Around 1911, the Clinch Valley surroundings witnessed a pronounced business awakening and subsequent development, requiring railroads to carry coal to places of consumption and to tidal ports.

The older sections adjacent to Bristol, Abingdon and Johnson City were securing a limited benefit from the lucrative sources, which it was feared would lead into a state of depression and stagnation to those areas. The solution was to build a railroad to Clinch Mountain.

This  mountain ridge, which was situated in the states of Tennessee and Virginia in the ridge-and-valley section of the Appalachian Mountains, characterized by long, even ridges, with long, continuous valleys in between. They presented a veritable barrier to intercommunication. It was realized that, for a distance of 150 miles from the New River Gorge at Pearisburg to Speer's Ferry, this 4689-foot mountain fully impeded development of Southwest Virginia and East Tennessee.

One proposal suggested that a practicable route could be secured across the Clinch Mountain at Little Moccasin Gap, the point of divergence of one proposed line at Honaker, the objective point in this section being Bristol.

The distance from Bristol to Honaker by this route was estimated to be 45 miles, thus being 70 miles from Johnson City via Bristol to Honaker. The distance from Johnson City via the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad and the Clinch Valley Line to Honaker was 101 miles, meaning a saving of 31 miles utilizing the Little Moccasin Gap route.

The CC&O company at that time was under construction of the link from Clinch River to Elkhorn City, Ky. The distance from Johnson City via Bristol and Little Moccasin Gap to Damps Creek was about 60 miles. From Johnson City via the CC&O and N&W roads to Dumps Creek was 87 miles, being an excess of 27 miles over the Little Moccasin Gap route.

It was understood that in overcoming such an obstacle consisting of the backbone of one of the most important of the Appalachian range of mountains that serious physical features must of necessity be encountered and such exist in the crossing of the North Fork of Holston where in order to save distance and retain grade, a high railway bridge would be required, possibly exceeding 300 feet in height and of great length.

There would also be three areas of heavy grade of 116 feet per mile each, eight miles of this grade ascending from the Clinch River at the mouth of Dumps Creek towards Little Moccasin Gap, about five miles ascending from the North Holston towards Bristol. The successful operation of a like grade was illustrated in the working of the mountain division of the Baltimore & Ohio main line, west of Cumberland, Md.

Part of the route from Little Moccasin Gap to Clinch River at Dumps Creek was obtained through an instrumental survey of the portion from Little Moccasin Gap leading towards Bristol.

The cost of grading would come within the limits of usual mountain work where excellent alignment is an essential feature, which could safely be included.

This work utilized part of one of the main arteries of trade between the Ohio Valley, the Middle West and the South Atlantic Seaboard. Further, it held a commanding situation, which rivalry could not supplant. It also became  a link in one of the prospective trade routes demanded through the great work of the Panama Canal.

Janette Carter Waves to Train Personnel as the Big Engine Passes through Poor Valley

The success of this venture is illustrated years later by an appropriate quote from Janette Carter Jett, daughter of A.P. and Sara Carter, two members of the celebrated Carter Family. She was born and raised in the Clinch Mountains:

“I always loved the train,” she said. “It went by twice a day and I'd wait to wave at the engineer, until it went around the curve to Neal's Store and the Maces Springs Post Office. Then I'd take an old bucket and pick up little lumps of coal that had fallen off. They made a good hot fire, much easier than dragging out wood. I walked a lot along the railroad tracks.” Living With Memories, Janette Carter, Carter Family Memorial Music Center, Inc. Hiltons, VA, 1983. (Photo courtesy of Rita Forrester, daughter of Janette).

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December 1, 1910 found area residents at the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway depot in Dante, Virginia anxiously waiting to embark a train for an invigorating snow-capped scenic excursion across the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains to Spartanburg, SC.

The travel guide was Mr. David C. Boy, a stenographer for the railroad at its Johnson City office at Buffalo and Cherry streets. He resided at 404 E. Unaka Avenue.

After boarding the train for the journey south, the passengers heard the steam-operated engine performing its job. Mr. Boy assured everyone that there was no place in the country as readily accessible and more picturesque than the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge. Constructing the mammoth road in rough terrain was a daunting task in 1909 and one of the greatest engineering feats in America.

As they left the chilly coalfields of Dante, the morning sun slowly rose in the sky and distributed rays across the landscape causing frozen dewdrops to sparkle brilliantly throughout the valleys and hillsides.

Soon they approached the beautiful Clinch Mountain, a barrier that once impeded the progress of early pioneers as they made their way along the “Wilderness Trail.” The obstacle was summarily removed, not by eradicating the mountain, but by digging a mile-long tunnel through it.

