Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles
When You Hear That Lonesome
Whistle BlowBy Omer C. Addington
Yesterday, when you heard the puffing of the engine, and the lonesome whistle. blow, and the bell began its ringing as the train pulled into the depot.
Today, you do not hear the puffing of the engine or the lonesome whistle blow, nor the bell ringing for there are no more depots.
After the railroads were well established the American people began to fall in love with trains. Especially after 1836 when the first steam whistle was introduced. After this date all engines were equipped with whistles.
Later as the size of the locomotives were made larger, the size of the whistles were increased.
These whistles could be heard for many miles, and people in rural communities could forecast the weather by the way the air currents moved.
The writer of this narrative was reared about six miles east of Gate City. I have heard my father remark many times, "It is going to rain, I can hear the train whistle blowing." The air currents were moving from west to east and in this area weather usually moved from west to east.
People said that the old steam whistle had a lonesome sound. Those who lived near the railroad tracks could tell who the engineer was by the way he blew the whistle.
Many songs and poems have been written about trains and the men who ran them. The songs and poems were written during the era of the steam locomotive.
After the demise of the steam locomotive, and the introduction of the diesel engine, people seemed to lose their love for the railroad engine. They didn't like the horn on the diesel, they would still like to hear the lonesome sound of the steam locomotive.
The steam locomotive undoubtedly was the greatest factor in transforming America economically, socially and politically.
The first railroad in the United States was the Baltimore and Ohio, begun in 1828. In two years a railroad of thirteen miles was completed in Maryland.
At first horses were used for pulling the cars on the road and for a short time sails were experimented with as motive power, but this was not satisfactory.
In the early years the rails consisted of wooden beam beams whose upper edges were protected against wear by iron strips.
Passenger coaches were modeled after stagecoaches and were uncomfortable. The were heated with wood stoves, and wood was used to fire the engines. Owing to the numerous sparks the poured out of a train, it was quite a fire hazard to the countryside through which it passed. Sometimes passengers clothes were set on fire. Later spark arresters were added to the smoke stack.
The first steam locomotive built to burn coal was Peter Cooper's "Tom Thumb" which operated from Baltimore.
The first United States President to ride a train pulled by a steam locomotive was Andrew Jackson. He didn't think to highly of it because of the smoke, cinders, dirt and the noise it made.
After 1840, certain mechanical improvements were made introduced in the building of railroads which greatly increased their efficiency as public carriers. One of the most important of these advances was the use of iron rail in place of wooden beams faced with iron strips. These wooden strips often came loose and threw the cars off the tracks, causing heavy damage and even loss of life. These loose rails were called "snake heads."
The stronger rails made it possible for larger cars with heavier loads, as well as greater speed and safety.
The early railroads were short and disconnected and a lack of uniformity in gauge prevented the transfer of railroad cars from one track to another. At one time in the United States there were twenty-three different railroad gauges, with widths between rails from three fee to six feet. Finally in 1870 the railroad managers began to convert their lines to a gauge of four feet, eight and one-half inches. By 1886 practically all railroads in the United States had adopted this standard gauge.
Before construction of a railroad in Scott County, the North Fork of the Holston River and the Clinch River afforded means of transportation out of the county. These rivers were navigated by various kinds of crafts, ranging from canoes to flat-bottom boats. Cargoes of these crafts consisted of wheat, corn, bacon, hams, dried fruit and other commodities which were delivered to Chattanooga, Tn. and other points on the Tennessee River. This river traffic ceased after the coming of the railroad, except for rafting logs to Chattanooga.
As early as the 1850's the people of Southwest Virginia petitioned the Virginia legislature to build a railroad from Bristol, Va. To Cumberland Gap, Tn. As a result of this petition the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad Company was chartered and in 1856 the railroad from Lynchburg to Bristol was completed. This was the beginning of the opening of Southwest Virginia to its natural resources of timber, coal, limestone and other natural resources.
