The Railroad

Far Left: Lawrence Hallum(?)
Far Right: Joe Shelton
Sitting Right: John Wesley Gilland
Photo found in a trunk of Abb and Martha Jane Gentry and provided by Teresa Dunbar Johnson

The Heilman Lumber Company needed a way to transport the huge logs and lumber from the foot of the mountains into Greeneville, so, around 1910, surveying was begun on the project by the Tennessee Eastern Electric Company. Soon after a railroad was begun through the mountain foot hill Communities all the way to Greeneville.

The railroad took a long 18 months to build. The farm land where the road bed was planned, was graded flat in the mud, mire and rocks with a horse and a scoop. This scoop, which looked like a wheelborrow with the front cut out of it is referred to as a "Fresno". A man walks behind it holding on to the handles and raises them to dig or dump and lowers them to skid along so the front doesn't dig in. The scoop held two wheel barrow loads of dirt. In places were standing water could cause a problem, the earth was mounded up several inches the width of the rail bed using dirt and rocks. The huge rocks in the way of the projected tracks were dynamited out of the roadbed. The tracks averaged about a six degree incline from the terminal to the foot to Greystone Mountain.

The crossties were mostly made of Spruce and Hemlock trees. Locals often sold Hemlock trees to the railroad. There was no ready market for that particular species, at the time. The company had specifications on the particular length of the crossties so that each crosstie could be cut the exact length. Anyone owning timber could sell crossties to the railroad, a common practice for the temporary rail lines throughout the logging region. Many crossties were cut on sight. It was believed that Spruce and Hemlock logs would not rot in and under water as quickly as other wood. Some crossties were squared, but most were round and chopped slightly on two opposite sides to lie flat on the rock bed and have a flat spot on the up side to attach the rails. Some crossties were spaced a foot apart, others were two feet or wider apart. Some were made of small logs about the size of a man's lower leg, others were made of large logs as large as a car tire. The crude but very effective tracks were then placed on a bed of field stones about the size of a man's fist and crushed sand stone rather than crushed gravel.

Workmen building the Peavine Railroad posed for this photograph, later published on a postcard, probably in the 1920's. Will Crum is second from left in the front row (said to be Bob Smith's grandfather), and Elijah Bowman is second from left in the back row. This photo was said to have been taken near Shiloh Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

The Peavine forded many streams, creeks and, of course, the Nolichucky River before reaching its destination. The water crossings were constructed of open deck wooden trestles, made mostly from spruce logs. The Nolichucky River crossing trestle was much higher and longer than any of the other crossings. The piles forming the sides were built in triangular shapes to withstand the tremendous weight of the train. There was x-bracing between the piles for stability, and caps on top to hold the rails. For the Nolichucky trestle, two sets of piles spaced 24 inches apart formed a chord, and the chords were spaced 20 feet apart across the span of the river. The base of the trestle was much wider than the rail bed since the 8 by 8 timbers were tilted towards the center by an 80 degree angle. The lower part of the chord had wooden planks nailed about three fourths of the way up the structure on all four sides. This was used to hold rocks which added to the stability of the trestle. The upper part of the chords had criss-crossed lengths of 4 by 8's and were left open. The chords were connected by strong wooden joists upon which the cross ties were mounted. Rails were spiked to the crossties. The picture of the Peavine trestle below was donated to the site by Sarah Jones Adams.

This picture depicts a wreck or train derailment across the Nolichucky, believed to be near the end of the Peavine operation. The Alexander farm can be see in the far distance.

The Railroad started where Metals Engineering Company stands today, followed Holly Creek South, through the Greeneville Commons Shopping Center through the new Laughlin Hospital and behind the town of Tusculum go across the fertile valleys to the Nolichucky River at the end of present day Buckingham road, cross the river near where the old ferry boat ferried vehicles across the swift water and then headed straight for the mountains. There it forked out and ascended into the hollows. Another ten to twenty miles of railroad spurs climbed up the mountains with a drastic increase in grade.

The Peavine Railroad used two steam, Shay engines. There numbers were 2443 for the number 1 complete with red caboose or crew car, which usually ran the line into Greeneville. The caboose and or crew car had a pot bellied, wood burning stove in the center of it for warming the men on board in the winter months, as they rode to town to help with dropping off loaded cars, at the terminal.

Engine 2443 could pull three loaded cars, but if five or six cars were used, the engine would puff away in the middle of the train until it reached a steeper grade. At this point, the cars behind the engine were unhooked and the engine pushed the first cars to the junction at the base of the mountains and returned to pull the remaining cars up the grade. If both engines were available the number 1 engine led and the number 2 engine pushed.

The Greeneville and Nolichuckey Railroad No. 2, a B-type Shay, assembled for a trip to Greeneville

Engine number 2443 better known as number 1, came off the assembly line on May 1, 1911.

Ole number two 'Shay' (2543) better known as the "Logging train".

The 2543 engine had 2 trucks, 3 cylinders and with a water capacity of 1,560 gallons had reached the end of the assembly line on July 1, 1912. Number two operated in the woods.

Photo used by permission of Jimmy B. Lassen (Loggers, Railroads, and Pine).
The Shay engine was unique because it had the pistons, in most cases three, some had two, on the right side of the train. The pistons drove a crank shaft connected to the wheels by bevel gears. The wheels also had attached bevel gears. The shaft connected between the trucks (4 wheels connected) which were connected with a universal joint which caused all the wheels to pull at once. Even the coal car wheels pulled.

Ephraim Shay, the inventor and a logger himself, is credited with the invention of the first geared locomotive. He used reducing gears instead of side rods. The engine had unheard of freedom of movement on the rough, hilly and sharply curved tracks and a more smoothly applied high tractive effort with minimum locomotive weight. Tracks no longer had to be fairly well graded and laid down not too steep or the curves too sharp. The two truck Shay engine had a boiler pressure of around 180 pounds and 3-10 inch by 12 inch cylinders, it weighed around 68,800 pounds. The water capacity was 1560 gallons with a fuel capacity of 2 tons.