As the train scurried from the tunnel southward, they were in awe at the beautiful valley of East Tennessee in front of them. When they crossed the north and south forks of the Holston River, they observed the little town of Kingsport in the distance. Continuing our journey, they crossed the historic Boon (Boones) Creek massive viaduct, which shortly ushered them into the flourishing town of Johnson City. As they passed by, Mr. Boy directed their attention to the picturesque setting of the magnificent Mountain Branch of the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers that was erected by the government. 

The travelers continued their expedition to an area just north of the Tennessee-North Carolina State line, where nature astonished them with every pulsation of its big iron horse. It was there where there was an outlet through which passed the rippling, roaring, pristine waters that flow to the foothills of the Blue Ridge as it made its ceaseless journey to the sea.

The body of water became known as the Nolachucky (Nolichucky) Gorge. It was here where Daniel Boone trekked as he headed to the wilderness beyond. Also, brave pioneers marched across the Blue Ridge and fought in the Battle of Kings Mountain.

Altapass Inn, Altapass, NC, Bowling Alley, Billiard Room

By this time, the sun had reached its zenith and poured forth a flood of light upon the hills and valleys. The train chugged along beside the banks of Toe River until it reached the summit of the Blue Ridge at Altapass, which is 2,629 feet above sea level. They were in the heart of the Appalachian System with mountains rising on each side of them.

Directly in front was the main part of the Blue Ridge, through which was chiseled a tunnel nearly a half-mile in length. The train rolled along briskly darting in and out of tunnels until 17 of them had been passed.

Descending the south slope of the Blue Ridge offered the group the most picturesque scenes located east of the Rocky Mountains. The Clinchfield “Loop” began just beyond the summit and completed a circuit of eight miles. Here they began to see such mammoth snowcapped peaks as Table Rock, Grandfather Mountain, Hawk’s Hill, Roan Mountain and 56 others of varying heights. As the sun began to recede behind the western horizon, the beauty of the hills was further enhanced.

David Boy privileged his passengers to a picturesque tour that was aptly called “The Scenic Route Across the Blue Ridge.” 

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In the early morning hours of July 1886, one thousand employees of the Railroad Employees' Mutual Relief Association (REMRA) of Knoxville and their immediate family met at the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad Depot replete with food containers for their annual 200-mile scenic excursion into the East Tennessee mountains.

One passenger, John Frazer, described the rail journey, noting that two trains were put into service with each one containing 20 cars. The riders that morning were overflowing with good humor, an indispensable ingredient for an all-day pleasure trip.

Studebaker Wagon Ad from 1886

On board were a few officers, hired to insure responsible conduct and enforce safety rules on the trains. Also present was the city mayor and company superintendent, F.K. Huger, a South Carolinian by birth, known by his nickname “Mayor.” He was 16 years old when the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter, consequently thrusting him into Confederate service. He was a warm, friendly being who was always ready to assist others. The ride itself was at no cost to REMRA members and their families. Available seats were offered to a few paying customers. 

The trains sped along first to Warm Springs, North Carolina (later renamed Hot Springs), first north about 50 miles and then east. Very soon the mountains, so little understood with their abundant treasures of metals and minerals, grand and overtopping all elevations east of the “Rockies,” became the object of impressive admiration.

Upon reaching Warm Springs, the great porches of the mammoth new hotel and shady places in the groves and lawns became occupied with jolly parties, lunching, chatting, strolling and dancing. Two bands were present to furnish music – a military ensemble and a string band.

Abounding were immense tracts of virgin forests of the choicest woods – poplar, cherry, chestnut, hemlock and beech. They were of such quantity, variety, and prodigious size so as to stagger one's belief. The entire journey was interesting, picturesque and at times grandeur, humbling its passengers to such uplifting of nature.

As the two vehicles rolled along the Tennessee, French Broad and Pigeon rivers, exposed for all to observe were rich bottom-lands lush with corn and valleys where the sun arrived tardily.

The trains continued in Tennessee near the North Carolina line and approached Roan Mountain. It was noted that a newly-constructed hotel had just been built on the mountaintop there, being called by the euphonious name, “Cloudland.” Although it was 6,000 feet above tidewater, the latest estimate of the height of the nearby mountain was 6,400 feet, making it 4,200 feet above Lookout Mountain and 4,400 feet higher than the Catskills.

The line dividing Tennessee and North Carolina was reached at Painted Rocks, where the road of another system approached – the Western North Carolina Railroad. This road reached Asheville and the many beautiful portions of the nearby country.

