On Sunday, October 8, 2023, the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) and George L. Carter Railroad Museum will sponsor a “FALL EXCURSION” to The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad through the beautiful Nantahala Gorge in Western North Carolina.
The trip will start from ETSU’s parking lot 9 (a-d) at the corner of State of Franklin Road and University Parkway. Passengers will board motor coaches departing no later than 7:45am for Bryson City, N.C. Upon arrival, passengers will have time to enjoy the Smoky Mountain Trains Museum (admission included with the train ticket), shopping, sight-seeing, and dining in Bryson City before our 1:30pm train departure. Afterward, we will depart Bryson City at 8:00pm and return to ETSU at approximately 10:30pm. Detailed itinerary and trip information will be included in your ticket confirmation letter.
The route travels the banks of the Little Tennessee and Nantahala Rivers and crosses the Fontana Lake Trestle standing 100 feet above the lake and spanning 780 feet before entering the gorge. The total train ride is 44 miles round trip from Bryson City and lasts 4 ½ hours, which includes a one-hour layover in Nantahala Outdoor Center.
Johnson City Press
Published July 30, 2012
By Rex Barber – Assistant News Editor/Online
The track has been laid for what will likely be the most complete model replica ever built on the iconic Tweetsie railroad. Fred Alsop, director of the George L. Carter Railroad Museum at East Tennessee State University, said volunteers at the museum have been constructing the replica for about 18 months now. Their efforts have resulted in a large twisting layout of tracks in a 1,300-squarefoot room in the ETSU Campus Center Building. “One of the most famous narrow-gauge railroads in eastern North America was the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina railway,” Alsop said. “It’s actually known as the Tweetsie.”
The Tweetsie line was constructed in the late 1800s. The Tweetsie tracks are mostly gone now, having ceased operation in the middle of the 20th century, but when it was active the line ran from Johnson City to Cranberry, N.C., first and was later extended to Boone, N.C. The distance from Johnson City to Cranberry by these rails was around 35 miles. The railroad was built to access the richest magnetic iron ore vein known at that time, which was near Cranberry. The track was only three-feet wide. Most tracks are four-feet, eight-inches wide.
It was not easy to send a locomotive through the mountains, but it was done by talented engineers who utilized the size of the narrow gauge to maneuver around the winding mountainous terrain. “A narrow railroad with smaller engines and smaller cars can get into places that bigger railroads cannot think of getting,” Alsop said. “But once it was there it was the most dependable transportation that a lot of people in East Tennessee had.” The Tweetsie line took children from the mountains down to schools in Carter County and
also brought workers to the factories of Elizabethton. The railroad crews also regularly arranged to deliver groceries to folks who lived along the tracks. One record claims a stove was delivered and installed by the train’s crew. “It was an important rail link,” Alsop said. “We felt that this is really Tweetsie country. And if we were going to model any local railroad there would be no finer railroad to model than this one.”
Museum volunteers are recreating the Tweetsie in HO scale, where one foot equals 87 feet. The track and cars are smaller to reflect the narrow-gauge width. A company in Maine actually made a limited production run of the Tweetsie locomotives. Alsop said four of those will operate on the display. Alsop, who also is a biology professor at ETSU, said plans for the museum always included recreating at least a portion of the Tweetsie, but the full path was decided upon after space became available. Work on the model began about 18 months ago. Trains should be running by Christmas. There are no kits for most of the structures planned for the layout, so they will all have to be built from scratch using photos, drawings and observations as guides.
There are thousands of trees to make, too. The landscape should be largely finished in a year, though, a train layout is never truly finished, Alsop said. “We’ve got featured landmarks all the way along,” Alsop said. “Some of them include the towns that the railroad went through. Some of them are not towns but they’re important points. It won’t be exact, we’ve got all kinds of limitations, but it should be recognizable . It should look like the Tweetsie.” One example of a featured landmark is from the Doe River Gorge. There is a cliff face there
that was cut into to make a bench for the tracks. This is called Pardee Point after the owner of the Tweetsie. “It was the most photographed part of the whole line,” Alsop said. Volunteers continue to walk the Tweetsie track bed, interview people who rode the train or worked on the line and investigate any literature available on Tweetsie.
The layout is shaping up to be the most complete replica ever created. “There
The final day of operation on the ETSU Campus was June 3rd in conjunction with the 2023 Big Train Show. As you can imagine there is a lot of disassembly and packing required before the move later this summer. Details about the new location and reopening will be posted this fall.
Annually thousands of visitors enjoy the museum’s displays, which include historic prototype railroad memorabilia, toy trains and model railroading locomotives, rolling stock, and structures. Four large operating layouts in three different scales provide viewing enjoyment in the museum’s 5,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space.
The museum’s model railroads are operated by volunteers from the Mountain Empire Model Railroader club (MEMRR) who provide information about local historic railroads and knowledgeable tips on the basics of model railroading. In addition, two railroad historical societies are affiliated with the museum; the George L. Carter Chapter National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) and the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad Historical Society.
Devoted to the region’s historical ties to railroads, the museum is dedicated to the memory of George L. Carter who built the Clinchfield Railroad through 277 miles of mountainous terrain to carry coal from Eastern Kentucky to the Carolina Piedmont. In 1909, when the state’s selection committee visited the area while searching for a site for a proposed teachers college, Carter offered his 120-acre farm and $100,000 toward the establishment of the normal school, which became ETSU.
The Carter Railroad Museum includes model railroad layouts, a special child’s activity room, and ongoing programs. Donations are welcome for its upkeep. The museum is also seeking artifacts for display, including the newest addition dedicated to the long-defunct, but well-remembered ‘Tweetsie’ line, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad.
In addition to the displays, there is also a growing research library, the National Railway Historical Society chapter, membership opportunities, and an oral history archive being established as part of the museum’s programs.
The Mountain Empire Model Railroaders (MEMRR) works in conjunction with the museum to demonstrate and maintain the model layouts, museum exhibits and other projects. Models trains will run on N scale and G gauge layouts and on the club’s 24’x44′ HO scale model operation. More info can be found at https://www.memrr.org. Membership opportunities are available to adults, and include special benefits and model railroading enjoyment.