By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
BLUEFIELD, Va. —
The city of Bluefield benefited from the gift of a collection of interesting railroad artifacts from a family that is in the process of downsizing prior to moving.
The collection includes an operational, coal-burning caboose stove used for heating and cooking, three signal tower ornaments, some Norfolk & Western marked coal buckets, coal shovels, locks and more along with the smokestack that was used with the caboose stove.
“My father, J.M. Ratcliffe Sr., was the coal wharf foreman at Norfolk & Western’s coaling station at Hemphill,” James Martin Ratcliffe Jr., said. “He only worked for the railroad about 10 years until they closed the coal wharf. It’s just like the one down here in Bluefield.”
The Ratcliffe family had a home in Mercer County, but they lived in McDowell County while J.M. Ratcliffe was working at Hemphill. The younger J.M. Ratcliffe Jr. had a Welch Daily News paper route from 1951-’56.
“The thing I liked most about when Daddy was working at the coal wharf was after those big steam locomotives would get fueled, they would back up almost all the way to Caples. He said they were taking up all of the slack out of the couplers. When they came rolling back through the coaling station, they would be blowing all of that black smoke out of their stacks.
“There was an old poor farm between Hemphill and Capels,” Ratcliffe said. “The railroaders called the area Farm because of the poor farm.”
Jim Ferguson brought a couple of city employees to load the donated items and transport them to the former Bluefield Automobile Club building on Commerce Street.
“This is the kind of thing people who travel to Bluefield to see,” Ferguson said. “Eva McGuire, director of the Craft Memorial Library, is developing the museum project. When Mr. Ratcliffe offered these artifacts to the city, we knew we could find a place for them.”
“I think you’re headed in the right direction (with your development in the Depot District),” Ratcliffe said. “The way you’ve done the sidewalks down there reminds me of the way the old passenger station in Bluefield looked.”
The Ratcliffe family is moving to a smaller residence that is still located in Bluefield, Va. Ratcliffe said his brother, Monte J. Ratcliffe, joined in donating the collection to the city.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com