If a sudden shower meandered into the valley, a colorful rainbow often extended from mountain to mountain as an arch of triumph, bringing full compensation that was immensely more priceless than the proverbial expectations of a pot of gold at its terminus

As the sun made its way into the West, the party realized they had penetrated some of the secrets of the Great Smoky range of mountains. A day had passed providing them with glimpses of small plantations, rustic log houses and diminutive villages.

It was nearly 11 p.m. when the trains chugged back to the old depot at Knoxville. The little ones were slumbering, their mothers were weary and the fathers seemed anxious. One of the grandest of excursions had passed splendidly, without a hint of an accident, quarrel, boredom or dissatisfaction.

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Charlie Morris, a 1961 SHHS graduate spent 40 years on the Clinchfield Railroad (CRR), knowing from his first day on the job that it would be his life-long career.

After graduation, the baseball standout went to work at the Jewel Box on E. Main Street. One day, he was approached by a baseball scout suggesting that he try out for the big league. He did so and ended up playing two and a half years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Then, after serving a stint in the Marine Corps, he returned to Johnson City to seek a job.

Newspaper Advertisement for the Clinchfield Route, 1930. Charlie Morris When He Played for the St. Louis Cardinals, Charlie Coming into Erwin Yard on Engine 917, 1976.

In July 1964, Charlie was offered employment with the Clinchfield Railroad in Erwin, Tennessee, thanks to the efforts of his uncle, Roy Morris, who worked there; Paul Britt, train master; and D.C. Peterson, railroad detective.

The Carolina, Clinchfield, and Ohio (CC&O) Railway was a merger of unfinished railroads acquired by George L. Carter. Over the years, it would be known as the Clinchfield Railroad, the Seaboard Coastline Railroad and the CSX.

The late 1940s ushered in a new era of diesel locomotives. Gone were the nostalgic steam-driven vehicles. The few existing ones on the yards sat idle until they were either sold to amusement parks or discarded for scrap metal.

Charlie recalled: “When I initially reported to work, six of us were scheduled to train as brakemen. We were assigned to make six trips to the south end of the old Clinchfield Railroad and six trips to the north side.

“The trip north from Erwin to Elkhorn City was known as the 'business' end of the line while the one south from Erwin to Spartanburg was the 'scenic' one. It's hard to describe in words the beauty of the southern end. The north side was in the heart of coal country where we hauled 14,500 tons of coal per train, with 3-15 trainloads per day. Those deliveries increased substantially over time.

“Erwin is 100 miles from Dante, 136 miles from Elkhorn City and 144 miles from Spartanburg. The train speed ranged from about 20-44 mph, depending on traffic, weather and other factors. In those days, we were allowed to work 16 hours, which was considered a full day.

“In the course of our training, the six of us proceeded to make our assigned six trips each, north and south. They presented us with numerous situations and graded us on our understanding of all aspects of the job.”  

Charlie explained that a train crew consisted of five positions: engineer, conductor, head brakeman, fireman and flagman. The yard brakeman's duties were different from the road brakeman. The yard brakemen worked the yards around Erwin, Johnson City and Kingsport while the train brakemen rode the trains and worked the roads over which they traveled.

On November 15, 1964, the former Marine received his orders to climb aboard a locomotive engine. He had made the grade, figuratively and literally. At exactly 12:01 p.m., he made his first trip on the railroad for which he drew pay. After that, he worked all over the road, especially at Dante, Virginia where manpower requirements were especially heavy. Although the home terminal was Erwin, the crew worked all over the line in both directions.

“We hauled mainly coal and mixed freight,” said Morris. “Cars were weighed at Dante. The train pulled from about 144 to 220 cars, usually dropping off from 50 to 60 of them at Kingsport.”

One of the rotating duties of working for the railroad was being on-call for 24 hours, seven days a week. That meant staying close at home so as to, within one hour, quickly assemble in the Diesel Shop for any railroad call-in need. Although they had radios back then, they were heavy, cumbersome and uncomfortable to carry on your shoulder.

After Morris had worked about 18 months, running constantly between Dante and Erwin, he was reassigned primarily at Erwin and stayed there until about the middle of 1966. Since the majority of the employees had been on the railroad for some time, they were eager to assist the new recruits in learning the ropes.

By 1968, technology had advanced to the point that Clinchfield acquired several more powerful engines than the existing ones. With time and increasing exposure to the job, Morris became like a sponge, absorbing all facets of the jobs. 

Each July, there was a two-week vacation for coal miners that caused a corresponding trickle effect back to the railroad. This caused a temporary reduction of seniority among its employees.

“The brakeman would issue the orders for the day,” related Charlie, “such as Erwin to Dante or Erwin to Elkhorn City. We had a number of places where we set off cars (meaning to park them, empty or full, onto a sidetrack). We would also pick up cars (meaning to remove them from a side track and attach them to the train). 