The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad failed. Several other companies then attempted to build a railroad into Southwest Virginia. The Virginia and Kentucky Railroad was organized and proceeded with the work of construction. The war between the states left the south destitute and the work had to be abandoned. The Atlantic, Mississippi, Ohio Railroad Company was charted June 17, 1870 to complete the work begun by the Virginia and Kentucky Railroad Company. The Atlantic, Mississippi, etc. company failed to carry on the work because of financial troubles, and it was released from all responsibilities.
The Bristol Coal and Iron Narrow Gauge Railroad Company was chartered March 27, 1876 to take over the franchises and property of the Virginia and Kentucky Railroad Co. The charter of the latter company was amended May 17, 1877 and its name was changed to the South Atlantic and Ohio Railroad Company.
Major Henry Clinton Wood, a native Scott Countain, was its first president. The railroad was completed as far as Gate City by 1887. The first passenger train reached Bratton Switch near the present location of the Vocation School and filter plant. The railroad was completed to Big Stone Gap in May, 1890.
The coming of the railroad to Scott County was significant as it released the county from mountain barriers and brought the people in direct communication with the outside world. With the coming of the railroads into the county, home manufacturing began to decline and eventually passed out of use.
The South Atlantic and Ohio Railroad Company went into the hands of a receiver in 1892, and on April 16, 1898 the property was sold under foreclosure and bought in by the bondholders.
On February 18, 1899 the Virginia and Southwestern Railroad Company was chartered in Virginia, it bought the property of the South Atlantic and Ohio from a syndicate.
In May 1906 control of the Virginia and Southwestern Railroad passed to the Southern Railway Company by a contract under which Southern Railway Company agreed to buy a majority of the capital stock.
Southwestern Railroad continued in existence and to operate the railroad until July 1916. After this date the railroad was operated by the Southern Railway as the Appalachia Division of the Southern Railway System.
The Southern Railway company had begun operations on July 1, 1894 as the reorganization and consolidation of the properties of the Richmond and Danville Railroad System and the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. These companies had been built up into major railroad systems of the south. Later many other companies were added to the Southern System.
After 1916 the railroad from Bristol to Appalachia was advertised as the "Natural Tunnel Route," to promote that great natural wonder through which the trains of the Southern Railway passed.
President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Natural Tunnel and pronounced it the eighth wonder of the world.
At one time there were four daily passenger trains on the Appalachia Division. As other means of transportation came into being the trains were cut to two per day, and later to one train per day. This one train had the name "The Lonesome Pine Special," which was probably taken from the title of the book by John Fox Jr. It ran between Bristol and St. Charles until 1939.
A tornado hit Rye Cove School on May 2, 1929 and one teacher and twelve students were killed and many were injured. The injured were rushed to the hospitals in Bristol and Kingsport. Those taken to the Bristol hospital were transported on the Lonesome Pine Special.
The Southern Railroad from Moccasin Gap to Bristol was abandoned several years ago due to rock and mud slides. The iron rails are now being removed for use elsewhere.
In 1982 the Southern Railway System and the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company merged and the name was changed to the Norfolk and Southern.
On September 30, 1886, an ex-Union General, John H. Wilder received a charter for the Charleston, Cincinnati and Chicago Railroad (commonly referred to as the "3-C's"). This was the beginning of the modern Clinchfield Railroad.. This railroad existed for seven years until the depression of 1893.The firm that had backed the construction of the railroad failed and with it went the 3-C's Railroad.
A hundred years have passed since work was abandoned on the construction of the 3-C's Railroad, but many miles of the old roadbed are still visible up the North Fork of the Holston River to Moccasin Gap and from Starnes to Shannon, Virginia. This is probably the longest stretch of never used railroad bed in the United States.
The Virginia and Southwestern Railroad (now Norfolk and Southern) occupies the old 3-C's roadbed location from Moccasin Gap to Clinchport and Virginia State Highway Route 65 was built on the old 3-C's roadbed from Clinchport to Starnes Bend.
