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Doe River Gorge acquires narrow-gauge passenger cars

John Thompson • May 19, 2018 at 12:01 AM

HAMPTON — In this day of jet airplanes and interstate highways, it isn’t easy to buy a railroad passenger car.

Especially a narrow-gauge passenger railroad car.

That’s one reason Friday was an especially significant day for Doe River Gorge Ministries. Not one, but two narrow-gauge passenger coaches were delivered to the Christian camp on Friday.

“We have been looking for narrow-gauge passenger cars for 10 years” said a happy Terry Maughon, president of Doe River Gorge.

The passenger cars will once again allow summer campers, DayQuest participants and guests to ride the train back into Doe River Gorge on the historic rail line built through the gorge by the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad.

That line was built through the extremely narrow gorge in 1882, connecting Johnson City to a Cranberry, North Carolina, iron mine. The narrow ledge, high above the Doe River, with steep walls of rock rising next to the railcars, created a beautiful excursion for passengers.

Those trips have not been possible in recent years because the old cars the Christian camp had used were worn out. The camp wanted to replace them and get the trips through the gorge going again, but Maughon said it required a long and frustrating search.

He finally found a successful three-foot wide narrow-gauge railroad at a similar Christian camp at Dry Gulch USA in Adair, Oklahoma, in 2013. That camp was founded by Willie George, the founder of the Church on the Move, the largest church in Tulsa, with more than 10,000 members.

“Their railroad, their trains, their costumes, everything about it is just Disney World quality,” Maughon said. But the camp and the trains were so popular that it didn’t seem likely that the camp would part with any of its rolling stock.

But Vaughn said the situation changed in 2016, when George announced he was stepping down as the lead minister of the church and passing that role to his son, Whit George.

While Dry Gulch USA had been a part of his Willie George’s vision, it was not part of his son’s vision, and he decided to sell it to a similar organization with a commitment to children and youth.

Maughon was able to buy two of the passenger cars from Dry Gulch. They are 40-foot long, open-sided, roofed cars. They replace the 30-foot long passenger cars that Maughon said must have been built in the 1880s.

The cars will allow excursions of campers, DayQuestors and guests to ride back into the gorge, going through tunnels and riding the ledge for about 1.5 miles to Pardee Point. He said the trips are prevented from going farther for now because of the deteriorating condition of two trestles across the river.

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