“The old main line ran right through Johnson City. We had a speed restriction of 10 miles per hour in that vicinity. We would usually set-off at Harris Manufacturing Co. The yard was directly behind the old Johnson City Foundry. Sometimes we would set-off just off Greenwood Drive.

“The set-off and pickup stops were specified on our daily list,” said Charlie. “The company tried to schedule all of them in one location, which took a significant amount of planning. The conductor went over the list with the rest of the crew. Although the engineer had total responsibility for the operation of the train, the conductor was the senior man onboard.”

Although there were no passenger trains running by the time Charlie went to work there, Clinchfield made an occasional roundtrip special excursion for customers from Erwin to Elkhorn City in one day. They also scheduled trips to Marion, NC or Spartanburg. This occurred about 1975 on weekends; the designated train became known as the “One Spot.”

Sidetracks were also used to permit one train to wait while another unit passed it. It operated on a signal system with a dispatch in Erwin, having the all-important job of controlling both ends of the railroad. Locations included Hannum, Johnson City, Boone, Fordtown, Kingsport, Kermit, Starnes, Millyard, Moody, Dante, Tramel, Allen, Dinleo, Powers and Elkhorn.

Train problems were generally caused by external circumstances such as derailments, rockslides and broken rails. In 1969, two trains collided causing two fatalities. Charlie said that was the worst thing that happened while he was with the railroad. “My biggest fear while driving a train,” he said, “was hitting a loaded school bus. My second one was colliding with a gasoline truck. 

“When a car occasionally stalled on the track, every attempt was made to relay the specific location to the engineer to allow him sufficient time to stop his vehicle. There are several emergency brakes on a train, thereby allowing other crew members to use them when necessary.”

Charlie said that some drivers foolishly think they can outrun a train. He said he once hit a Cutlass Supreme with a glass top whose driver was trying to beat the train, trapping two passengers inside. Morris and others carefully removed the broken glass to free them from the vehicle. They were injured, although not severely. An old railroad saying proclaims that there is no such thing as a tie in a race between a train and a car.

Hobos frequently hopped onto trains. Many of them were crafty, having advanced knowledge of where each train was heading and which cars were the easiest to ride. They jumped on coal cars, empty hopper cars, boxcars and even on top of the braking equipment. 

The former pro baseball player vividly recalls Aug. 25, 1984 as his last run of the Clinchfield Railroad with issued orders. The train left for Spartanburg that day as the Clinchfield Railroad and returned that same night as the Seaboard Coastline Railroad. He still has the orders as a souvenir of that memorable trip.

Engine 821, a “Covered Wagon” Style Locomotive with Rare Dual Headlights. Morris (shown on the right) on the 60th and Last Santa Claus Train, 2004.

Charlie was passionate about one aspect of his railroad career: “I had the pleasure nine times of being the engineer on the Chamber of Commerce sponsored Santa Claus train for area youngsters. It ran between 1944 and 2004. I was fortunate to make its last run. 

“The train cranked up in Erwin and made a total of 18 stops for eagerly waiting youngsters. We distributed 15 tons of candy and toys. The crowd ranged from a sizable number to perhaps a dozen or so. The train ended its run in Kingsport with Santa getting off the vehicle and being escorted onto a float for the downtown Christmas parade there. Country music singer, Patty Loveless, participated in several of the events.”

Charlie gave honorable mention to several of his co-workers: Bud Chapman, John Kelly, Red Chaffin, George Osborne, Spud Chaffin, Doc Heffner, Sylvester Leonard, Sherman Leonard, Sonny Brotherton, Hubert Leonard, Phil Laws and Windy Whittimore.  

Charlie concluded by saying: “I thoroughly enjoyed my career as locomotive train man, conductor and engineer. Although it was a constant challenge handling these trains, I loved every minute of it. I had a great career and worked with some fantastic people.”

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In 1870, an unidentified writer, whom I will refer to as Mr. John Doe, described a train trip he took to Clinch Mountain. The range was about 25 miles south of the Cumberland River and ran nearly parallel with it for many miles, with several breaks and name changes.

John deemed East Tennessee as the “Switzerland of America.” Although it did not have such lofty mountains as those in the Alps, it displayed many stunning mountain ranges with corresponding deep valleys.

In some places, the flatland pulled away from the ridges, leaving a few miles width of valley in which could be found reasonable elbowroom. But soon, the mountain ridges huddled again without any semblance of order, tossed in indiscriminately, dropping off abruptly, abutting one against the other and having various gorges in between.

