“We always have a great season,” said Martha Erwin, curator of the Clinchfield Railroad Museum. “Each year I think it surpasses the last and I hope this year will be even bigger.”
The museum seeks to preserve the rich history of the railroad and its impact on Erwin and Unicoi County. Those who stop by the museum can take a step back in time and see a model train room, a centralized traffic control room and a waiting room mirrored to look like an old-fashioned train station where people would wait on the arrival of trains. One of the largest collections of train car dining plates and an original Tweetsie Train passenger bench, along with a large meeting room with a great deal of Clinchfield memorabilia, are other highlights at the museum.
“It’s all original,” Erwin said. “We even have the original blueprints to the Clinchfield. We also have the original plate off of Clinchfield No.1 that was hammered out by blacksmiths.”
Erwin, whose ties to the railroad span three generations, said the theme for this season is “Clinchfield Reflections,” and is intended to welcome not only visitors who are current or former railroaders, but anyone who enjoys learning about history.
“I want people to come and not think it’s just for railroaders,” said Erwin. “It’s for anyone and it is to reflect on the legacy and history of the railroad.”
Each year, Erwin said a great deal of preparation goes into preparing the museum for its spectators. This year that preparation included the construction of a shed to house one of the museum’s newest editions – a train grill smoker that was modeled after a Clinchfield No. 1 locomotive steam engine.
“The railroaders are spreading the word and I’m getting calls from different places about railroad groups wanting to come,” Erwin said.
Along with local groups from this area, Erwin said, she has received several calls from groups in Johnson City and Kingsport, who are anxiously awaiting the museum’s opening for the season.
During Saturday’s event, the ceremony will begin with a welcoming from R.O. Smith, chairman of the museum board, and an invocation by Dr. Bob Gray with First Baptist Church. Following the welcoming and invocation, Ray Tipton, commander of the American Legion Unaka Post Number 25, will lead attendees in the Pledge to the Flag before the entertainment is introduced.
Ray Poteat, former railroader and member of the Clinchfield Hall of Fame, will be performing with the Royal Quartet, where he performs as the bass singer.
“He’s always been a good friend,” Erwin said about Poteat, who is performing with the Royal Quartet for free as a benefit to the museum. “He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the railroad.”
Following the performance of the Royal Quartet, the Clinchfield Hall of Fame awards will be presented on behalf of both a deceased and living railroader for the first time since 2008.
Food will also be provided at a cost of $5 and will include a grilled hot dog, chips and a soft drink.
“One of the reasons I am so proud, is the Clinchfield Railroad spanned five states – North and South Carolina, Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee,” Erwin said. “Out of all those estates, Erwin was chosen to be the headquarters. The Clinchfield was the lifeblood of Erwin and it also built the town.”
The Clinchfield Railroad Museum, along with the Unicoi County Heritage Museum, are located at 527 Federal Hatchery Road in Erwin. Once the museum opens for the season, it will stay open daily from 1- 5 p.m.