The locomotive (tin horse as they were sometimes called) tracks were kept in good order by the track crews. The lumber companies often had entire crews that worked solely with the railroad, either conducting, loading, unloading or maintaining the engine and tracks. For repairing broken tracks, they used in some cases a "Dutchman" which was a short piece of rail shorter than and ordinary rail joiner. The crew used a hacksaw so as to be able to cut right through a rail. It was double handled so two men could operate it simultaneously and the short piece of rail was being cut to length (even shorter). Long metal railroad nails or spikes sometimes made by the black smith, were used to nail the new section back into place in the log ties. The long square cornered nails had a lip that when hammered down into the cross ties very close to the railing, overlapped the rail to hold tight.

The trains wheel bearings also had to be oiled every, several miles to keep them in good running order so they would not wear out so quickly and to replace any oil that may have leaked out. The wheel bearings, in those days, were not sealed in oil lubricant. The oil was also a rust preventive. The engineer lifted the bearings hole on each wheel well and used a huge oil can to squirt thick oil into the bearings. As oil gets hot, it thins. This method was repeated periodically on all the old engines. When every wheel had been oiled thoroughly, the train was ready for departure.

The official name of the railroad was the Greeneville and Nolichucky, but the local residents called it the Peavine Railroad because of the vines that grew along its tracks. Peavine is a type of Morning Glory that twists and turns every which way. Town visitors in motor cars, saw the vine and called it Peavine. The train also twisted and turned traveling the flat spaces and avoiding many streams. So the fitting name stuck to the railroad and forever is remembered as the Peavine Railroad.

The Peavine railroad spurred off near the camp and went to the levelness of where Davis Creek and Dry creek merged into one. From the creek merge there was a spur that went up into the mountains to the spruce thicket. It is believed that a rail branch went over the hill, connecting the railroad to Jennings creek area. Apparently the Jennings Creek rail tracks were used to transport logs out of the woods to the saw mill at Bullen Hollow. The mountain steam engine pulling the timber circled back by a turn-around loop track at the end of the line back down to a switching station where the other engine, the town locomotive took over the load, pulling the weighted flat cars the 12 miles trip to Greeneville to the terminal where it met the tracks of the Southern Railroad. The speed of the cars traveled no faster then eight miles per hour. The trip usually took two hours. A Shay locomotive had a top service speed of about 8 miles per hour and could work a grade of 7 or 8 percent at 4 to 6 miles, depending upon load.

Sometimes going up the mountain with a good load already, the mountain engine pulled and the town engine at the back of the load pushed, to help relieve the mountain Shay.

The Shay engine was said to be able to pull itself back onto the tracks after a minor derailment, earning it the nickname "Sidewinder". For bigger derailments it could not.

Once the train was stopped at the foot of Margarite Falls while the rail crew made repairs to the tracks. The boiler was fired and there was a head of steam. Frost formed on the tracks and the train, pulling a couple of flat cars, started to slide. The mechanical brakes did not hold once the train slid forward and hit clear track and started to move out of control. One Italian guy, who was on the job for his first day, was aboard. Two other Italian men from the rail crew jumped aboard to assist, but they could do nothing to stop it. The brakeman, Mel Jennings, was not on the train, either. The last two men aboard could only jump to safety from the speeding locomotive as the massive engine rolled down Peavine Way heading towards Greeneville. The train crossed over the Greystone Road crossing and continued on moving over the Camp Creek trestle speeding unmanned toward Crum's Mill. The locomotive followed the tracks and went up behind the mill to travel the elevated tracks parallel to Camp Creek, escaping the bog down below, clinging to the knob. The third man left on board could only huddle in a corner hoping for the best. The runaway sped down the incline beyond the mill to the base of Bert Waddel's knob, beyond the water bog.

The beautiful hardwood tree species, ascending up the hills behind the tracks, made a beautiful, serene backdrop as the train sped by. The runaway train then crossed the dirt road named Sentelle's Road. Luckily no wagons, buggies, or other vehicles were crossing the tracks because there was no one able to blow the trains steam whistle in warning. The train raced through Bert's bottom at speeds of upwards of 8 miles per hour and over the second Camp Creek trestle. Down behind J.R. Sentelle's log renter house, where Jim Bug lived, the train lost momentum as it climbed the incline from the creek's third crossing. As the train reached the top of the hill, it crept along, running low on steam, but managed to regain power as the weight of the engine pulled the train forwards. It again sped down the hill running again, parallel to the creek, over the fourth trestle behind Zion Teacher's Mission Home and started up the hill to the road. After clearing the trestle, power was decreasing now as the train was very low on steam. It started up the incline to the Stage Coach Road crossing, but the incline was not it its favor. The train, without steam to back it up, could only stop puffing and submit to its captures. Slowly it began rolling backwards back to the creek trestle where it rocked back and forth a few moments in the valley before finally coming to a complete stop. Luckily no damage was done to the train. When the others got to the train, the scared, but thankful, new man was sitting on a log beside the train. After the brakes were checked, the captured train was good to go.

The Peavine was also a community oriented, social train. The flat cars were sometimes used to transport people traveling on the railroad to picnics and Sunday School excursions and school children to school. Anyone moving items along the tracks could depend on the Peavine for help. It was truly an asset to the community.

The whole community could hear the huffing and puffing of the train steam engine, the sounds bouncing off the knobs and hills. The whistle toot-tooted and spewed steam and the clanging sound of the large bell speeded up the hearts of all boys, big and little.