Around these slender gorges, the road became a creek bed, washing anything that got in its way as it meandered through the mountains in a relentless search for passageway. Doe described a thunderstorm as something sublime, a thing to enjoy, barring the little discomfort of being exposed to it and doubtless getting wet. The lightning hurled its furious bolt down the mountainside over the head of anyone present with thunder tagging along behind it. It crashed with echoing volleys through the passages, producing an appallingly grandeur about it.

According to the writer: “I had the delight of witnessing a storm that was unique and beautiful; it seemed to burst out from the bosom of a cloud as if in a rage. Angry at being so confined, it shot off eastward, hastening along the mountainside with wind and rain, having a breadth of barely a half mile. It swept away, furious and irritated, under the spur of its lightning flashes, uttering defiance in its peal of thunder. It disappeared from view, ten miles distant, through an open door among the mountains, cresting its summit with living flames.”

Having worked his way upon the difficult road to the top of the mountain, John sat on his horse with his face turned southward, savoring the splendor of the view. It was exhilarating beyond description; no words could do it justice. The solid ground seemed so distant below as you look down upon it from your lofty perch.

The country stretched as far as the eye could reach, ridge upon ridge and mountain upon mountain. It appeared that some great heavenly plowshare had furrowed up rocky elevations.

To the southeast, the towering Alleghenies marked the division between South Carolina and Tennessee and extended far down into Georgia. They could be traced until they vanished into the dimness of distance. Their majesty inspired the traveler as he or she observed clouds resting upon their shoulders or clinging to their craggy sides.

Although hasting down the steep side was not so difficult, it was certainly more dangerous than the ascent down the rocky slope and across a bed of rolling stones, each particular one having been washed free from the earth by countless rains. If someone’s horse should slip, that person could plunge blow at the risk of their life.

Doe had yet 15 miles to leave behind before he could rest. After traveling six miles, he finally reached the Clinch River, over which he rode after summonsing a nearby ferryman. He noted that the ferry represented the common style in vogue for crossing streams of water. The flat bottom device measured 8 feet wide and 30 feet long. A rope had been attached to each side of the river. This constituted the entire mechanism. The centerpiece was the ferryman, standing proudly in the front of his craft, drawing hand over hand upon his line, while his propulsion was generated by his steadiness and firmness of footing.

It being nearly sundown, John made haste to complete the final nine miles of his journey. At 8 p.m., he entered the little village he had once so well known long ago where he knew that friendly hands would be eagerly waiting to greet him.

Thanks for the trip, John. I wish we knew your real name.

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On October 29, 1909, the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio (CC&O) Railway completed track from Dante, Virginia to Spartanburg, SC. Festive celebrations were observed in both Johnson City and Spartanburg that year. I wrote a column about it in September 2011.

The Johnson City one took place at Hotel Carnegie on E. Fairview with the presidents of Johnson City's three railroads attending. Congressman Walter P. Brownlow served as master of ceremonies with speeches, toasts, a banquet meal and the smoking of fine cigars by the men. 

In Spartanburg, thousands of people attended the event with over 1,500 persons treated to a barbecue celebrating the first train to arrive in the city on the CC&O Railway.

A July 20, 1910 advertisement in the Spartanburg Herald urged folks to make reservations early for a second train excursion to Johnson City, with several additional stops. The date chosen for the trip was July 26-28. The round trip cost, which included nine meals in the diners and berths on the Pullman tourist cars, was only $17 for adults and $10 for children. The ad further urged interested parties to make early reservations.

On the day of departure, a large crowd of Spartanburg residents was on hand to see the train depart. It left Spartanburg at 8:30 a.m. pulling 12 Pullman coaches and four dining cars. Provisions were made to carry nearly 400 people with each car having a double berth. The vehicle carried streamers with the words, “Spartanburg Chamber of Commerce,” printed on them and featured the most modern equipment and fixtures available.

For convenience, the Pullmans were placed in the Spartanburg yards on the evening of the 25thfor early boarding of passengers. Breakfast was conveniently served in the dining cars on the morning of the 26th. The railroad’s assistant to the general manager, the traveling passenger agent and the division passenger agent went on the trip with the paid riders.

A great deal of interest was manifested in the Chamber of Commerce excursion over the CC&O and all cities and towns in the State with organized commercial bodies expressed a strong desire to participate in the great trip over the new road. This included such cities as Columbia, Greenville, Laurens, Newberry, Charleston, Anderson and other places. Columbia made reservations for 100 persons and other cities had sizable delegations.

The much-anticipated journey was finally underway. The first stop was Ridge, NC and a view taken of Mt. Mitchell, Table Rock, Hawk's Bill and other well-known peaks in the vicinity.

