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A day out in parts of Virginia that we don’t normally visit…

December 14, 2021, 11:03 PM

From December 9-11, Elyse and I took a little weekend trip down to Staunton, Virginia, where we stayed at Hotel 24 South.  We call the place our little home away from home, as we always stay there when we do these trips every 2-3 months.  Typically, we do something simple on the first day after we get down there, have a full-day adventure on the middle day (the Staunton Mall photo set came out of one of these middle-day adventures), and then do a few things and go visit my parents on the last day before heading home.  It’s a good routine, and it’s a lot of fun.

This time around, our middle-day adventure took us down to Clifton Forge, Covington, and Roanoke.  I had not been to the Clifton Forge and Covington area since 2005, and Elyse had never been.  Roanoke wasn’t part of our original plan for the day, but as we had not been to Roanoke since 2018, we were probably due for another visit.  I had low expectations for the day, considering that the weather was expected to be cloudy (which means gray photos), but I got a few useful things out of the day.

Our first stop was the Howard Johnson’s on Route 11 north of Lexington.  I had first become aware of this place after seeing it on Highway Host, and so we decided to visit it again.  Elyse wanted to film the elevator, while I was more interested in the architecture.  My understanding of the history of this location is that it has always been a Howard Johnson’s ever since it opened in the 1970s, though the attached Howard Johnson’s restaurant later went independent under the name Hilltop Diner, and had closed entirely by 2004.

The former restaurant looked pretty sharp on the outside.  The "beacon" style cupola had been changed from silver and turquoise to dark brown and orange, a sign for the motor lodge had been installed where the restaurant signage once was.

The former restaurant looked pretty sharp on the outside.  The "beacon" style cupola had been changed from silver and turquoise to dark brown and orange, a sign for the motor lodge had been installed where the restaurant signage once was.

The former restaurant looked pretty sharp on the outside.  The "beacon" style cupola had been changed from silver and turquoise to dark brown and orange, a sign for the motor lodge had been installed where the restaurant signage once was.
The former restaurant looked pretty sharp on the outside.  The “beacon” style cupola had been changed from silver and turquoise to dark brown and orange, a sign for the motor lodge had been installed where the restaurant signage once was.  The windows were covered so as to appear frosted, and as far as Elyse and I could tell, the restaurant space was being used for storage.

The motor lodge had been repainted in a tan, orange, and gray color scheme, and looked pretty sharp overall.  According to Elyse, it was still quite well maintained on the inside as well.
The motor lodge had been repainted in a tan, orange, and gray color scheme, and looked pretty sharp overall.  According to Elyse, it was still quite well maintained on the inside as well.

Elyse is all smiles in front of the HoJo's.
Elyse is all smiles in front of the HoJo’s.

Heading into Clifton Forge, we first circled around the downtown just to give Elyse an idea of what we were going to be working with, and then we headed out to the Kroger store.  She wanted to check out that store, which was still vintage in a number of ways, while I wanted to photograph the former CFW Information Services facility that was just up the hill from the Kroger with the drone.

For those not familiar, I worked for CFW Information Services, which later operated as Telegate USA following a sale of our division to the German firm Telegate in July 2000, from June 1997 to April 2002.  The facility in Clifton Forge was the sister facility to where I worked in Waynesboro as a directory assistance operator.  Architecturally, the two facilities were identical, though the settings that the buildings were in were quite different.  The Waynesboro facility was on a slight hill in an industrial park, while the Clifton Forge facility was on level ground next to a neighborhood.  The Clifton Forge facility closed in December 2001, while the Waynesboro facility closed in April 2002.  A third facility in Winchester closed in June 2002.  According to the LinkedIn profile of a former Telegate executive, the the company divested all US investments as a direct result of 9/11.  That doesn’t jive with my experience at all.  I wasn’t in the C-suite by any means, but the sense that I got was that they had been failing well before September 2001, and with a significant reduction in the number of expected directory assistance calls from their main client due to the proliferation of other services, they couldn’t sustain the operation anymore and started closing call centers.  9/11 likely had nothing to do with it, and seems to have been a convenient cover for what was simply a business failure.

In case you’re wondering, I tend to remember my employment with the directory assistance center fondly for the most part, and have a relatively high opinion of the company from when it was under CFW ownership.  However, there is no love for Telegate, which was in and out in less than two years, and only succeeded in running the business into the ground.  I suspect that the Telegate folks meant well, but they were just really bad at their jobs.  And unfortunately, their being bad at their jobs ultimately cost me mine.

