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Clinchfield 1111 set for final trip to Unicoi

Sue Guinn Legg • Feb 27, 2020 at 9:39 PM

Clinchfield Car No. 1111, the last caboose commissioned on the historic rail line, is scheduled to leave Erwin Friday morning for its new home at the Unicoi Tourist Information and Visitors Center.

A site at the visitors center within view of Interstate 26 has been prepped for the placement of the caboose in a several-hour process that will take place through the late morning and early afternoon.

The transport will begin with at 8 a.m. with a safety meeting at the rail yard. The project is expected to take up to eight hours to complete.

The Lift

The first and perhaps most critical step in the transport will be the use of a crane to lift the 39-year-old caboose off of its “trucks” — the railroad term for wheels — and place it on the flatbed trailer of a semi-truck that will carry it to Unicoi.

The trucks will be lifted onto trailer of a second semi-truck that will follow the caboose in a procession as the crane travels separately to Unicoi.

Town Communications and Programs Director Ashley Shelton has advised local media parts of caboose may also have to be removed for the transport and could result in delays in the anticipated timeline.

“Disassembling vintage equipment can present challenges, such as rusty bolts, stuck pins and other technical problems that cannot be foreseen” and may impact the timing of the project, Shelton said in a press release.

The Transport

The flatbeds will travel via police escort through downtown Erwin and along Interstate 26 from Exit 37 to Exit 32.

Erwin police officers will block downtown intersections as the semi drivers negotiate through turns from rail yard onto Nolichucky Avenue, Tucker Street, North Main Avenue, Second Street and and the interstate on-ramp.

Unicoi Police Chief Andy Slagle will pick up the police escort at the interstate and lead the semis along I-26 to Unicoi Road and onto Unicoi Village Place at the visitors center.

For safety reasons, Unicoi Village Place will be closed upon the caboose’s arrival and remain closed until the installation is complete.

The Installation

Using the crane to set the caboose on its rails is expected to begin before noon and require a minimum of two to three hours to complete.

Rocky Hollifield, curator of the Craggy Mountain Line museum in Woodson, North Carolina, will be in charge of the project.

Shelton said donations to the project have reduced the estimated $9,150 cost of the transport and installation to approximately $4,750. The contributors include Hollifield, who discounted his work by 50 percent, Lynch Transport, which donated 100 percent of the cost of its equipment and labor, Lowes of Elizabethton, which donated railroad ties for the project and other businesses and individuals.

Martha Erwin, curator of the Clinchfiled Railroad and Unicoi County Heritage museums in Erwin, secured the donation of the caboose from CSX late last year and gifted it to the town in January.

Shelton expressed appreciation to all of the contributors and said the project would not be possible without them. 

The town plans to restore the caboose for use as a museum highlighting the community’s railroading history. Its displays will include an honors roster of Unicoi residents who worked for the railroad and information about other restored railroad cars around the region.

More information about the project is available online at uniocoitn.net/caboose or may be obtained by calling 423-735-0517. Registration for the honors roster for Unicoi residents employed by the railroad may also be completed at the website, by phone or by email to Patricia Bennett at [email protected]

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