The Virginia Blue Ridge Railway Trail
Since commerce began, the need has existed for an accurate method to determine the weight of bulk commodities. The rapid expansion of railroads in the middle of the 19th century merely exacerbated this problem.
In St. Johnsbury, Vermont, Thaddeus Fairbanks began to resolve the issue of weighing railroad commodities when he developed his ingenious idea for the use of levers on a platform scale. His idea was patented in 1830 and the E. and T. Fairbanks Company ﬂourished. Applying the same principles, in 1857 the company was granted a patent on its ﬁrst railroad track scale. Shortly after the end of the Civil War, the Fairbanks Company was selling scales for a variety of purposes not only domestically but as far away as Europe, Asia, and South America.
The Fairbanks Company has changed names throughout the years but a version of the company continues to be a worldwide leader in the ﬁeld of weights and measures.
The Fairbanks scale used on the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway was placed in service in 1915 and used until the railroad ceased operations in 1981.
The train stopped to weigh its cars at the scale house before heading east to the Tye River Station no transfer its loads to other outbound trains headed all over the country. Courtesy of Carl Lathrop.
The weighing of a car was a time-consuming process as each car had to be uncoupled from the train and weighed individually. Each car was stenciled with is tare (or empty) weight so that the quantity of the load could be quickly calculated and the shipper billed accordingly.
Although this drawing is from a different railroad, a similar type of scale was constructed for the Virginia Blue Ridge Railway. The scale consisted of a series of levers located in a pit below the tracks. The weight of the rail car would translate through these levers to a weigh beam located in the scale house. Courtesy of Library of Congress, HABS/HAER Collection.