JOHNSON CITY (February 6, 2013) – Perhaps the most famous narrow gauge railroad east of the Mississippi was the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC), connecting the major railroads in Johnson City with the rich magnetic iron deposits along Cranberry Creek, N.C.
The narrow three-foot gauge rails wound around the small valley towns of Appalachia and followed the river-edged gorges of the Doe River along 35 miles of uphill climb to the iron mines. The shrill sound of the whistle of the little 10-wheel locomotives earned the nickname “Tweetsie” for the engines and the rail line.
Now, the members of the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders (MEMRR) club are recreating the Tweetsie line in miniature within the Ken Marsh Gallery, a 1,300-square-foot exhibit hall in the George L. Carter Railroad Museum on the campus of East Tennessee State University. After much research, the MEMRR members have created the infrastructure for the display. The mountain background that contained the underground tunnels of the iron mine at Cranberry, N.C., has been assembled and is being “forested” with miniature trees. The coal transfer trestle in the ET&W Johnson City yard is in place.
The model layout will begin its journey in a miniature Johnson City, shown in 1925, when the Tweetsie was in its heyday. The track will pass the coal chute outside Elizabethton, cross the Doe River on bridges at the town of Valley Forge and the covered deck bridge west of Hampton before entering the first tunnel and exiting across the covered bridge at Hampton. Trains will begin their ascent through two more tunnels and into Doe River Gorge and through Pardee Point, the most photographed site on the railroad. Continuing through the gorge, engines will go over two more bridges and through two more tunnels, and then over the bridge at Blevins. After visiting Crabtree, Roan Mountain, Shell Creek and Elk Park, the model trains will pull into a replica of the mining community of Cranberry.
Dr. Fred Alsop, director of the museum, says, “While the distances between landmarks on the model layout have to be compressed, we are depicting 35 railroad miles folded into eight scale miles, with all the bridges and five tunnels built to scale length.
“The layout has been divided into nine major sections at least 20 feet long. Each of these sections will contain major features of the railway, and each section is available for sponsorship. Donors will have their names designated on plaques and the funds donated will be used to purchase the materials needed to build the operating Tweetsie layout. Two of the nine sections have already found sponsors.”
The public is invited to tour the Tweetsie model railroad project to view its progress while visiting the Carter Railroad Museum. In addition, the museum has three operating model railroad layouts in three different scales, along with railroading exhibits, a growing research library and an oral history archive. The museum is also the home of a National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) chapter. Information can be found online at www.etsu.edu or http://johnsonsdepot.com/glcarter/cartermuseum.htm.
The MEMRR club works in conjunction with the museum to demonstrate and maintain the model layouts, exhibits and special projects. Visit www.memrr.org for more details. Also, the museum hosts the George L. Carter Chapter of NRHS, which focuses on prototype railroading and supports the oral history program, in addition to organizing public rail excursions. Membership opportunities are available to adults, and include special benefits.
The Carter Railroad Museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Admission is free, but donations are welcomed to support museum programs. The museum is located in the ETSU Campus Center Building, 100 Ross Drive, and can be identified by a flashing railroad crossing signal over the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road onto John Robert Bell Drive and turn left onto Ross Drive.
For more information about the museum or special assistance for those with disabilities, contact Alsop at (423) 439-6838.