A stopover of one hour was made at picturesque Unaka Springs near Erwin in Unicoi County, Tennessee. The evening of the 26th was pleasantly spent at Johnson City where the party was escorted to Soldiers' Home for a band concert and a “moving picture show” on the military premises.

The train left Johnson City at 1:11 a.m. on the 27th, heading for Spears' Ferry. From there, it made a side trip to Natural Tunnel, Virginia, after which it returned to Spears' Ferry for the night. The train then continued to Dante, Virginia, where ample time was allowed to view the mines. The party remained at Dante until midnight to allow the passengers to enjoy dancing and other entertainment.

Just after midnight, the train returned to Johnson City. At 10 a.m. the following morning, it departed and made a second stop at Unaka Springs. At Alt Pass, North Carolina, the train paused for three hours, allowing passengers to engage in mountain climbing. The railroad concluded its mission in Spartanburg at 7:30 on the evening of July 28.

The scenic trip became so popular that it became an annual event for several years. I previously wrote about a special outing for 631 school children that occurred in 1915. Wouldn’t it be great to go back in time and take that trip? 

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Today’s column photo should take many of my readers on a nostalgic journey back to the old long ago razed Southern Railway Depot. It was a fun place to go, especially when trains arrived and departed. It was even more pleasurable to purchase a ticket and ride the rails. My subject concerns an unpleasant incident – a train wreck.

The collision occurred in Johnson City on Dec. 21, 1956, resulting in a fatality and two injuries. Specifics of the tragedy were described in a detailed Feb. 1, 1957 Interstate Commerce Commission report. The accident happened within the yard limits of Johnson City on a single-track line over which trains were operated by timetable, train orders and an automatic block-signal system. 

According to my source, Work Extra 6507, a maintenance service train, was comprised of a diesel engine, eight cars and a caboose. It departed westbound from the east siding at Johnson City about 6:30 a.m. and stopped on the main track where the locomotive was detached and moved onto the middle siding.

No. 73, a westbound second-class freight train consisted of four diesel engines, coupled in multiple-unit control, 62 cars and a caboose. It departed from Bristol at 5:30 a.m., being seven hours late. It stopped briefly at signal 23.9A in Johnson City. The signal light indicated, “Proceed.” About 15 minutes later, after some cars had been removed and others added to the train, it continued on its journey.

Suddenly while the train was chugging along at about 10 miles per hour, it struck the rear end of No. 6507, pushing it 265 feet down the track and destroying its caboose. Three section men were riding in the caboose. One was killed and the other two were injured. The front end of No. 73 and the rear car of No. 6507 incurred some damage.

Early that morning, the crew of the service train reported for duty at Johnson City and assembled the train on the east siding. The locomotive then moved on the main track from the east siding-switch to the west siding-switch, entering the siding at the latter switch and was coupled to the west end of the train. It was then moved to the east switch of the middle siding and the locomotive was detached and moved onto the siding for the purpose of adding additional cars to the train. The conductor said that his plan was to enter the siding and permit No. 73 to pass. He said that a lighted red lantern and the red reflectorized disc, which served as a marker, were displayed at the rear of the caboose.

Before No. 73 reached the station at Johnson City, the engineer saw a yard locomotive pass by and assumed that it was the same one he had seen earlier. As the freight locomotive passed the station, the operator handed the fireman copies of three train orders and a clearance form. Almost immediately, he spotted the caboose of No. 6507 about 30 feet ahead of them and instantly applied the brakes, but it was too late to avoid a collision.

Contributing factors to the accident were a light rain and the early morning darkness. The front brakeman testified that dirt on portions of the front windows was not being cleaned sufficiently by the wipers, obstructing his view of the track ahead. He acknowledged that he did not see the caboose until seconds before the collision occurred. Crewmembers concurred that the large train was moving at about 10 miles per hour at the time of impact.

The official accident review, an impressive detailed report, noted that because of the curvature of the track and a building situated north of the track, the caboose could not have been seen until the locomotive was within 658 feet east of the accident site. The reflectorized disc, which served as a marker, was not visible by the big train until it was 380 feet from the small one.

The ruling by the Commission further stated that the accident was caused by failure to maintain a proper lookout ahead while moving within yard limits. Corrective policy changes were implemented by the company. 

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Yesterday, September 30, 2012, marked the anniversary of a historical event that occurred 126 years ago. Two local history buffs met on September 30, 1986, the 100-year anniversary of the incident, and relived the story for an article for the Johnson City Press-Chronicle.

Jim Goforth (Erwin historian and author) and Tom Hodge (historian and Press-Chronicle writer) convened on that day in Tom’s office to revive the particulars of the granting of a charter to the Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad, commonly referred to as the 3-C Railroad.

