Chasing the Powhatan Arrow



THE BOOK: Chasing the Powhatan Arrow.


THE AUTHOR: Michael Abraham.

THE EDITOR: Sally Shupe, Jane Abraham, Preston Claytor, Phil Ross.

THE PUBLISHER: Pocahontas Press, Blacksburg, VA.

SUMMARY: Chasing the Powhatan Arrow is a travelogue in economic geography from Norfolk, VA to Cincinnati, Ohio, following the route of the Powhatan Arrow, a passenger train operated by the Norfolk and Western Railroad from the end of World War II until the mid-1960s. The book’s chapters are each of the train’s stops along the way (e.g. Norfolk, Suffolk, Petersburg, Blackstone…), where in each one the author interviewed mayors, delegates, CEOs, and entrepreneurs, but also street people, hobos, and panhandlers, to learn how their communities were faring in the modern economy, especially as it related to the bygone era of passenger rail.

THE BACK STORY: Like most people growing up in Western Virginia, the author has long been interested in railroads. Arguably the most famous and revered locomotive in the world is the N&W’s J-class 611, manufactured by the company in its Roanoke locomotive shops. Long dormant and parked at the Virginia Museum of Transportation in Roanoke, the 611 was given new life when the Norfolk Southern Corporation allowed the Museum to operate the locomotive for excursion service in the summer of 2015. The author and his wife rode one of the excursion trips and he was astounded to see the interest it generated and the huge crowds that came to watch it steam by.

As a businessman, he recognized that as companies make good and bad health decisions, so too do communities. He was aware that the communities that hosted the N&W main line from Norfolk to Cincinnati had experienced widely divergent economic fates. He decided to make the journey himself, following as closely as possible the original railroad line.

WHY THIS TITLE?: Because the Powhatan Arrow hasn’t run for nearly 50 years, he felt that he was chasing its ghost. Thus the name, Chasing the Powhatan Arrow.

WHY WOULD SOMEONE WANT TO READ IT? The book has been especially popular with the RR enthusiast crowd, but is appealing to anyone interested in how people, history, culture, politics, and geography affect the economy and local prosperity. The human interest stories and interviews are poignant and relevant to today’s America.


· “FINALLY, a book for both train nuts AND their long-suffering friends (i.e., “normal people”)! This book has a great mix of history, geography, economics, human interest and travelogue. Don’t get me wrong: there’s a LOT of stuff about trains in this well-researched tome, like who started what railroad, where it went, what rail lines merged, what they carried, how steam engines work, how tracks are laid, and on and on. There’s enough to enthrall any serious railroad lover. But the appealing thing about this book is that it rolls along with the speed of the great steam engine it celebrates. Sure, it’s a “local”, not an “express”, but with lots of interesting stops and detours along the way, the rider is consistently engaged, and never bored.”

· “If you love the N&W 611, history books, trains, Virginia, West Virginia, the N&W/Norfolk Southern, learning about transportation and its impact on our country’s history and economy or all of the above, then this is the perfect book for you. I bought this book because I love the N&W 611 steam engine but I got so very much more than I ever expected from this book. I learned so much about the State of Virginia that I once lived in and loved, the economy of that state, the N&W Railroad that my dad worked for (gee, I wish he was still alive to read this book!!!), the history of coal mining in this country (which has always fascinated me since my dad did freight sales for the N&W and coal sales was part of his job). I learned about the sad state of the economy in areas of Virginia and West Virginia where coal mining is almost a thing of the past and what coal mining has done to the ecology, the people, the towns, and the fact that those coal companies still own that land even though they do not mine it any more. I rode with Michael Abraham in his car and bike on his trip thru the along the path of the Powhatan Arrow from Norfolk to Cincinnati, to see how all those towns and cities have changed over the years that the N&W has serviced that area. Thru this author, I met some incredible people. I enjoyed Michael’s great sense of humor. And I know that I will go back and read this book again in the future and enjoy it as much as I did the first time. I have now ordered Michael’s other books as I loved his writing style so much. Great book!!!! Great gift to give yourself or someone else. And I love the N&W 611 even more.”

