Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

From the Publisher's Desk – Whistle absence brings eerie silence (Oct. 21, 2015 issue)

Erwin just experienced the biggest “train wreck” of its history.
It is amazing how something that we lean on, depend on and build our lives around can be taken in a moment’s notice. That rang true last Thursday when CSX pulled out of Erwin so unexpectedly. I am sure some rumors were floating around a day or so before, but the certainty of it became a harsh reality to approximately 300 workers early Thursday morning.
The “mother” that birthed our little town seemed to disown us, claiming we were no longer necessary in her life and not useful enough. But, we have to remember, that CSX was our adoptive mother. I feel that the true parent, Clinchfield Railroad, would never have done this.
Too much hard work had been put into those early years of laying down track, blasting through mountain sides, building bridges and tunnels, to just walk away. Has the economy changed that much? It’s like building a super highway to decide we no longer need to take the exit it goes to.
There are very few in our county that aren’t affected in some way by this decision. We all have family or friends who are connected to the railroad. Stores benefited from sales to railroad employees. We all benefited from the tax dollars brought in and spent in our community. Churches benefited from railroad tithes.
But, most of all, our railroad family and friends were able to support themselves and their families on hard earned income from a job that is not easily replaced.
As the last coal train to leave Erwin slowly pulled out a little after 3 p.m. last Thursday, so did the hopes and dreams of many families. Regardless of age, it is not easy to start over. I am sure many of these workers had never worked anywhere else their entire lives. Many are at an age that is closer to retirement than starting over.
We are all hurt by this decision, puzzled and stunned at the same time. I am sure the community is binding together in great numbers to offer prayers on behalf of those affected. In fact, there was a prayer vigil held Sunday. In times like these, it makes me proud to see how residents put their differences aside for the greater cause.
For those of us who have grown up here, there has never been a day without the railroad. We grew up with the whistle sounding its way through town, the banging of coal cars and, of course, the tracks blocked from time to time. It is almost an eerie feeling now to glance over and see no activity and hear no whistle. It is the first time we’ve known such silence in over 100 years. It is like coming to a harsh sobriety that leaves us wondering if this really did happen.
Where do 300 men find comparable jobs? Where does this put Erwin for enticing families to our community? What does it do to our real estate market? Only time will tell.
On an ironic note, the town gathered last Friday, the very next day after the announcement, for a ceremony naming the railroad overpass. The bridge that had taken decades to achieve was barely finished before it was no longer needed. If only that price tag of millions could now be divided among the railroad employees who are jobless.
We are all familiar with the old saying that nothing is sure except death and taxes. For many of these employees, it was a type of death from a routine that was so familiar that they could have performed it blindfolded. I am sure that waking up this week still causes them a moment of pausing to realize that they no longer need to rush to get ready for work.
We often hear of disasters in other parts of the U.S. and other parts of the world, but this time it is in our own community. As we face this shock, let’s all be mindful of our neighbors and families affected and anyway we can help them through prayer or other means of support. I feel like somewhere down the track there will be light at the end of the tunnel for these betrayed employees.