The two history buffs contrasted the 1886 exciting announcement of the construction of a much-needed railroad in Johnson City with the 1893 disparaging news that work was being suspended, even after much track had been laid.

L: John T. Wilder, R: George L. Carter

In 1886, ex-Union General John T. Wilder received a charter to build the 3-C Railroad, a forerunner of the Clinchfield. He already had other significant businesses in the city: the Carnegie Land Company, the Cranberry Iron Furnace, the Carnegie Hotel and the Cloudland Hotel (atop beautiful Roan Mountain).

While campaigning through the Southeast during the Civil War, the industrialist visualized great potential for developing the area, but he also realized that the region lacked an adequate transportation system. To remedy this, he received authorization to begin constructing a 625-mile railroad from Charleston, South Carolina to Cincinnati, Ohio to connect the industrial midwest with the Atlantic seaport. The new route would further serve the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia, the timber and mineral areas of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina, the resort areas of the Blue Ridge and the agricultural area of the Piedmont.

The estimated cost of the venture was $21 million, which was a considerable amount of money then. Within two years, a 171-mile segment from Camden, South Carolina to Marion, North Carolina was completed and put into service.

When the Carnegie section of Johnson City, near the Empire Furniture Company plant on E. Fairview Avenue, was chosen as the northern headquarters of the railroad, the city almost overnight became a boomtown. Track installation was expedited in both north and south directions from the city. Rails reached the Nolichucky River in Erwin in 1890 and the roadbed to Dante, Virginia was 90% completed three years later.

In 1893, the country suffered a depression, known as “Cleveland’s Panic,” and the 3-C Railroad immediately faced bankruptcy. Assets were sold at foreclosure for $550,000. Johnson City, eager to help reclaim the 3-C line, bought $70,000 worth of bonds, thereby subjecting the city to heavy financial strain when it defaulted.

A new owner, identified as the Ohio River and Charleston Railroad, acquired the assets in 1897, but unfortunately did little to extend the line. Conversely, the company began selling portions of it.

In 1902, a new hero emerged. George L. Carter acquired the northern segment of the road and completed construction as the Clinchfield Railroad. However, he abandoned much of the 3-C roadbed and instead laid new track to Johnson City from the northwest. Since the entrepreneur had become involved in developing the coal lands of southwestern Virginia, he needed a railroad to transport his coal to a south Atlantic seaport. Between 1905 and 1909, work to extend the Clinchfield from Dante, Virginia to Spartanburg, South Carolina was successfully completed.

A few years ago, Clint Isenberg, a Gray resident, showed me some weed-covered track near Spurgeon’s Island just off the old Kingsport highway. According to Tom and Jim in 1986, track could still be seen at the intersection of East Fairview Avenue and Star Mill Road and at the old J. Norton Arney Farm, which later became Winged Deer Park. Are there still portions of 3-C track visible in the area? 

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Today, let’s crank up the Yesteryear Time Machine and drift back to the “good old days” of December 26, 1922 to drive along Johnson City’s streets when its population was about 15,000. When we arrive, we find the temperature to be in the upper 20s with just a hint of snow flurries. For the most part, the main streets are paved within the confines of the city limits.

We make a decision to drive east through downtown from the west end of W. Main to the east side of E. Main and return by way of Market. We are riding in a new Paige Jewett roadster that was purchased for $1,065 from Kyle Auto Sales at 214-16 W. Market. The vehicle has a powerful 249 cubic inch six cylinder engine. 

As we motor along, we observe a variety of cars, trucks, horses (with and without buggies), electric-driven trolleys, bicycles, motorcycles, trains and pedestrians traveling by Shank’s mare (walking). We are surprised to learn that 20 miles-per-hour is the maximum speed limit in town. Mayor Ellison and his board recently approved a list of traffic ordinances. 

Heading east, we cross Delaware, Fall and Winter streets until we approach Watauga where we observe the big square shaped brick West Side School on a small hill to our right. We must slow down to 12 mph during school hours. Since school is not in session, we can resume our speed. 

As we approach Boone, we notice City Hall on our left and the new Arcade Building under construction at 137-38 Main. We draw near the train tracks where we encounter a flashing signal light warning us that a train is approaching. As we wait, we gaze at the Windsor Hotel and Annex on our right that contains T.H. Dyer’s Barber Shop and the Windsor Billiard Parlor. Trains are restricted to 15 mph in the downtown area between Division and Sevier streets and are forbidden to block street crossings for more than four minutes at a time. That sounds impossible.

After the train moves on, we reduce our speed to 12 mph until we reach Roan because of safety concerns in an area that has the heaviest vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the city. To our right is Fountain Square with the gorgeous Lady of the Fountain statue smiling at us. We smile back.