· “Excellent story of a time when life was simpler. A story of people and their desire to produce the best results in their lives and their work was important. I grew up along the Route of the Powhatan Arrow. MY Grandfather retired as an engineer from the N&W. This book accurately depicts life and the story of a people and their Railroad. Great read and I highly recommend it.”

· “Fantastic read, not only from the railroad history perspective, but from a people and regional perspective as well.”

AUTHOR PROFILE: Michael Abraham is a native of Christiansburg, Virginia, and a graduate of Virginia Tech with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He is a full-time businessman and part-time author, publishing since 2007. In addition to Chasing the Powhatan Arrow, he has four novels (all set in Virginia and West Virginia), a collaboration with portrait artist Leslie Roberts Gregg, and two other travelogues. He is an inveterate wanderer of the Appalachian Mountains, on foot, bicycles, motorcycles, canoes, and skis. He has written over 300 published articles, commentaries, and opinion pieces.

AUTHOR COMMENTS: One of my young life heroes was CBS News Correspondent Charles Kuralt, who wandered the backroads of America looking for the most interesting people and stories he could find. Our region of the central Appalachians is a patchwork quilt, a marvelous mosaic of lifestyles and personalities drawn on a green, corrugated canvas of unmatched natural diversity and beauty. Exploring the region, giving its people their voice, is one of my greatest life honors.

A local, large and prestigious university hired a new president five years ago. He was given one of my books as a gift. After reading it, he commented to the benefactor, “I knew I was moving to Appalachia, but until reading Michael’s book I didn’t really know what it was. Now I know.”



The Greek philosopher Heraclitus long ago said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it is not the same river and he is not the same man.” Thus is the nature of change, I think to myself, as cool, clear New River waters sweep past my naked feet, swirling away the summer heat that has just prior been enveloping me, wrapped in my motorcycling helmet and suit. The river itself seems entirely timeless, flowing downstream to the Kanawha, then the Ohio, Mississippi and to the Gulf of Mexico in this same corridor for eons. And yet the movement is constant, the molecules of the earth’s most abundant liquid following gravity’s command, downstream.

I lift my feet and place them into the cooling waters again, as if to test the theory. A yellow-legged little green heron spikes a 2 inch fish on a sandbar 75 feet away, deftly swings it face-first to its beak and swallows it whole. Sunshine glimmers off its dark, wrapped wings and ruddy chest. The water now swaddling my feet is not the same as it was moments ago. It is a different river.

A flowing river represents one of the most easily illustrated images of the juxtaposition of change and stability. For all intents and purposes, at least from our temporal lives, the river is always there. Yet the water that comprises the river is in constant change.

LOCAL OUTLETS: The book is available at many Western Virginia stores, including:

O. Winston Link Museum, Roanoke

Virginia Museum of Transportation, Roanoke

Great 611 Restaurant, Roanoke

Paint Bank General Store, Paint Bank

Draper Mercantile, Draper

Floyd Country Store, Floyd

Palisades Restaurant, Eggleston

Alexander Black House, Blacksburg

Mountain Lake Lodge, Eggleston

Glencoe Museum, Radford

Chapters Bookstore, Galax

C&O Historical Society store, Clifton Forge

Ratcliffe Museum, Pulaski

Crab Orchard Museum, Tazewell.

WHERE ELSE TO BUY IT: Author’s website: (preferable) or

PRICE: $18.95, soft-cover, 500 pages.

CONTACT THE AUTHOR: Michael can be reached by phone, 540-392-1119 or email <

Published by


Recently retired after 35 years with the News & Advance newspaper in Lynchburg, VA, now re-inventing myself as a novelist/nonfiction writer and writing coach in Lake George, NY.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s