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East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad

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 a primarily 3 ft (914 mm) narrow gauge railroad established in 1866 for the purpose of serving the mines at Cranberry, North Carolina.

East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad
Reporting markET&WNC
LocaleNorth Carolina and Tennessee
Dates of operation1881–1950 (narrow gauge lines), 1983 (standard gauge lines)
Track gauge3 ft (914 mm); 4 ft 8 12 in (1,435 mm) standard gauge
HeadquartersJohnson City, Tennessee

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 East Tennessee & Western North Carolina 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 miles (22.7 km) 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: #9 (1911), #10 (1916), #11 (1916), #12 (1917), and #14 (1919). All the engines were 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 making it unprofitable to run a full passenger train every day. The ET&WNC used car 15 which was a passenger car equipped with both a post office and baggage compartment. Behind car 15 was either one or two of the railroad's three piggyback flat cars. The ET&WNC's passenger station was next to the trucking depot while the railyard was another mile down the line. In order to save time, crews picked up car 15 before picking up the piggyback flat cars.

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 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 to haul lumber between Cranberry and Saginaw, North Carolina. The Linville River Railway was then subsequently extended to Boone, North Carolina, but later suffered heavy track damage from a 1940 flood. The line was eventually abandoned following Interstate Commerce Commission approval on March 22, 1941. Subsequently, much of North Carolina Highway 105 was built along the former route of the LRR.

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: #204 (former AT&N 2-8-0), #205 (former RF&P 0-6-0), and #206 (former Illinois Central 2-6-0). These locomotives were used to switch cars throughout the Johnson City area. The ET&WNC Railroad Company's narrow gauge lines officially ceased operations on October 16, 1950 with scrapping commencing the following year.[1]

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
Nearest cityBlowing Rock, North Carolina
Coordinates36°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
Arealess than one acre
ArchitectBaldwin Locomotive Works
NRHP reference #92000147[2]
Added to NRHPMarch 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 this offer was turned down. The #9 and #11 were scrapped but the #12 was purchased by a group of 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 8, 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. 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 CSX and Norfolk Southern. However, in 2014 the remaining ten mile section of the ET&WNC between Johnson City and Elizabethton began removal as part of a Rails to Trail conversion project. The first seven miles were completed in August 2014 with the remaining three miles completed in August 2015. In 2016, Carter County began efforts to "extend" this trail to Roan Mountain 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 road bed along Old Railroad Grade Road. As a result, the East Tennessee Railway now operates very little trackage to serve the remaining industries around the Johnson City yard.


Narrow Gauge Steam Locomotives
Number/Name Wheel
Builder Serial Number Built Retired Notes
1 "Watauga" 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 5403 12/1880 1912 Bought new, sold to the Newell & Byrant Lumber Company in Stoney Creek, Virginia in 1912
2 "Cranberry" 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 5746 8/1881 1910 Bought new, sold to the Hilton Lumber Company as their #14 in Wimington, North Carolina in 1910
3 "Unaka" 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 6377 9/1882 1911 Bought new, sold to the Fosburgh Lumber Company as their #8 in Fosburgh, North Carolina in 1911
4 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 21114 10/1902 1940s Bought new, worked on the Linville River Railway. Scrapped in the 1940s.
5 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 21893 3/1903 1940 Bought new, to Linville River as their #5
6 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 24734 9/1904 1935 Bought new, scrapped 1930s.
7 0-8-0 Alco-Brooks 39951 6/1906 1940 Bought new. Scrapped 1940s
1st #8 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 31479 8/1907 1920 Sold to the Gray Lumber Company in 1920. Later Scrapped.
2nd #8 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 37327 12/1911 1939 Built as Twin Mountain & Potomac Railroad #2. Sold to the Radipan Railroad in 1921. Sold to the ET&WNC in 1926. Scrapped 1939
9 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 36440 4/1911 1950 Bought new. To Linville River Railroad in 1919. Sent back to the ET&WNC in 1940. Scrapped in 1952.
10 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 42766 1/1916 1942 Bought new. Sold to the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in 1942. Destroyed in a roundhouse fire at Whitehorse, Yukon in 1943. Scrapped 1946.
11 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 42862 6/1916 1950 Bought new. Last locomotive to run on the ET&WNC Narrow gauge lines in October 1950. Scrapped 1952.
12 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 45069 2/1917 1950 Bought new. Sold to the Shenandoah Central Railroad in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 1952. Sold to the Tweetsie Railroad in 1955 where it continues to operate today. Named "Tweetsie".
14 4-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 52406 9/1919 1942 Bought new. Sold to the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad in 1942. Destroyed in a roundhouse fire at Whitehorse, Yukon in 1943. Scrapped 1946.
28 2-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 39697 8/1913 1936 Built as Kentwood & Eastern #28. Sold to the Linville River Railroad in 1918. Scrapped in 1936.
Standard Gauge Steam Locomotives
Number/Name Wheel
Builder Serial Number Built Retired Notes
204 2-8-0 Lima Locomotive Works 16858 2/1922 1955 Built as Alabama, Tennessee and Northern Railroad #204. Sold to the ET&WNC in 1939. Scrapped 1955
205 0-6-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 29768 12/1906 1952 Built as Richmond, Fredericksburg and Potomac Railroad #104, later renumbered to 13. Sold to the ET&WNC in 1940. Sold to the Cadiz Railroad in 1953. Later sold to the Crabtree Coal Company. Scrapped 1956.
206 2-6-0 Brooks Locomotive Works 3693 12/1900 1956 Built as Illinois Central Railroad #556. Sold to the ET&WNC in 1942. Scrapped in 1956.
207 2-8-0 Alco-Richmond 28446 2/1904 12/8/1967 Built as Southern Railway #630. Sold to the ET&WNC in November 1952. Traded back to the Southern for an RS-3 in December 1967. Now operational at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
208 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 24729 9/1904 12/8/1967 Built as Southern Railway #722. Sold to the ET&WNC in November 1952. Traded back to the Southern for an RS-3 in December 1967. Now awaiting restoration at the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in Bryson City, North Carolina
828 2-8-0 Baldwin Locomotive Works 16858 7/1899 8/1937 Built as Norfolk and Western Railway #828. Sold to the ET&WNC in 1927. First standard gauge engine purchased by the ET&WNC. Scrapped 1937.
Diesel Locomotives
Number/Name class Builder Serial Number Built Retired Notes
209 RS-3 American Locomotive Company 78246 9/1950 1983 Built as Central of Georgia Railway #108. Traded to the ET&WNC by the Southern for 207 and 208.
210 RS-3 American Locomotive Company 78247 9/1950 1983 Built as Central of Georgia Railway #109. Traded to the ET&WNC by the Southern for 207 and 208. Now at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum.

See alsoEdit

Historic designationsEdit


  1. ^ "ET&WNC Railroad History | Doe River Gorge camp/retreat in TN Smoky Mtns". Retrieved 2018-02-25.
  2. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. July 9, 2010.

Further readingEdit

  • Ferrell, Mallory Hope (1991). Tweetsie Country (1st ed.). Overmountain Press. ISBN 978-0932807588.
  • 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 978-1570722721.

External linksEdit