We drive past Roan and speed up to 20 mph, but as we approach Fire Station #2 on our left at 343 E. Main, we must reduce our speed to 15 mph.  The same applies for those driving past Fire Station #1 (headquarters) at 218 W. Market. The fire crews have the right-of-way during emergencies. Continuing on Main, we observe the Franklin Apartments (formerly Carlisle Hotel) on our right at Division. 

We come to the end of E. Main and cross over to E. Market and travel west toward where we began. While we are slowly driving back, let me share some additional traffic regulations. Vehicle lights have to be visible at a distance of 200 feet. A speed limit of 12 mph shall apply at street intersections and while turning corners. At viaducts, underpasses and bridges, the speed is 10 mph. An 8 mph limit shall apply to trucks at the same locations.

If a horse becomes cantankerous on the road, the animal’s owner can lawfully signal for traffic to stop until tranquility is restored. No horse can be parked within 100 feet of a drug store or where food is sold. Pedestrians may cross streets but only at designated crosswalks provided they do so at right angles. A motorist may be arrested if smoke is emitting from his car.

Vehicles operated between ten p.m. and six a.m. must be equipped with silencer apparatus. Horns must only be used as a danger warning. Cars and other vehicles are not allowed to hinder pedestrians at street intersections. An automobile may not be parked all night on a public street. All vehicles must strictly yield to streetcars.

As we arrive back for our Time Machine return voyage, we are ready to leave 1922 and return to the “good old days” of 2011. I sure hate to leave that Paige Jewett roadster behind. 

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The completion of the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio (CC&O) Railroad from Dante, Virginia to Spartanburg, South Carolina occurred on Friday, October 29, 1909. Festive celebrations were observed in Johnson City and Spartanburg.

The excitement was the fulfillment of a new railroad that would transport coal from a rich coalfield. It was built at an enormous cost brought about by engineering challenges associated with the rough terrain. The CC&O became known as “one of the greatest little railroads in the United States.”

The Virginian railroad that was built under similar difficulties and with a comparable stated purpose was the pet project of H. H. Rogers. The new line was the favorite enterprise of Thomas Fortune Ryan. The road was built over and through the Blue Ridge Mountains, rising from 1,500 feet to more than 3,000 feet above sea level within a few miles and still maintaining a maximum grade of one-half of one per cent. A single engine could pull a train of 60 heavily loaded freight cars across a rarely seen beautiful mountain region.

Numerous tunnels were built, including two that were almost a mile each in length; one of them cost $500,000. Across a difficult stretch of many miles in the mountains, the road cost totaled as much as $200,000 a mile.

When the economic panic came along two years prior to completion, work was suspended almost everywhere with two exceptions – the CC&O Railroad and the Panama Canal. Uncle Sam continued to dig the canal while Mr. Carter methodically drilled through a great chain of tunnels, which included 17 within a distance of 18 miles. A low grade was arbitrarily maintained regardless of cost. Occasionally, money was wasted when afterward if was determined that the work did not achieve the required grade. That section of track was abruptly abandoned.

Not far from the CC&O road was George W. Vanderbilt’s immense Biltmore estate built at the unheard of cost of $1,000,000. It was said that the altitude of the region was the greatest in the East and the scenery was unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Ultimately the new railroad became a link in a trunk line from the Great Lakes to the south Atlantic seaboard.

The Johnson City celebration, one of the most elaborate gatherings in the City's history, took place at Hotel Carnegie on E. Fairview with the presidents of Johnson City's three railroads attending. Congressman Walter P. Brownlow served as master of ceremonies with speeches, toasts, a banquet meal and fine cigars smoked long into the night. The city’s most prominent business leaders attended as well as one special guest, General John T. Wilder, who started the great railroad but failed to complete it. He fittingly was honored and then given the floor for a speech.

In Spartanburg, thousands of people attended the event with over 1,500 persons treated to a barbecue celebrating the first train to arrive on the CC&O Railway.

My column photo shows Thomas F. Ryan and a party of associates in the mountains, not far from Bristol, Tennessee, preparing for a ride through the wilderness along the route of the new railroad.

Left to right are George L. Carter (president, CC&O Railway), Isaac T. Mann (mineral operator, owner of many Southern banks), George A. Kent (former chief engineer, CC&O), John B. Dennis (Blair & Co.), W. M. Ritter (one of the wealthiest operating lumbermen in the country), Norman B. Ream (director in many American railways, trust concerns and insurance companies), Thomas F. Ryan, James A. Blair (senior member of Blair & Co.), H. R. Dennis (Blair & Co.) and James Hammill (chief counsel for W. M. Ritter interests).  

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