On July 17, 1893 the assets of the 3-C's Railroad were sold at a foreclosure sale and reorganized under the name of the Ohio River and Charleston Railroad Company.
In 1902 parts of the Ohio River and Charleston Railroad were sold to different companies. The last remaining part was sold to George L.. Carter in June 1902. After Mr. Carter acquired the remaining assets of the railroad, he was successful in getting the financial backing of a syndicate made mostly of New York Bankers headed by James L. Blair. The part that Carter acquired was given the name of South and Western. With the financial backing of the New York bankers, he pushed the South and Western Railway to completion. His ultimate objective was to develop the coalfield in the Clinchfield area of Southwest Virginia with a railroad outlet to the south Atlantic coast. South Port, N.C. and Charleston, S.C. were both considered possible terminals. Carter had a reason to begin operations under the name of South and Western. The story is told that he used this name to confuse the competition from knowing his intended terminal points.
The plans of Carter were to use the old 3-C's grade where it existed to minimize construction costs. In 1904 construction crews were rehabilitating and cleaning up the old 3-C's grade on the west side of the Clinch River north of Clinchport. Mr. M. J. Caples, a construction engineer who had considerable operating experience on the Norfolk and Western, convinced Carter that a railroad built to haul heavy tonnage such as coal trains through mountainous terrain should be built to better standards than that of the old 3-C's railroad bed. The new standards were adopted and applied in 1905.
In November 1905 a contract was let for the eleven mile section from Copper Creek to the North Fork of the Holston River including the Clinch Mountain Tunnel. Work on the tunnel began in February 1906. Work was begun on each side of the mountain with the headings meeting September 12, 1907 and the bottom bench completed ready for track work in September 1908. The company tried to get a right of way through Gate City and Moccasin Gap, but the people who owned the land asked such a high price that the railroad company would not pay the exorbitant prices. It was then decided to tunnel through Clinch Mountain. The Clinch Mountain Tunnel is 4, 135 feet long and the longest bridge on the main line is the Copper Creek Viaduct, 1,091 feet long and 167 feet high.
On March 31, 1908 a new charter was granted and name was changed to the Carolina Clinchfield and Ohio Railway. This was a consolidation of the South and Western, Lick Creek and Lake Erie, Clinchfield Northern and Elkhorn Southern.
The construction work that had begun in 1905 was completed in 1909 at a cost of $200,000 per mile.
At Speers Ferry, Virginia people could change trains from the Southern to the Clinchfield or or vice versa. The Southern train went to Bristol and the Clinchfield went to Spartanburg, S.C. This train carried textile mill workers.
The last passenger train of the Clinchfield Railroad operated between Elkhorn, Kentucky and Spartanburg, S.C. on April 30, 1954.
On January 1, 1983,the Clinchfield Railroad became the Clinchfield Division of the Seaboard Railway System.
The Interstate Railroad Company was incorporated under the laws of Virginia on February 18,1896. This railroad lies entirely within the state of Virginia. The main reason for the construction of this railroad was to connect with other railroads in the hauling of coal. At Appalachia it connected with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Virginia and Southwestern Railroad. During the boom of the early 1890's it was proposed for the interstate railroad to build a railroad to the Virginia Coal and Iron Company's marble lands near Gate City.
After World War I the president of the Interstate Railroad Company authorized a major construction and improvement program. More coal was being sold in the Carolinas and Georgia, for which the most direct routing was via the Clinchfield Railroad. Direct connection with the Clinchfield Railroad was secured when the eighteen mile Guest River extension was opened from Norton, Va. to Miller Yard on July 25,1923.
The Interstate Railroad is now a part of the Norfolk and Southern.
The trains in this section of Southwest Virginia are doing what they were first intended to do, haul coal and other natural resources out of the area.
Tomorrow you may hear the puffing of the engine. and the lonesome whistle blow, and the bell will again be ringing down at the old depot.
Some day the diesel will have to go and the steam locomotive will be puffing, and the lonesome whistle blows, and the bell will be ringing when friends meet at the depot.