In any event, the last time I photographed this facility, in 2003, it was listed for sale.  Nowadays, it is home to an E-ZPass customer service center.

Except for the change of the sign from Telegate to E-ZPass, it still looks like CFW Information Services in every way.  It would appear that when it became the E-ZPass center, they didn’t do any major renovations and just moved in.

Then I flew up and got some photos of the surrounding area:

And that’s the old CFW Information Services facility in Clifton Forge.  I finished up here just as Elyse finished up at the Kroger, and so I went back down and scooped her up.

The next thing that we stopped to photograph was a road sign, where it was apparent that one sign had been replaced at some point:

US 60 and US 220 Business shields

Clearly, that US 220 Business shield was the same size as that very old US 60 shield next to it, but apparently, it had been replaced at some point with a shield of more modern design.  The size difference is pretty significant.  They probably should have replaced both shields at the same time, but considering the aesthetic of Clifton Forge in general, this seems to fit the character.

We then headed back downtown.  I dropped Elyse off at the railroad museum, while I took the drone out to photograph the clock tower on the Clifton Forge Town Hall.  I just stood on the sidewalk out in front, and then “whirlybirds away”, as they say.

Pediment over the entrance to the Clifton Forge Town Hall.
Pediment over the entrance to the Clifton Forge Town Hall.

I found it slightly disappointing that the Clifton Forge Town Hall was flat-roofed, and the clock tower was simply a structure rising from that flat roof.  I was expecting a gabled roof that harmonized with the triangular pediment, with the clock tower rising from that.

I found it slightly disappointing that the Clifton Forge Town Hall was flat-roofed, and the clock tower was simply a structure rising from that flat roof.  I was expecting a gabled roof that harmonized with the triangular pediment, with the clock tower rising from that.

I found it slightly disappointing that the Clifton Forge Town Hall was flat-roofed, and the clock tower was simply a structure rising from that flat roof.  I was expecting a gabled roof that harmonized with the triangular pediment, with the clock tower rising from that.
I found it slightly disappointing that the Clifton Forge Town Hall was flat-roofed, and the clock tower was simply a structure rising from that flat roof.  I was expecting a gabled roof that harmonized with the triangular pediment, with the clock tower rising from that.

North facade of the clock tower.  Note the patch on the front of the clock face.  The time displayed accurately reflects the time that this photo was taken.
North facade of the clock tower.  Note the patch on the front of the clock face.  The time displayed accurately reflects the time that this photo was taken.

Railroad weathervane atop the clock tower.
Railroad weathervane atop the clock tower.

Finishing up with the clock tower on the Town Hall building, I raised my altitude and photographed the surrounding area.

View from above the town hall, facing north up Jefferson Avenue.
View from above the town hall, facing north up Jefferson Avenue.

View east down Main Street.
View east down Main Street.

I then joined Elyse over at the railroad museum, where she was checking out the gift shop.  I was surprised to learn that the old Chessie System logo was not a stylized cat facing sideways with its mouth open, as I had always assumed, but instead a kitten in a bed, sleeping soundly.  Let me show you what I mean.  Here’s the logo:

Chessie System logo, photographed on a piece of equipment

Here’s more or less what I imagined it to represent:


(Photo: Antonio Picascia, CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0)

I trust you can see the resemblance.  In any case, imagine my surprise to find out that this was what it actually was:

Chessie mascot

The “Chessie” mascot, used with the slogan “Sleep like a kitten.”  There you go, I suppose.

Finishing up at the railroad museum, where Elyse bought two VHS tapes featuring trains in our local area (broadly defined), we headed over to a nearby fire department to get a photo of a siren, a W.S. Darley Model 5 with a different lid:

Siren at the fire department in Clifton Forge

This was also Elyse’s first time piloting the old drone, now fully repaired and back in service, though she did so with adult supervision, since she was not yet fully confident in her own flying abilities, along with the Mavic Mini’s lack of anti-collision sensors, and the presence of power lines nearby.  So she had me fly the drone into position, and then she angled things the way she wanted.  Something tells me that I need to give a more complete flying lesson, and give her time to really put the drone through its paces, because I want to get her to the point where she can fly confidently on her own.

