some measures, perhaps Jack had more failures than successes, but he touched countless lives (more on that below) and when we measure wealth by friendships made and by happiness shared, Jack would qualify as one of the richest people who has ever lived.    In time, I will try to tell the full story of Jack and the A.C.R.R. (1975-1984), and the later Allegany Central that Jack operated between Cumberland and Frostburg, Maryland (1988-1990 -- and note the different spellings of “Alleghany” [Virginia] and “Allegany” [Maryland]), and then the later-still Virginia Central in Charlottesville (1993).  For now, this page honors Jack's memory in a small way and documents the events surrounding Friday, the 6th of May, 2022, when the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad (successor to the A.C.R.R. in Cumberland) honored Jack by hanging aluminum plates on its own locomotive -- former C. & O. 2-6-6-2 No. 1309 -- engraved with the words "For Jack Showalter".

Before the W.M.S.R.'s first public excursion of 2022 behind the 1309, to leave at 11:30 a.m. on that Friday, the railroad held a ceremony at the Cumberland station.  Acknowledging the deluge of rain, officials and invited guests gathered inside to salute the people responsible for the recent restoration of the 1309, which took place between 2014 and 2021, and to share memories of Jack and the  A.C.R.R.

The idea for the tribute had come from Chuck Ayling, a retired computer programmer from Roanoke, Va., who rode Jack's trains in Virginia and Maryland in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s and admired Jack’s entrepreneurial spirit and his eagerness to share his trains – and his locomotives' cabs – with anyone who showed interest.  Ayling made a significant donation towards 1309’s rebuilding; as a thank-you, he rode in the 1309's cab to Frostburg and back on the evening of May 6th, on the second trip of the day.

In his remarks at the station, Frostburg Mayor Bob Flanigan, a member of the W.M.S.R. board of directors, said that he met Jack while on duty as a young police officer more than thirty years ago. “What are you doing tomorrow, son?” he remembered Jack asking, and to his reply “It's my day off,” Jack said “Come ride with us!”  W.M.S.R. Board President Mike McKay called the railroad “the backdrop to our community” and praised Wesley Heinz, W.M.S.R.’s new executive director (as of August 2021), as “the right man in the job” to lead the crew finishing the rehabilitation of the 1309.  McKay, a Maryland Delegate (state representative), serves as the liaison between the railroad and the statehouse in Annapolis, and he credited Governor Larry Hogan for outstanding support of the W.M.S.R.

Then McKay introduced Jack’s daughter Sally Showalter Kammauff, whom my father and I had met as a 15-year-old already experienced as a locomotive fireman, and she spoke movingly about her father, whom she called “a true son of the Chesapeake & Ohio”: Jack worked for the railroad at its Clifton F

Wesley Heinz, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad executive director, Cumberland station -- Oren B. Helbok photo

W.M.S.R. Executive Director Wesley Heinz

Forge, Va., freight depot and locomotive shops for ten years in the 1940s and ’50s.  She said “My father visited the 1309 many times in the B. & O. Museum, dreaming of the day when she would be restored and brought to western Maryland, where she would be right at home.”  Honoring everyone who had worked alongside her father on his trains over the years, Sally read a list of dozens of names.  A great number of those former volunteers – now in their 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s – stood in the crowd: Of the one hundred people Sally invited, eighty of them attended.  They had originally come together sharing a love for steam; the friendships that they formed under Jack’s aegis and tutelage have lasted throughout their lives.  Many of them remain involved in heritage railroading, and some have made careers on Class Is; among them, Greg Richardson, Union Pacific’s General Director–Train Control Systems, came from his home in Omaha, and Federal Railroad Administration Safety Inspector Erv White came down from Pittsburgh.  (My father and I had known both of them in the 1970s in Covington; I had seen Erv once in the years since, during his brief tenure at the Strasburg Rail Road in the '80s, but I'd not known anything about Greg or his career until seeing him in Cumberland.)

S

Sally Showalter Kammauff

Speaking after the event, Sally said “I want to thank Wes Heinz for making this tribute to my father possible. Congratulations, Wes, on all the ways you have found to bring people together in common cause.  Steam railroading is a challenging endeavor in the best of times, so it’s even more important now that the community sticks together and supports each other.”

 

Of her father, whom she worked alongside for more than 20 years, Sally said “The community that produced my father was completely centered around the Chesapeake & Ohio.  When I say ‘a true son of the C. & O.’, I am speaking not just of his service, but of his family's service and of his deep and abiding love for the railroad and its importance to his community. The original Alleghany Central was certainly founded on my father’s affection for steam, but it was even more so a love letter to his own beloved Dad and to his community – a way to develop his hometown and make the world a better place.  Plus, he made a few incredible friends along the way.”

