no avatar

Recalling when little "Tweetsie" tooted "goodbye" and sadly faded into yesteryear

Bob Cox • Updated Jul 17, 2017 at 11:56 AM

The road out of Johnson City and Erwin, both situated in Tennessee, climbed upward and upward. You climbed until you approached the 4,000-foot mark, and there, high in the pass, made a short-lived acquaintance with the North Carolina border.

Anyone from that area would readily tell you that this is genuine "hillbilly" country, the land of "Li'l Abner" Yokum, Daisy Mae, Mammy Yokum, Pappy Yokum, Sadie Hawkins, The Shmoo and Fearless Fosdick. Moonshine was the standard beverage of those quaint unassuming folks, and the dodging of "revenooers" became a national pastime.

After descending the long fields and level acres, visitors were astonished to see the straight up and down patches of land that hillbillies managed to till. One couldn't help but wonder how come the poor farmer didn't fall off his field, even if his reliable mule managed to remain steady.

Highway 81, which was repaved and relocated, was a shortcut through the hills, and you were apt to think that the folks have it tough enough right on the main highway. But if you once in a while get a quick look up some fleeting valley, you'll see a home half-buried in the hills. This was paradise at its finest.

One has to wonder what it must be like further back in the hills. But this is the "Land of the Long Rifles," a stronghold of Anglo-Saxons who came here a long time ago and would subsist no other way. Also, they just might not take too kindly to our intrusion, so it's time to shovel on.

The languid pleasures of Asheville, N.C., must have seemed pale after experiencing the fun up in the hills. You leave the mountain cabins with the view of washing machines proudly displayed on porches for all to observe their bragging rights.

The visitor soon came to a land of Cadillac automobiles and richly caparisoned females of smug men and a beautiful aura of big bankrolls surrounding scenic Asheville. Ahead we see the remarkable Biltmore Hotel with all of its fancy mountain resort trappings. This place is a jumping off spot for the drowsy, dreamy Smokies.

Far to the west, the blue sky peaks of the Smokies rose to meet the sky and then fall again and rise again. The profile of these haze-sheltered heights are gorgeous.

An encounter with the afternoon traffic and a brief gulp of scenery made the pedestrian want to get out of the hills and down into the plains. It took a lot of exasperating driving to do it, but finally North Carolina gave way to South Carolina. Finally, the crooked mountain roads gave way to flatlands; cotton replaced pines, and we sadly said goodbye to the imposing but beautiful mountains.

The big news in June 1950 was that the famed little Tweetsie train sadly said, "Toot, Toot, Tweetsie, Goodbye," as folks expressed a tearful farewell to the incredible little vehicle and sadly chugged south for the last time.

In that fateful day, people from far and wide came to take a final look and say a long tearful "farewell" to the wonderful little railroad from out of the annals of yesteryear.

It seemed that the people of Western North Carolina wanted to trade "Tweetsie," a chugging little narrow-gauge mountain train, for a modern highway leading to East Tennessee. Practicality was winning out over nostalgia. The postmaster at Elk Park, N.C., spoke up in favor of the highway over Tweetsie at an Interstate Commerce Commission meeting there.

East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Transportation Co. operators of the 32-mile long railroad from Johnson City to Cranberry, N.C., sought to abandon the narrow-gauge section between O'Brien and Cranberry. The 10-mile stretch between O'Brien and Johnson City was a standard-gauge line.

Tweetsie once transported vacationers and excursionists through the picturesque Tennessee and North Carolina mountains, but passenger service had been abandoned long ago. The company was losing money on its freight business and wanted the ICC to grant them permission to abandon Tweetsie and remove the tracks.

It was understood that Tennessee and North Carolina would jointly cooperate in building a quality highway over the present mountains if the line was abandoned, preferring the highway over the Tweetsie Railroad. It was the end of the line.


Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

Johnson City Press Videos