East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad

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East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad
Reporting mark ET&WNC
Locale North Carolina and Tennessee
Dates of operation 1881–1950 (narrow gauge lines), 1983 (standard gauge lines)
Track gauge 3 ft (914 mm); 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
Headquarters Johnson City, Tennessee

The East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad (reporting mark ET&WNC) affectionately called the "Tweetsie" in reference to the sound of its steam whistles, was primarily a 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad established in 1866 for the purpose of serving the mines at Cranberry, North Carolina.

The 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge portion of the ET&WNC was abandoned in 1950, however the 11-mile (17.7 km) 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge segment of the line from Johnson City to Elizabethton, Tennessee still exists today as the East Tennessee Railway.


The ET&WNC Transportation Company was chartered by the Tennessee General Assembly on May 24, 1866. Lack of financial backing led to the venture's failure, and the railroad was abandoned in 1874. The Cranberry Iron Company acquired the line between 1876 and 1879, and designated the railroad one of its subsidiaries. The initial 14.1-mile (2.25-kilometer) run through the Appalachian Mountains from Johnson City to Hampton, Tennessee via Elizabethton was completed on August 22, 1881 by Pennsylvania-based financier Ario Pardee, and the technical expertise of Thomas Matson (the noted railway engineer); a line extension to Cranberry opened on July 3, 1882. Soon dubbed by mountain residents as the "Railway with a Heart" as railroad personnel often performed errands for the locals (and even allowed passengers to ride for free during the Great Depression), its tickets were even validated with a heart-shaped punch.

The ET&WNC had five (Baldwin Locomotive works) 4-6-0 Ten Wheelers the #9 (Baldwin, 1911), #10 (Baldwin 1911), #11 (Baldwin, 1916), #12 (Baldwin, 1917), #14 (Baldwin, 1919). The #9 had slightly smaller valves and smaller wheels. The valves work like the valves on a car there is an intake valve that forces steam into the cylinder pushing the piston out. This motion turns the side rods which moves the wheels. The force of the wheel moving pushes the piston back in, forcing the steam out of cylinder into the smoke box. In the smoke box the steam and smoke are mixed and forced out the smoke stack. This creates a draft that pulls the heat from the fire through the boiler. All the engines where painted black. But Clarence Hobbs chose to paint the engines green to mimic the Southern Railway standard gauge engines. In the midst of WWII passenger service rapidly declined so there was no reason to run a full passenger train day to day. The ET&WNC used car 15 which was a passenger car, post office, and baggage compartment then behind car 15 was one or 2 of 3 piggy back cars. The ET's passenger station was next to the trucking depot and the railyard was another mile down the track. So to save time they got car 15 then the piggy back because there was no reason to get the train then the piggy back.

A train crew poses in front of ET&WNC Locomotive No. 4 at Newland, North Carolina circa 1914. The unit was purchased new in 1902 and sold twelve years later to the Linville River Railway.

The ET&WNC (sometimes referred to as the "Eat Taters & Wear No Clothes" Railroad) hauled iron ore from the Cranberry mines, pig iron from the local forge, and lumber from the forests of western North Carolina. CIC purchased the Linville River Railway (LRR, known as the "Arbuckle" line) in 1913, a line originally constructed in the 1890s specifically to haul lumber between Cranberry and Saginaw, North Carolina. The LRR line was subsequently extended to Boone, North Carolina; the tracks suffered heavy damage from a 1940 flood, and the line was abandoned following Interstate Commerce Commission approval on March 22, 1941. The damage to the track looked like somebody put a picket fence in the middle of the field. The ties where sticking out of the ground with the dual gauge track still on the ties. Much of North Carolina Highway 105 was built along the line's former route.