Sally Showalter, Western Maryand Scenic Railroad Cumberland station -- Oren B. Helbok photo

Telling more of her family's story, Sally continued: "My father's beloved father was a blacksmith on the C. & O., featured in the company's official magazine in maybe the 1950s or '60s.  We have a huge portrait of him working in the Shops with hammer, anvil, and red hot metal from this article.  Joe Showalter was so dedicated to the railroad, he spent ten years during the Great Depression working at the car shops in Raceland, Kentucky, coming home for less than 24 hours every week, until a job opened up again at the Clifton Forge Shops.  My Dad started at the freight depot while he was still in high school, and became a machinist after the war -- but he never became the artisan that Bill Bursey was because he was always running off to the ready track every chance he could get.  He was slender and brave so he was always climbing into a hot firebox (on a bed of green coal with some sort of breathing apparatus) to plug leaky flues or make other running repairs.  If he had had a choice, he probably would have dedicated his whole life to the C. & O. as his family members had, but the younger men were frequently laid off during the transition to diesels, so he began building homes on the side.  The railroad objected to the side work, so he regretfully separated.

"By the way, my mother's father, uncle, and brother were, respectively, a carman, an engine carpenter, and an engineer, also all completely dedicated to the 'Grand Old C. & O. Railway'."

Sally closed the station ceremony by reciting a verse from her father’s favorite song, “Life’s Railway To Heaven”, words written in 1893 by M. E. Abbey:

“Life is like a mountain railroad, with an engineer that’s brave.

We must make the run successful, from the cradle to the grave.

Watch the curves, the fills, the tunnels; never falter, never fail.

Keep your hand upon the throttle, and your eye upon the rail.”

Stephen McIntyre, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Cumberland station -- Oren B. Helbok photo
Sally Showalter and Alan Maples, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Cumberland station -- Oren B. Helbok photo

Born in 1990, Amtrak engineer Stephen McIntyre has no memories of seeing Jack's trains run (although his father, Chuck, volunteered on them), but he nonetheless came in appropriate attire, including a cap with an original A.C.R.R. patch and a reproduction V.C.R.R. hoodie.

People from throughout Train World came to pay their respects to Jack and the rest of the Showalter family; in the photo at right above, Everett Railroad owner Alan Maples speaks with Sally inside the Cumberland station after the ceremony.

Mary Showalter -- Jack's 93-year-old widow -- and their daughter Patty Showalter Howard wait to board the W.M.S.R.’s first steam-powered train of the year on the platform at Cumberland.

Mary Showalter and Patty Showalter Howard, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Cumberland station -- Oren B. Helbok photo

More than a few in the audience wiped away tears after the applause when Sally finished speaking, and many came up to her to shake her hand and give a hug before she could get out to the station platform and board the train, joined by her mother and sister and husband and children and grandchildren, as well as those eighty other people who felt like family.  Then engineer Howard Pincus blew two blasts on the 1309’s hooter whistle and, his hand upon the throttle and his eye upon the rail, started the train up the grade.

Maryland Delegate Mike McKay shelters Showalter plaque, Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Frostburg station -- Oren B. Helbok photo

Maryland Delegate and WMSR Board Chair Mike McKay offers protection against the rain to a passenger photographing the Jack Showalter plaque on the 1309 at Frostburg.

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After the summers that my father and I spent in Virginia, Sally and I did not see each other again until 1989, and then only for a weekend, when I showed up in Cumberland on my way back from the last of my post-college cross-country odysseys.  As if no time at all had passed, Jack instantly made me a brakeman, and I spent two days riding footboards, passing signals, making hitches, coupling airhoses, and even operating the turntable at Frostburg.  Six months later, I met the woman I would eventually marry, and my life changed; Sally and I crossed paths once more, in Charlottesville in October of 1993, days before Jack's two G5s worked doubleheaded to pull the Virginia Central trains, but I missed seeing them: A friend and I had already made our plans to chase the New River Train in West Virginia.  Richard made a photo of Sally and me in front of one of the locomotives; wow, do we ever look young.

Sally Showalter and Oren B. Helbok, Virginia Central Railroad, Charlottesville, 1993 -- Richard Boylan photo

-- Richard Boylan photo

A Washington Post article from almost that exact same day explains Sally's railroad career fairly well:

"The Sally Kammauff resume is like no other.  At 14, she went to work for her dad's scenic railroad in various capacities.  Engine watchman.  On-board concessionaire.  Car cleaner.  Locomotive fireman.  As the railroad prospered, her repertoire expanded -- conductor, brakeman, crane operator, promotions coordinator -- and she trained many people in the jobs she'd learned.  At the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, Kammauff majored in biology and held down a job as a boiler fireman at the UVA power plant.

