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Video Tracks W&OD History

Documentary depicts changes from rail to trail.

Like the trains that once took the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) rail line from Alexandria to the Blue Ridge, Steve Carrie's video documentary keeps on rolling.

And near the end of 60 minutes, the focus shifts from the tracks to the modern-day W&OD Trail, which was built from 1974 to 1988 and follows the course of the original rail line from Alexandria to Purcellville, halting nine miles before the Blue Ridge.

"It's very important to me to feel there's a constant motion. I don't like to watch something that goes for 55 miles per hour and stops for a cup of tea," said Carrie, owner of Spiffy Productions and producer of "From Alexandria to the Blue Ridge: The Story of the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad."

CARRIE'S VIDEO explains the railroad's development from 1847 to 1968 under its various owners and names. The railroad started out as part of another rail line that became the Alexandria, Loudoun and Hampshire Railroad in 1853. By 1912 after five name changes, the railroad became the Washington & Old Dominion Railway and in 1936, the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad. The railroad "was born out of the needs of the local economy" to provide transportation of goods from the Shenandoah Valley and points west, as stated in the video.

"Farmers in western Loudoun wanted to get goods to market from western Loudoun to the Washington area and Alexandria," said Mark Summers, director of education at the Loudoun Museum, in a video interview.

The railroad was envisioned as a 165-mile rail line that would cross the Blue Ridge and connect with the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) Railroad, but because of financial problems, the vision fell short with the line terminating in Snickersville, which is now named Bluemont. The railroad was one of a few to run under steam, then electric and finally diesel power.

"We wanted to tell the story of the area as well as [of] the railroad. The W&OD shaped the pattern of development along its route," said Carrie, an Ashburn resident. Train stations were placed about every four miles along the rail line, with some leading to the development of towns, including Great Falls and McLean, he said. "I hope people get from the video that for being such a small railroad that was relatively unimportant, it had an unusual life to it."

CARRIE WORKED on the video with Paul McCray, park manager of the W&OD Railroad Regional Park and the presenter and narrator for the video. Carrie and McCray, also of Ashburn, came up with the idea for the video in December 2002.

"I suggested the idea to Paul, and it turned out this was something he wanted to do for some time," Carrie said.

McCray collects photographs, artifacts and books on the railroad for the W&OD Railroad Regional Park, which is owned and operated by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and interprets the park's history. "The more we do with the railroad, the more enthusiastic people become," he said.

Carrie had already produced a video on the W&OD Trail, and McCray wanted something on the trail's namesake, the W&OD Railroad. As Carrie said, "This is something begging for a video to be made about it."

In February, Carrie drew up a rough timeline of how to cover the railroad's history, then arranged interviews with museum staff, railroad employees and residents of the metropolitan region who remember the railroad, along with Herbert H. Harwood, Jr., author of "Rails to the Blue Ridge: The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, 1847-1968" and Melvin Partlow, the surviving Partlow brother who reflected on railroad employees coming to the Partlow Bros. store in Old Ashburn.

Carrie wanted to give the human side to the W&OD with personal stories of what it was like working and doing business for the railroad, along with riding the rail line as a passenger. "Those who remember it, probably thought it was a dinky old line that ran through Northern Virginia. It could have been so much more," he said.

THE VIDEO combines the interviews with contemporary footage, panning of photographs, drawings of railroad scenes and four to five minutes of footage that was shot in the 1930s.

"I like the idea of being able to tell the story in a way that's different than books and signs," Carrie said, referring to the interpretative signs that are placed along the W&OD Trail. At the same time, he wanted to appeal to a general audience and not focus the material for "hard-core rail fans and hard-core historians," he said. "There's something for rail fans, historians and users of the W&OD Trail."

In May, Carrie began work on the rough cut of the video, piecing together the footage he considered to be most representative of the story he and McCray wanted to tell. He coordinated music of the time period to the various scenes in the video and split the video into four acts with each one lasting 12 to 15 minutes. The acts took a month and the final edit another two weeks.

"You can follow the passage of time through the music and photos," McCray said. "It is one of those programs that keeps your interest."

The video began airing on cable access Channel 3 in early July and is available in VHS and DVD format through the park authority, since Carrie donated the distribution rights.

Carrie's next project is a video presentation of the Shenandoah Valley, which he plans to begin in September. "I like the creative aspect of it, that's really it. I just enjoy doing it," he said.