By Amanda Collins
Larry Hopkins parlayed his fascination with the Danville and Western, also known as the “Dick and Willie” railroad into a book project with some of sales proceeds to benefit an entity close to his heart – the Patrick County Historical Society.
A Patrick County native, Hopkins said the idea for his book came about because he wanted to preserve history on what is known as “The Dick and Willie” railroad.
Hopkins became fascinated with the history of the railroad when he was younger, listening intently as it was discussed.
As Hopkins got older, he searched for information about the railway, but said he quickly realized there wasn’t much to be found.
That lack of information sparked his interest, and Hopkins wanting to learn more.
He said he spent more than 20 years, off and on, researching the history of the railroad, and interviewing former employees and other historians to gather as much information as he could.
Hopkins eventually had his work published. The book is “The Dick & Willie, A History of the Danville & Western Railway.”
The 200-page book is currently on sale at the Patrick County Historical Museum in Stuart.
The book details the history of the railway, from before the first run to Patrick County on July 29, 1884, and through its heyday.
“During the early days of its existence, it was the area’s primary link with the outside world, and had a great effect on both the life and business of the area. For years the D&W was the primary means of transportation for area citizens to travel near and far,” Hopkins wrote.
“Not only a primary means of travel, the “Dick & Willie” also brought the essentials of life to the local residents, supplying such commodities as salt, coal, cotton, and fertilizer, and it provided an efficient means of getting local products from the farms, orchards, and forests to distant markets. Large quantities of apples, tobacco, chestnuts, eggs, poultry, crossties, and tanning bark (obtained from the oak trees in the area) were shipped out by rail,” he said.
“Today, through the essence of time and the progress of man, little is left behind to remind us that the ‘Dick & Willie’ was once a dynamic giant that powered the life of the community. So, in the future, when traveling through the town of Stuart going from Uptown to Downtown or vice-versa, may the existence of the two serve as a constant reminder of a time long ago ‘when the railroad came to Stuart,’” Hopkins wrote.
He said the book project not only satiated his goal to preserve the railway’s history, but also served as a learning experience.
Hopkins noted the most memorable thing he learned while researching the project was how the cars were handled at Stuart: a turntable was used to help turn the train around, he said.
One of the biggest surprises he found during his research was how unprofitable the Stuart end of the line was during the later years, Hopkins said. The company continued despite operating in the red or barely breaking even before closing the portion west of Fieldale, Hopkins said.
The western portion only showed a profit for two or three months out of the year – when shipping apple and chestnut crops, Hopkins said.
He added he has no future book ambitions.
The book project was a “one time thing,” Hopkins said, adding he met his goal of ensuring the history of the Dick & Willie is preserved for the ages.