Finishing here, Elyse wanted to check out a small coffee museum in downtown Clifton Forge, while I headed down to an area behind the Dairy Queen, where I launched the drone to fly around a CSX facility.  I was interested in flying over a vintage and disused railroad turntable that was visible on Google Maps, but unfortunately, that structure had been demolished since the map had been updated.  I did, however, get photos of the more modern turntable nearby, as well as other views of the yard:

The turntable at the CSX yard.

The turntable at the CSX yard.
The turntable at the CSX yard.

A building on the south side of the yard.
A building on the south side of the yard.

Trains on the tracks in the CSX yard.
Trains on the tracks in the CSX yard.

View of the CSX yard, facing approximately west.
View of the CSX yard, facing approximately west.

Abandoned rail bridge over the Jackson River.
Abandoned rail bridge over the Jackson River.

I then scooped Elyse back up, and we headed to our next destination: the Selma fire department.  That location has a very unusual siren on the roof:

The siren at Selma fire department

The siren at Selma fire department

According to the siren folks on Reddit, the device on top is a GCS Model 3, but the remainder is a mystery.

And then from here, it started to rain, and rain pretty hard.  Nuts.  It was not supposed to rain on this particular day, and as such, rain was not part of the plan, and would most definitely screw up our plans.  We had met all of our goals in Clifton Forge, but had not yet started on Covington.  The plan was to fly around the Westvaco (now WestRock) factory and get some industrial shots, but the rain kept my drone grounded.  That factory isn’t going anywhere, though, so we could do that another time.  We ended up driving by it so that Elyse could see what it looked like, and then moved on.  We ended up finding a Goodwill thrift store across from a former Kroger, partly converted to a CVS.  Here’s what that conversion looked like:

CVS (née Kroger) in Covington

As you can see, it’s clearly a former Kroger, and I believe that the “Prescriptions” sign dates from its time as a Kroger.

Our only other goal in Covington was to see the Walmart in Covington, and so we headed over there.  That store is a later pylon-style Supercenter, with an interior resembling the next generation of Walmart Supercenters (the kind with “Always” over the entrances), but with the pylon front like older stores.  The store is currently styled in the third-generation Project Impact signage, and is very well maintained.  It’s not as wide as most Walmart stores, being more square in shape, and as such, it has a slightly unusual layout, with electronics out in the middle of the salesfloor rather than against the back wall like it usually is.

From here, we were somewhat at a crossroads.  We didn’t have anything else to do on our list, since the rain screwed up most of our Covington plans.  We looked at how far it would be to Roanoke, and as it turned out, it was a little more than an hour away via US 220.  So why not?  It was a dark, rainy ride to Roanoke.  I admit: I probably would have enjoyed that ride if the weather had been better.  Nothing like driving on an unfamiliar road in the dark and the rain.  I was delighted to get to Roanoke, where I knew where I was going again.

When we got to Roanoke, Elyse wanted to see the elevator in a building on Church Avenue that was scheduled to be torn down, while I looked for parking.  I quickly discovered that parking was scarce because the Roanoke Christmas parade was about to occur.  Therefore, once Elyse finished up, we got as far away from downtown as possible.  We wanted to head over to Valley View Mall, but the parade route blocked our access to the roads to the mall.  So we headed down Jefferson Street, way further than we would have ever gone otherwise, taking it all the way to the end, where it turns into Cornwalls Avenue SE.  This was definitely out of the way of the parade route, and now we had to figure out how to get to the mall.  We had thought about driving by our friend Andrew Reams‘ house just to see where it was (he wasn’t home at the time, and we knew this), and so after we plugged his address in, it turned out to be a good “fulcrum point” to navigate to Valley View Mall, navigating to his house to keep us away from the parade route, and then navigating to the mall from there.  And for that purpose, it worked out.

Once we got to Andrew’s house, we trolled him slightly.  We went up to the door, rang his Ring doorbell in order to ensure that it was recording, and then put Woomy in front of it.  We also said hello, and then took some photos with Woomy on his front porch.  All in all, we had a good time, though the whole thing certainly tried Woomy’s patience.

Woomy looks into Andrew's Ring camera.
Woomy looks into Andrew’s Ring camera.

Woomy sits on the swing on Andrew's front porch.
Woomy sits on the swing on Andrew’s front porch.

Woomy takes a granola bar, which we made him put back (he didn't like that).
Woomy takes a granola bar, which we made him put back (he didn’t like that).

Leaving Andrew’s house, we went to Game Junkies, a vintage video game store nearby.  That was a neat place, as we found a lot of vintage console games, as well as some stuff that we never would have expected to find.

