Future remains in doubt, but Railroad Days returns

FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2016 photo, passengers board an Amtrak train at the Hinton Station in Hinton, W.Va. Hinton's Railroad Days festival every October brings in thousands of visitors who travel in by antique rail car from Huntington. (Rick Barbero /The Register-Herald via AP, File)

By MATT COMBS, Register-Herald
HINTON, W.Va. (AP) — On a cold October morning, as the church bells rang the noon hour and tourists and locals alike roamed Temple Street in Hinton bundled in coats and winter hats, Railroad Days was in full effect.
Two weekends a year, the town at the conjunction of three rivers comes alive again in a tribute to the past.
While the future is in doubt for the festival and weather hasn’t been cooperative, the festival has been at full stride in 2018.
“We had a lot of visitors yesterday,” said Dorothy Jean Boley, inside the famed Hinton Railroad Museum, before explaining that high winds had damaged some vendors’ tents the night prior.
Boley has called Hinton home her entire life and is in a way the town’s direct link to the past which built it.
Though in her later years, Boley continues to volunteer and spearhead the remembrance of her hometown’s past.
During two weeks in October, that past comes to life as people from all over pour into the sleepy southern West Virginia town.
Sitting in front of Boley, a register lists the faraway places that folks have traveled from.
But for the Hinton native, it is the familiar faces and names that get her excited.
“It’s like a big town homecoming,” Boley said. “People come back that used to live here and visit with us.”
Though there is a concern that the charter train service that brings in visitors by rail from Huntington will end due to Amtrak cutbacks, Boley said that people are hard at work trying to persuade Amtrak to continue the service and that she is hopeful.
“It’s a wonderful experience for Hinton,” Boley said. “It helps us keep alive the history of the town, which is the railroad.”
While remembering the past, Boley added that the festival also supports local charities and civic organizations that raise much of their funds during the two-weekend festival and is important for the vendors selling their wares.
For Jim Chaney, while model trains are just a hobby, he does make money selling during the festival.
“I really like it,” said Chaney, a native of Danville. “I do real good here and have a good time.”
Chaney added that he comes from a railroad family and can remember picking up goods at the local railroad depot when he was a child.
The retired Danville man didn’t like the idea that Amtrak is cutting back any services in West Virginia, adding that the passenger rail service serves a special purpose in the Mountain State.
“Trains made this state,” Chaney said. “If you went anywhere or moved anything, you went by rail. It’s part of our heritage in the state. It’s important.”
The Danville man said that he wished more West Virginians would visit historic railroad sites and that more should partake in riding the rails when possible, adding that he was headed up to Cass next weekend to ride that historic train.
For Hinton’s mayor, Joe Blankenship, the blending of the past of Hinton, the railroad, to the future, tourism, is key to the survival of the town.
“We always want to keep our history,” Blankenship said. “As you look at downtown Hinton, we’ve got some beautiful historic buildings.”
Blankenship explained that the railroad is what built the town and the railroads are still tied to the soul of Hinton.
“We depend a lot on tourism, and lots of it is the railroad,” the mayor said.
While Blankenship remained quiet on progress toward renewing the charter service into the city for future Railroad Days, he praised the work of the state’s congressional team in securing this year’s festival.
It’s going to take that again probably,” the mayor said. “We’re taking it one year at a time. We’re happy to have it this year.”
Though hopeful for the future of the city, especially in terms of increasing tourism and youth activities, Blankenship did not downplay the role of Railroad Days for the town.
“We just need it,” the mayor said. “It just means so much to our community.”
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Information from: The Register-Herald, http://www.register-herald.com