Train-Roads in the Mountains
Train buffs and explorers can agree that following the old railroad routes can be a great way to see parts of the USA. Today, many of the old narrow-gauge routes have been paved as narrow roads or used as biking routes as in Damascus Virginia’s Virginia Creeper Trail. We decided to follow the Tweetsie Extension route in Carter County, TN, just across the border from NC. The one-lane road looks as if it was just paved and follows the Doe River through a beautiful country route passing through impressive cuts in the rock formations. The route is well-marked, just off of US19 E in east Tennessee, a few of the markers have some graffiti, and others, as pictured here, are cattywampus, so look carefully.
Since 1882, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad company operated a route from Johnson City, TN to Cranberry, NC and in later years it continued on to Boone, NC. Locals called the line “Tweetsie” because of the tweet-tweet whistle sounds the train made as it wound its way through the hills. Modernization combined with forces of nature to result in the closing of the line in 1950. Of the 13 original steam engines, only one remains. Engine No.12 has been running regular routes at the Tweetsie Railroad (now amusement park) in Blowing Rock, NC since 1957. The developer of the site bought the engine for $1 from famed movie-cowboy Gene Autry who had planned a California movie career for the engine. The train is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The route is also part of the Overmountain Men Trail, which played a significant role in the Revolutionary War. You can read more about that important battle here.