Tennessee Railroad Charter

Sponsored by the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Southern Appalachia Railway Museum operated their spring 2008 mileage passenger train trip over the former Tennessee Railroad between Winona and Devonia with hirail trips between Winona and Oneida. Plans were originally to cover the entire line by rail but work on the Buffalo Creek bridge cut the line in two so despite the off and on rain, a hirail was used to cover part of the line.

For those not familiar with the line, the Tennessee Railroad got its start when Dr Gruno, a physician, was working with a construction gang heading south to the New River. Dr Gruno found large deposits of coal on the headwaters of Paint Rock Creek. He, along with several friends, constructed the Paint Rock Coal and Coke Company Railroad, a short branch coal railroad from Oneida to Morning Glory between 1889 and 1890.

According to early reports, the company cut the tunnel in Tunnel Hill, a 402 feet long, timber-lined tunnel that, in the middle, started down a 1.93% grade. The route became steeper down hill for the 2.6 miles, shallowing at 1.65%, only to increase to an 800 feet long section of 3.56% to Paint Rock (Stanley). The grade uphill required Shay locomotives, and even then the trains were limited to one or two cars per run.

In 1905, Samuael Spencer, then also the president of the Southern Railway, purchased the Paint Rock Coal and Coke Company railroad and reorganized it as the Tennessee Railway. In 1906 he extended the railroad to the sawmill town of Norma. After the death of Samuel Spencer in 1907, his son H. B. Spencer, took over as president of the railroad. By 1910, he had extended the railroad to Newlands, 5-1/2 miles south of Smoky Junction.

The railroad reached Smoky Junction at the branch of Smoky Creek by 1910, having built a branch line past Hembree between Big Mountain and Smoky Mountain. There it began coal hauling operations and continued both tasks until the mill at Norma stopped operation. By this time the railroad had entered Campbell County to a branch at Shea, and then on into Fork Mountain in Anderson County in 1925, a total of 45 miles from Oneida. Two other branches were constructed, the Dean branch, which was 3-1/2 miles long and Carbon Hill- Clinchmore, 4-1/2 miles long.

The Tennessee Railway Company was in the hands of receivers July 1, 1913 until June 30, 1918. In 1918, the railroad was reorganized as the Tennessee Railroad Company. It again entered receivership on July 1, 1959, still with a Spencer at the company president level.

Passenger service on the Tennessee Railroad was never fancy, using a wooden coach and combine, with a Brill motorcar in later days. In 1955 the Tennessee bought its first diesel, an Alco RS-1. The railroad purchased its last in 1963 and then scrapped all of its remaining steam locomotives.

The line was acquired by the Southern Railway Company on February 20, 1973. From 1973 to 1980, two runs a day pulled 125 cars out of the New River Valley. Coal was shipped from the loading facility near Smokey Junction to Oneida until 2004. Previous to this time coal was shipped from the Wash Plant to Oneida. Norfolk Southern abandoned the line between Oneida and Devonia. In 2005, National Coal purchased the line and with the help of the Northeast Tennessee Railroad Authority is set up as a shortline to transport coal from their mines.

National Coal Corporation (NCC) is a new coal company, founded in January 2003 by a number of individuals with coal mining, business, and engineering experience. In March 2003, NCC purchased coal mineral rights to the New River Tract (more than 65,000 acres between its Smoky Junction preparation plant and the Baldwin Facility) along the former Tennessee Railroad. In July 2003, mining operations broke ground at a surface mine near several former mines at Devonia, Tennessee.

During 2004, NCC acquired both active and non-active mining permits, miscellaneous mining equipment, a rail load-out facility and a coal wash plant from U.S. Coal, Inc. Later the same year, they acquired the surface ownership of 1,738 acres of land on the New River Tract.

In July 2005, National Coal acquired the entire Baldwin Facility at Devonia, along with a permitted mine. In March 2006, National Coal purchase 42 miles of railroad track between Oneida and Devonia from Norfolk Southern for about $2.0 million.

A few trains were operated initially but the market made operating the line impractical. However, several recent contracts have started coal trains moving over the line again.

In 2008, the New River Scenic Railway started passenger service on the line with trips covering different parts of the line between Newtown and Devonia. Thanks go to them for running the trip for us.

After boarding at the Buffalo Creek bridge just south of Winona, the first photo stop was at Norma. Here you see the short train of RS-3 and combine.

The long curve just south of Smokey Junction provided a number of photo opportunities This photo is from across the open pasture in the center of the curve.

Several houses are located near this curve adding a few props for the photographers.

The wooden water tower at Beech Fork was THE prop of the trip. Here RS-3 Southern 520 is parked next to the tower.

A heavy rain started while we were at Beech Fork, so the photo line moved to the covered porch of a nearby cabin for this classic photo.

Arriving at Devonia, the train was posed in the small yard here.

Since this is a mileage trip, we took the train to the very end of the line west of Devonia. Here the train sits in the woods at the end of the line.

.Near Rosedale, an open field provided another runby opportunity, especially with the addition of a bit of sunshine.

RS-3 Southern 520 smokes it up a bit at Rosedale.

We stopped again at the curve near Smokey Junction for more photos. Here is Southern 520 passing a local home with the nearby coal mine on the hillside in the background.

This photo really shows off the curve near Smokey Junction.

We had promised that the trip would cover the entire railroad. With passengers coming from around the country, we worked to keep our word and borrowed a hirail to cover the line north of Winona. Here we see the "open observation" hirail loaded with passengers, ready for another trip over the line.


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This page last revised: October 13, 2008

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