The ET&WNC was one of the major rail lines to haul both passengers and freight in the region during World War II, though business declined dramatically after the War. The 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge track from Elizabethton was soon abandoned, though the ET&WNC retained service between Johnson City and the rayon plants of Elizabethton. The tracks in and around Johnson City (where most of the company's industrial customers were located) were dual gauge to allow for interchange with other railroads; the ET&WNC purchased three standard gauge locomotives (the 204, a former AT&N 2-8-0; the 205, a former RF&P 0-6-0; and the 206, a former Illinois Central 2-6-0) to switch cars throughout the area. The ET&WNC Railroad Company's narrow gauge lines officially ceased operations on October 16, 1950 and in the following year, scrapping of the narrow gauge lines commenced and by 1952 the line was nothing more but a memory.

Several ET&WNC bridges are still standing in Carter County, Tennessee. This one is located at the south end of Doe River Gorge.
East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Locomotive No. 12
East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad is located in North Carolina
East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad
East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad is located in the US
East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad
Nearest city Blowing Rock, North Carolina
Coordinates 36°10′14″N 81°38′51″W / 36.17056°N 81.64750°W / 36.17056; -81.64750Coordinates: 36°10′14″N 81°38′51″W / 36.17056°N 81.64750°W / 36.17056; -81.64750
Area less than one acre
Built 1917
NRHP Reference # 92000147[1]
Added to NRHP March 12, 1992

In 1952, the last of the narrow gauge engines (#9, #11, and #12) were put up for sale. #9 and #11 were offered to be put on display in Elizabethton and Johnson City, but that offer was turned down. The #9 and the #11 were scrapped but the #12 was purchased by a group railroad enthusiasts and shipped to Virginia. Movie cowboy Gene Autry later bought the unit, intending to transport it to California for use in his films. After a lengthy restoration, the locomotive returned North Carolina on May 23, 1957 along with a few pieces of the original rolling stock. That summer, the "Tweetsie Railroad" became the state's newest travel attraction and family theme park. The train travels over a scenic 3-mile (4.8 kilometer) loop through the mountains near Blowing Rock, close to the original end-of-the-line station in Boone. The park operates two steam locomotives: in addition to former ET&WNC No. 12, in 1960 the company acquired No. 190 (the Yukon Queen, a type 2-8-2 locomotive) from the State of Alaska and restored it for operation. Tweetsie is also home to an authentic wooden coach, former East Broad Top Railroad #5, which is run on special occasions such as their annual Railfan Weekend event.

The ET&WNC continued operations of the standard gauge lines well after the narrow gauge closures. In 1952, the railroad sent a representative to the Southern Railway roundhouse in Asheville, North Carolina to look for some new motive power. The representative was first offered Ks-1 2-8-0s #685 and #835, but he instead choose engines #630 and #722 because they were in better condition. The 630 was renumbered to 207 and the 722 208. They served the ET&WNC until December 1967 when the Southern Railway traded two ALCo Rs-3s for the two Ks-1 locomotives to run in their new steam program along with Savannah & Atlanta #750 and Southern Railway #4501[disambiguation needed]. The 630 is now at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, Tennessee and the 722 is now at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, North Carolina.

The Green Bay Packaging Company of Green Bay, Wisconsin ultimately acquired the railroad properties and reorganized the company as the East Tennessee Railway (ETRY). Since 1996, the railroad has been owned by Genesee and Wyoming, an international operator of short line railroads, as part of its Rail Link group. The standard gauge line continues to operate switching operations in Johnson City for freight arriving via the CSX and Norfolk Southern Railways.

Update: In 2014 the remaining ten mile section of the ET&WNC between Johnson City and Elizabethton began conversion to a Rails to Trail, completing the first seven miles in August 2014, and adding the remaining three miles in August 2015. In 2016, efforts by Carter County to "extend" this trail to Roan Mountain began by marking existing roads. For the most part this extension does not follow the original ET&WNC right of way, but does include a few more miles of the original railroad road bed along Old Railroad Grade Road.

See also[edit]

Historic designations[edit]


  1. ^ National Park Service (2010-07-09). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ferrell, Mallory Hope (1991). Tweetsie Country. Johnson City, TN: The Overmountain Press. ISBN 0-932807-58-5. 
  • Waite, John (2003), Blue Ridge Stemwinder: An Illustrated History of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad and the Linville River Railway (1st ed.), Overmountain Press, ISBN 1570722722 

External links[edit]