"Kammauff spent eight months in a management training program run by Chessie System (now called CSX). Over the years she's also worked in food service, gotten married, had two kids and served an apprenticeship in a cabinet shop.  'I did a lot of the woodwork in the cars,' she says. 'In fact, I made all of the windows in [car] 514, did all the design work, chose all of the fabrics, chose all the paint colors for the interiors.'"

After 1993, I largely lost touch with Sally and Jack again, although I sent a holiday card every year; Sally and her husband had a total of five children, now in their 20s and early 30s.  Only when I heard of Jack's passing did I call her -- and reached her headed out the door to the funeral, so we did not have much time to talk. More years passed.  On an afternoon in early April of 2022, as I drove west on Michigan Route 34 on one of the road trips that George Hiotis and I make together, my phone rang and I saw her number come up.  "The Western Maryland Scenic is honoring my father by putting his name on their locomotive," Sally said.  "Please come to the dedication ceremony in Cumberland on Friday, May 6th."

 

I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

My visit to Cumberland actually began on Thursday evening, the 5th, when I met up with Sally and her family at the house that they had rented for the weekend, a few blocks from the station in Cumberland.  She and I and three of the long-ago volunteers and one of their daughters went to a restaurant downtown for supper and ended up closing the place -- the staff looked daggers at us as we sat longer and longer while they tried to clean up around us.  At some point during supper, if I remember right as Greg Richardson told some outrageous story about Jack, she laughed so joyously, so un-self-consciously, that I instantly saw before me the 15-year-old whom I had first met almost 46 years earlier.  (I told her that on Friday morning, as we waited for the train to come into the station at Cumberland, and Sally said "I don't think I have laughed like that since I was 15.")

Especially on Friday, as she had a lifetime of friends around her -- eighty people whom she knew had all made the enthusiastic choice to come to see her and to honor her father (whom she revered and to whom all of us owe so much) -- Sally fairly glowed, radiating back at us the joy that all of us felt as we told "Jack stories" and rekindled friendships and kindled new ones.

Sally Showalter Kammauff and her daughter Katie Kammauff Hughes aboard Western Maryland Scenic Railroad No. 1309, Ridgeley -- Oren B. Helbok photo

Sally and Katy aboard the 1309

On Saturday morning, Sally brought her older daughter, Katy, to the W.M.S.R.'s yard at Ridgeley, West Virginia, right across the Potomac from Cumberland.  (Katy's namesake, an old railroader named Katy Miller, had served as the original A.C.R.R.'s conductor, on the Hot Springs Branch.)  Greg also came over, and we enjoyed some hot-boiler time together with the 1309 and her crew.  Sally and Katy climbed into the cab, and Sally got to meet and talk with Howard Pincus -- one of the best-connected people in heritage railroading today and one of the best people whom I happen to know.  (I do not know nearly everyone in Train World, but Howard seemingly does, and as far as I can tell he knows everything.)  I said to Howard afterwards that I do not believe in the concept of royalty, but I can hardly conceive of more rarefied company than Sally and him; watching them in conversation, Howard in the engineer's seat and Sally next to him, I felt like my entire lifetime of experiences of chasing trains had all converged into this one instant.

Howard Pincus and Sally Showalter Kammauff aboard Western Maryland Scenic Railroad No. 1309, Ridgeley -- Oren B. Helbok photo

Howard Pincus and Sally Showalter Kammauff aboard the 1309, Ridgeley, W. Va., 7 May 2022

Throughout her visit to Ridgeley, where once she and her father had run a railroad, Sally simultaneously seemed lost in reminiscence and also wholly in the present, an eager instructor for her daughter, who had never seen a live steam locomotive before; Katy had known her grandfather very well, and she even spent plenty of time around his trains (including washing and waxing them), but within her memory she never saw them run.  I do not have a good sense of what Katy took away from her experience in Ridgeley, but wading knee-deep into family history plainly affected her: She brought up the location where her own father had proposed to Sally, outside one of the old and grimy shop buildings one cold and clear night with snow on the ground -- plainly a family legend.  Sally pointed to the exact spot and said "We could see a million stars."

Sally Showalter Kammauff with Western Maryland Scenic Railroad 1309, Ridgeley -- Oren B. Helbok photo

Sally Showalter Kammauff and the 1309, Ridgeley, W. Va., 7 May 2022

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P.S.: I met Ken Thacker for the very first time on May 5th in Cumberland, when he and I went out to supper with Sally; Ken volunteered on the Alleghany Central beginning a few years after my father and I last did, so we'd never crossed paths there.  Exactly my age, Ken had for company in Cumberland his daughter, Emmy -- exactly the same age as my own daughter.  In yet another astounding coincidence, Ken and I both studied architecture in college, but with him it stuck and he got a professional degree and a license, and he practices in a large firm in Charlottesville that specializes in designing schools.

