The Transylvania Times -

By John Lanier
Editor 

Logging Railroads Were Vital To Industries – Transylvania County NC

 

November 24, 2016

The Gloucester Lumber Co. operated out of Rosman and traveled up what is now Highway 215 to harvest timber. This locomtive fell partly into the river after the trestle collapsed.

Logging and tanning were two of the major industries in Transylvania County and Western North Carolina in the early 1900s and railroads played an integral role in the success of those industries.

The role of railroads in this county was well documented by local photographers Joe Wilde and Dorothy Wilde Galloway of Lake Toxaway.

"Dot was instrumental in making sure that these photographs were preserved," said regional historian Jerry Ledford during his presentation entitled "Logging Railroads in Pisgah National Forest" held last week at the Transylvania County Library.

Ledford said that many of the roads in Pisgah National Forest, such as Highway 276 near Looking Glass Falls, where originally railroad lines.

"You are actually driving your car along old railroad tracks," said Ledford, pointing to a photo of a train passing Looking Glass Falls. "That's right where the highway is today."

Louis Carr, head of Carr Lumber in Pisgah Forest, helped bring timber harvesting to the region. Carr started in the timber business in West Virginia but moved to Western North Carolina and signed a contract with the Vanderbilts in 1913 to harvest parts of what is now Pisgah National Forest. His company used Climax locomotives like the one that is still on display at the Cradle of Forestry today.

Ledford said there were a variety of locomotives used to pull the logging cars. They ranged from the Climax to the lighter Black Satchel. The locomotives had to be constructed so that they could pull up some steep grades on uneven track. The locomotives had various designs. The Sidewinder, for example, had all of the cylinders on one side with the boiler on the other side as a counterweight.

Ledford said coal was preferable to wood as a fuel because it "was an all-weather fuel" that could be burned in the damp and wet conditions often found in these mountains.

Before the trains could run miles of track had to be placed. It was difficult enough to follow riverbanks, but the construction of various trestles were also great engineering feats for their time. The Great Horseshoe trestle, engineered by Rube Mull, stood several stories high and was 330 feet long.

"This was an incredible feat of engineering," said Ledford.

Ledford that some loggers were so unsure of some trestles that they would get off the train and walk to the other side before reboarding the train.

For a number of reasons – steepness of the tracks, sharp turns, the weight of the trains and their cargo, construction flaws with tracks and trestles – accidents were no uncommon. Most of the accidents involved minor derailments in which no one was hurt. There was one wreck when a Gloucester train actually fell through the trestle, but no one was badly injured.

"After a couple of days they had the train back on the track and ran it again," he said.

But there were larger, fatal accidents when a trestle would collapse or the train would be derailed and run off a steep embankment. And sometimes the accidents did not occur when loggers were working.

Most of the logging camps were inhabited only by men, although a few did have families living on the premises. Most loggers' families lived in nearby towns and they would ride down the mountain on the railroad flatbeds to spend the weekends with their families.

Ledford said one time there was a brakemen who was inebriated. When it was apparent he was not going to slow down the flatbed when it reached a turn, the loggers jumped off the flatbed just before it jumped the track.

But loggers were used to facing danger due to the nature of their work.

"There were very few jobs in logging that were not dangerous in some way," said Ledford.

Not all of the railroads that ran through the Pisgah National Forest were restricted to timber use. In 1915 Perley and Crockett Co. in the Black Mountain area realized that people wanted to see the top of Mount Mitchell.

So, they converted some of their flat rail cars into passenger cars to take travelers to the top of the mountain.

This logging train takes a brief stop at what is now the area near the Pisgah Center for Wildlife Education. John's Rock is in the background. (All photos are courtesy of the Translvania County Library.)

"They were serious about being a tourist railroad for a while," said Ledford. "They had a pretty extensive network."

Those who rode the train to the top of Mount Mitchell could also stay at Camp Alice, which was located about 800 feet below the summit.

But once a rail line was no longer in use, the companies often went back and tore up those lines. But that did not happen all of the time.

Many of the trails people hike today are old railroad beds. Sometimes hikers can run across remnants such as ties and spikes, and in a few places people have found couplers, rails and even boilers.

"If you're real lucky, you'll find a rail and a spike," said Ledford.

But mostly people will just hike or drive along old railroad beds like the parking lot at Black Balsam or Highway 276 by Looking Glass Falls. The routes are the same; it's just the mode of transportation and reason for travel that have changed.

 
 

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