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Back to the Clinchfield: New book keeps engine's legend on track

August 18th, 2014 2:26 pm by Max Hrenda

Back to the Clinchfield: New book keeps engine's legend on track

After a pictorial book about one of the region’s most storied locomotives laid the track, two authors are hoping their latest paperback will help the engine’s legend pick up steam.

When “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine” releases on Tuesday, authors Mark Stevens and Alf Peoples hope to shed light on some of the history, people and stories around the celebrated locomotive.

The book is a follow-up to Stevens’ and Peoples’ pictorial book, “The One & Only: A Pictorial History of the Clinchfield No. 1,” which was published in November and contained around 500 photos. Stevens said that while he and Peoples were collecting photos for “The One and Only,” the two began to realize there were more stories to be told than a pictorial book would allow.

“There were so many other things to talk about,” Stevens said. “There were stories about these people who were in the photographs. That’s sort of what set us both off on wanting to do something else.”

Stevens and Peoples may not have been the only ones who wanted to explore the history of the No. 1. According to Peoples, he and Stevens received a strong response from readers of “The One & Only.”

“We were surprised by how enthusiastic readers were,” Peoples said in an interview with the book’s publisher, The History Press. “It was (a) nice, limited-edition book with about 500 photos, but we quickly discovered readers wanted more.”

To tell those readers more, Peoples and Stevens pored through the archives of private collectors and East Tennessee State University’s Archives of Appalachia. Additionally, they interviewed some of the No. 1’s more famous passengers, like U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who rode the line while campaigning with recently deceased Sen. Howard Baker Jr. in 1972.

“It’s more of a definitive history,” Stevens said. “But what I hope people get from the book is that it’s not just a book about a piece of machinery. It’s a book about people and the engine itself, (which) has this great history about it.”

The engine’s story begins with its construction in 1882 in Logansport, Indiana, and continues through its retirement in 1979. Along the way, however, Stevens and Peoples make a few stops at some of the more pivotal moments in the engine’s history.

One of the first moments occurred on May 31, 1889, when the No. 1 — which was known as No. 423 of the Columbia, Chicago & Indiana Railway — was the first to respond to a flood in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. The flood claimed 2,209 lives after a dam failed and unleashed 20 million gallons of river water on the Pennsylvania town. Until 9/11, the flood was the largest loss of civilian life in U.S. history. At the time of the flood, the No. 1 was being used to construct a railway in Pittsburgh, and after making an approximate six-hour trek, hauled in the relief train that brought provisions to the survivors.

From there, the book moves into the first half of the 20th Century, during which time, after numerous changes of ownership, the No. 1 was being used to build the Clinchfield Railway and was maintained in Erwin. Though the engine was remodeled and refitted under the pretense that it would be put on display in Erwin, after a series of conflicting decisions and events, it was eventually relegated to the Erwin railyard.

The engine remained inert and forgotten until 1968, when on his second day on the job, Clinchfield general manager Thomas Moore found the engine and decided to put it to use. The bulk of “The Clinchfield No. 1” deals with the engine’s resurrection and subsequent rise to fame as the country’s oldest-working locomotive, after Moore had it reconditioned to make excursions between Kentucky and South Carolina.

“It turned into a huge part of the Clinchfield Railroad’s business almost immediately,” Peoples said.

For Stevens, the happenstance behind the resurrection of the No. 1 was part of the appeal in writing the book.

“It took a lot of things to happen that really weren’t supposed to happen,” Stevens said.

Much like their subject matter, the authors’ relationship may have also been the result of happenstance. Peoples — a former locomotive engineer who worked as a car marshal on the No. 1 in 1969 — originally approached Stevens, who at the time was working as the publisher of The Erwin Record, about the possibility of doing a story on the No. 1.

“I went by the Erwin Record ... and he wasn’t there,” Peoples said. “I just tore off a piece of old newspaper and wrote him a little note. With it being a scratch-paper note in a busy newspaper, I remember I was thinking to myself, ‘I’ll never hear anything from that.’ It wasn’t anytime that Mark called.”

A railroad enthusiast himself, Stevens contacted Peoples and their conversation eventually turned to creating a book about the No. 1. Although Stevens thought he was familiar with the locomotive’s history, he said that as he and Peoples continued their research, he realized there was more to the story than he had originally thought.

“I knew I had a lot of basic knowledge of the steam engine and the people who worked on the steam engine,” Stevens said. “When I started researching it, I figured out there were so many stories that I didn’t even know.

“That really transformed the book into something that I think is really special.”

The book will be available at major bookstores and online at HistoryPress.net and Amazon.com. Additionally, Stevens and Peoples will make appearances at booksigning events throughout the Tri-Cities this weekend. On Friday, the pair will make four separate appearances: the first will take place at the Elizabethton Star, 300 S. Sycamore St. in Elizabethton, from 10-11 a.m.; the second will be at the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, 400 Clinchfield St., from 12:30-2:30 p.m.; the third will occur from 3:30-4:30 p.m. at Tupelo Honey Cafe, 300 Buffalo St.; and the final Friday appearance will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Clinchfield Railroad Museum, 529 Federal Hatchery Road in Erwin. The two will appear for an additional booksigning Saturday from noon-2 p.m. at the Watauga Valley Railroad Historical Society & Museum, 210 Spring St. in Jonesborough.

Anyone who can’t attend the signings but would still like a copy with Stevens’ signature can send $19.95 plus $5 for postage to Mark A. Stevens, 390 Lumbee Circle, Pawleys Island, SC 29585.

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