After returning to our respective homes, we continued our conversations by e-mail, and Ken shared the following with me -- worth quoting exactly and in full:

. . . the indelible memories of the weekend have had me thinking about him for days on end.  For a relatively diminutive man, he made a giant-sized impression on me!

 

Like you, I felt a need to write some things down.  There’s probably nothing new here but I wanted to share.

 

His humility: Jack was kind and welcoming to countless strangers, trusting them to do the right thing.  Never boastful and living an extremely modest life, he seemed to have poured every bit of earnings from his prior career into his railroad, whose chief purpose seemed to be to share the love of steam railroading.

His intelligence: For all of his homespun character and modest means, Jack knew so much about so many things.  The act of operating and repairing steam locomotives alone would be an insurmountable challenge for most!  For a man who seemed to either be working (a whole lot) or sleeping (only a little), he was keenly aware of popular culture, stayed abreast of the news of the day, and could carry on a conversation on a wide variety of topics.

 

His stamina: Long days of working on the railroad were often capped with colorful story-telling and welcomed libations.  No matter how late we stayed up the night before telling the old tales, Jack always seemed to be the earliest to rise.  Getting right to work, he could frequently be heard whistling a tune while the first hint of sunshine burned off the Jackson River valley’s ubiquitous morning fog.

 

His endurance: Jack had countless wounds and scars from injuries sustained working in an unforgiving environment and yet he never complained of pain nor relented from his quest to finish the job.  For weekend volunteers who frequently arrived at the ACRR late on a Friday night, it was not uncommon to find Jack hard at work on a time-sensitive project or repair.

 

His resourcefulness: Jack had come across an abandoned water tank and had procured its long, straight wooden stiles.  He was determined to build a shed, the foundation of which was placed on a steep slope to make full use of available land.  Working (in the snow, no less) to build a sturdy set of posts and beams, I wondered how we would keep things plumb and true without a carpenter’s square.  Jack deftly hoisted a sheet of plywood on edge and used the factory edges as a makeshift square!

 

His determination: The eventual fate of the ACRR was known by 1985 and the work weekends consisted of gathering equipment that had been distributed across the full length of the railroad.  Collecting a battered piece of maintenance-of-way equipment, we paused from the work of repossession so that Jack could wail away on a badly disfigured grab iron and hammer it back into a semblance of straightness.  "I might have to leave this place but when I do I’m going to have my equipment looking as good as it possibly can."

His unselfishness: Riding in the cab with him at the throttle, it didn’t take long to realize that here was a man living his dream; he was a picture of contentedness, and he was happiest when he could wave at children and adults who were trackside, greeting the train.  I remember watching him silently move his mouth to the sound his whistle was making, calling attention to the wonder of the train with both urgency and devotion.

 

By God, was I fortunate to have known him!

Amen, Ken.

Alleghany Central volunteers and Jack Showalter at Intervale, 1984 -- Wray Dudley photo

Volunteer Wray Dudley made this photo in 1984 at Intervale,the A.C.R.R.'s station and southern terminal two miles north of Covington, Va.)  Those appearing with Jack's other locomotive (ex-C.P.R. G5c No. 1238, built in 1946) include Ken Thacker at top left; Jack Showalter, smiling broadly directly under the headlight; Bill Bursey, front row middle; and Greg Richardson, front row right.

-- Ken Thacker collection

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Coda: Someone else of great importance to Train World got permanent recognition on the 1309 that same week, although with much less fanfare.  The seven-year-long restoration project that culminated in 1309’s first revenue passenger runs in December of 2021 had more than its share of setbacks; it finally succeeded with help from donations from many of Trains Magazine’s readers as Editor Jim Wrinn spearheaded the “Steam the Last Baldwin” campaign.  “Without Jim’s enthusiasm and energy, the job might still be unfinished,” said Howard Pincus, chairman of the Railroad Museum of New England, who conceived the idea of a plaque in the 1309’s cab saluting Jim’s lifelong preservation efforts; Howard installed the plaque on the evening of May 5th, 2022.  Howard summarized his motivation for having the plaque made this way: “It seems entirely appropriate that we mark Jim’s achievement not just once but for as long at the locomotive runs.”   Jim Wrinn had also volunteered on the A.C.R.R. in Virginia (my father and I met him there in 1977 or '78), and Jim’s fine on-line tribute to Jack appeared after Jack's passing.

Jim Wrinn plaque in the cab of Western Maryland Scenic Railroad No. 1309 -- Howard Pincus photo

-- Howard Pincus photo