Skip to content Skip to left sidebar Skip to right sidebar Skip to footer

Carter Railroad Museum to host ‘Lil’ Ones’ Feb. 27, readies Heritage program restart with short lines and industrial rails in spotlight

Photo by Logan Heaton / Used in logging and tight industrial confines, the Shay-type steam was a unique part of industrial railroading. Examples of this style should be operating on the museum’s G scale and other layouts.

From Staff Reports

The George L. Carter Railroad Museum, located in the Campus Center Building of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, will restart its popular monthly Heritage program with short lines and industrial rails themed “Lil’ Ones” on Saturday, Feb. 27.

With COVID-19 safety protocols in place, visitors will be welcomed in to view equipment used on industrial-based rail operations as well as short connecting lines of both yesterday and today. This includes the museum’s nationally-recognized “Tweetsie” (East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad) narrow gauge representation, one of four operating model train layouts in the facility.

While many of the monthly Heritage Day events focus on larger operations and equipment, this event showcases the smaller companies that once coupled the national rail system together. Some of these operations ran “mixed trains,” referring to a smaller scheduled train that combined freight and passenger service into a single train, usually on a once-daily or regular schedule.

The advent of expanding highway projects and other travel options dealt an end to many of these operations, still fondly recalled today in model form; though a number of independent lines remain in service today. Some served specific industries such as mills or mines. The ET&WNC, or “Tweetsie” line, even used a smaller track-width to save on expenditures for equipment and facilities.

“Today, some short line railroading is still present, but in many communities, these little lines were a source of civic pride and even birthed the interest in railroading in younger enthusiasts,” said Geoff Stunkard, the coordinator of the museum’s monthly Heritage Days program. “Even now in East Tennessee, we celebrate it with the Tweetsie narrow gauge train, following the way it once ran towards, and through, the mountains. A little section of that operation is still running as a standard gauge line right here in Johnson City. It is still ‘our train.’”

Photo from the Geoff Stunkard collection / Seen here at the shops near Legion Street in 1959, the ET&WNC standard gauge operation was one of the final in America to convert to diesel locomotives, doing so in 1967. Serving the Bemberg and US Rayon plants in Elizabethton, this final segment of the Tweetsie operation was Johnson City’s “own railroad.”

In addition to these types of trains being in operation on the museum’s large 24×44 HO scale layout, there will steam logging trains running on the museum’s interactive railroad in G scale, and on the ET&WNC narrow gauge line in HOn3 scale as well. The latter is considered one of the most exacting replications of this railroad ever attempted, featured annually in national publications.

The Mountain Empire Model Railroaders club and the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society serve as hosts during the museum’s operating hours, and members will be operating their personal equipment as part of this event.

The Carter Railroad Museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and includes model railroad layouts, a special child’s activity room and ongoing programs. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome for its upkeep.


The museum can be identified by a flashing railroad crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road (at the traffic light) onto Jack Vest Drive and continue south to David Collins Way (then left) to John Roberts Bell Drive at end, then right and then next left on Ross Drive (176) to end, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign.

For more information about the museum or its Heritage Day events, contact Fred Alsop at 423-439-6838 or [email protected] For disability accommodations, please call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

Because of COVID-19 all visitors must wear a mask to be admitted and will be temperature checked at the museum entrance.

Photo by Logan Heaton / The world’s smallest tennis match? Perhaps, and a highlight of the Carter Railroad Museum’s incredible ET&WNC short line replica.