Johnson City

Recreating Tweetsie Railroad in models

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. - If you hear Tweetsie Railroad, you might think of the popular tourist attraction just outside of Boone, North Carolina; but Tweetsie was an actual railroad line.

It no longer exists, but a group of model railroaders are bringing the old rail line back to life in a smaller form.

Using old photographs, stories and what's left of the old Tweetsie Railroad line, volunteers with the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders are recreating the old line at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum.

"It's been one of those famous narrow-gauge railroads that you never got to see, except it still exists in Blowing Rock. One of the original locomotives and some of the original cars," museum director Fred Alsop says.

It was narrow-gauge because the trains had to make their way through the mountains to reach a rich deposit of magnetic iron ore just over in North Carolina. "In the early to mid 1800s, before the Civil War, iron ore was exceedingly important. Finding rich beds of it, particularly if it was magnetized, became one of those things that prospectors and others searched for and they found this terrifically rich vein in Cranberry, North Carolina," Alsop said.

The iron-mining part of the project, complete with the town, is starting to take shape, but recreating the entire 35-mile stretch of the old railroad is just that -- a stretch. "The 35 miles between Johnson City and Cranberry, we're compressing into eight miles and we've got a big room here. We have 1,300 square feet and there's several hundred feet of scaled track, but we can't put in everything. We can't recreate the [entire] railroad," he said.

They are making sure that all of the major landmarks will be represented, including tunnels and bridges, depots and rail yards.

Building a railroad, even in miniature, costs money. "We have in this layout at least nine sections that are 20 feet long. That's a lot of real estate. Each one will depict some important landmarks along the original Tweetsie and we're inviting people to sponsor part of the railroad," Alsop said.

The Johnson City museum is open each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. You can come witness for yourself history being recreated.

Most Popular