Elyse holds up a copy of Combat, which is a favorite Atari 2600 game of hers.  I taught her how to play it a while back, and she's pretty good at it, though she tends to get mad at me when I shoot her vehicle too many times.
Elyse holds up a copy of Combat, which is a favorite Atari 2600 game of hers.  I taught her how to play it a while back, and she’s pretty good at it, though she tends to get mad at me when I shoot her vehicle too many times.

A Pioneer LaserActive, which was an attempt to use laserdiscs for video game purposes.
A Pioneer LaserActive, which was an attempt to use laserdiscs for video game purposes.  You could also play Sega Genesis games on it with an add-on unit, which is installed here in the bottom left corner of the unit.  I had never seen one of these in person before, because my understanding is that they were never particularly popular (which could also be said about laserdisc in general).

A Japanese Super Famicom console.  This was marketed as the Super Nintendo outside of Japan, and had a different exterior design in North America.
A Japanese Super Famicom console.  This was marketed as the Super Nintendo outside of Japan, and had a different exterior design in North America.  Like the LaserActive, I had never seen one of these in person before, but this was mostly because it was intended for the Asian market rather than North America.

We then headed over to Valley View.  We dipped into a nearby GameStop store, which we were surprised to learn was the largest GameStop location in the United States (or at least that’s what the employees told us).  Here it is:

The alleged biggest GameStop in the United States

Not a bad place, but not very exciting, either.  After this, we headed over to the mall.  That was the same as always:

Valley View Mall, looking the same as always.

Yep – nothing much has changed here.  Elyse was surprised that Roanoke actually had a healthy mall in Valley View.  Prior to this, her only experience with shopping malls in Roanoke was Tanglewood, which has been a crappy mall for as long as I’ve known it.  We had a pretty good time there, going through the mall, though we didn’t buy anything.

From here, we headed up to the Roanoke Star.  I got the drone out and went for a quick flight near the star in order to test out some long-exposure features:

The Roanoke Star

The Roanoke Star

View from The Roanoke Star

All in all, not too bad.  I was very conservative with my movements, because while I knew the area, it had been a while since I had been there, and I’d never flown it with the drone before.  I want to come back up here some time during daytime hours and photograph the star and the park like I mean it.  I consider the flight to be a success, as my goal was primarily to test the drone’s long-exposure capabilities, and it was done.  And I see much potential in the capabilities.

From here, we headed down the mountain, and met up with Andrew at the train station at the end of Williamson Road:

Andrew with the train that he was working.

We got to hang out with Andrew for a few minutes while he waited for the relief crew to arrive.  Once they arrived, we parted company for the time being, and headed back downtown, where by then, the parade traffic had cleared out.

We got dinner at Texas Tavern, which was highly recommended to us by a few folks.  Here it is:

Interior of Texas Tavern

I liked Texas Tavern.  It’s one of those all-night restaurants where it hasn’t been renovated in many decades, and where the employees have worked there for a very long time, and know the place cold.  And we got out of there for less than $5, which I was quite impressed by.  She got a hamburger, and I got a bowl of chili, and the service was really quick.  Only downside to the place is that they’re cash-only, but I can forgive that because they’re so good otherwise.

By the time we finished there, Andrew was done with work, so we met up with him, and then headed over to where he has his elevator museum, which is open by appointment.

The elevator museum

The elevator museum

I was impressed by how much effort Andrew has put into curating the collection, and how well done it was.  I look forward to seeing this continue to grow in the future.  We also met up with Fred, another friend of ours, at the elevator museum.  After we finished at the elevator museum, we got a photo of Andrew with Woomy:

Andrew and Woomy

You can tell that Woomy is looking at us as if to say, I am only doing this because it’s you.  After all, you know that Woomy did not like that.

From there, we parted company with Andrew, and started making moves to head back up the road to Staunton.  But first, Elyse did a quick film of the Elmwood Parking Garage before we headed out.  I got a photo of Elyse there on her request, showing off how low the indicator arrows were:

To give an idea of how short these are, Elyse is 5’2″, and these things are eye level to her.  I was taller than these indicator lights, which was a first for me.

And then from there, we headed up the road back to Hotel 24 South in Staunton.  All in all, a fun time was had by all.  We probably won’t be back in Roanoke again until some time later next year, and we’ll probably do Covington and Clifton Forge again on one of our regular trips, coupling it with a visit to Gathright Dam and Lake Moomaw.

Categories: Friends, Roanoke, Virginia, Woomy