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Heritage, railroad museums open for season

During Saturday’s Clinchfield Pride Gathering at the Clinchfield Railroad Museum, Eddie Williams, who worked on the railroad for 36 years, was presented with one of the Clinchfield Hall of Fame awards. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

Close to 100 people turned out for the Clinchfield Pride Gathering on Saturday, June 2, to celebrate the season opening of the Clinchfield Railroad Museum and to support the preservation of the railroad’s history and its far-reaching impact.

“We had a great turnout today,” said Martha Erwin, curator of the museum.

The museum opening occurred on the same day as the graveside service for the famous railroader George Hatcher, who touched the lives of many people in his community.

“A lot of the railroaders attended George Hatcher’s graveside service and then they came by the museum after,” Erwin said. “We did lots of things for George when he was alive and we are so glad that we had George Hatcher day.”

One of the highlights of the day was the performance of Ray Poteat, a former railroader and member of the Clinchfield Hall of Fame, and his southern gospel band, the Royal Quartet.

Poteat worked on the railroad for 43 years as an agent operator that ran the depots.

“I just enjoyed it all; I enjoyed it the first day I went to work and the last day I went in,” Poteat said. “I worked in every station we had on the Clinchfield Railroad and I loved moving around from one place to another and experiencing the whole railroad.”

Poteat currently performs as the bass singer for the quartet, which started in 1958 and eventually disbanded in 1969.

“Forty years later, three of the original members, including me, got together and started again back in 2009,” Poteat said.

In addition to singing with the quartet, Poteat is also the president of the Carolina Clinchfield Chapter of the Railroad Historical Society and publisher of the railroad magazine known as the Jitterbug.

“The name of the Jitterbug comes from the nickname of a local freight on the Clinchfield Railroad and we named the magazine after it,” he said. “It’s all about the history of the Clinchfield Railroad. We have people from Australia, Canada and England that joined our historical society just to get the magazine.” 

Poteat expressed his appreciation for the work done at the museum to preserve the railroad’s history and said he enjoyed spending time with so many railroad enthusiasts.

“I got to see a lot of people I used to work with and speak with them,” he said. “It was a really good time for everybody.”

Following the performance of the Royal Quartet, the Clinchfield Hall of Fame awards were presented to both a deceased and living railroader. Pat A. Brown was awarded the deceased railroader hall of fame award and Eddie Williams was awarded the living railroader hall of fame award.

“I spent 36 years here in Erwin working for the railroad,” Williams said. “I started out as a brakeman conductor for two years and from there they asked me if I wanted to become an engineer.”

After going through training as an apprentice, eight months later Williams was working as an engineer. 

“I got into the flow of it and I had a motorcycle that I used to ride a lot, but I got to the point where I couldn’t ride so I just buckled down and really dove into my work and the years went by so quickly,” said Williams.

One of Williams’ most memorable jobs involved a washout at the Nolichucky Gorge where the train was utilized to carry over a dozen cement trucks.

“These concrete trucks would pour this concrete around these curves where all the rocks were so the water wouldn’t wash the track out,” he said. “That was amazing, just to see a train that these trucks could drive up into. That was one of the neatest jobs I ever worked.”

Williams said he also enjoyed the excitement of going on excursions where diesel locomotives were used to haul passengers.

“I feel like it’s good to look back and see these old pictures and items and the things we have acquired here, it’s nice to just enjoy it,” Williams said about the Clinchfield Railroad Museum. “I like to see old friends, and I got to see a couple of conductors I used to work with.”

In the coming months, Erwin said railroad lovers can expect more festivities, such as a bluegrass music event in July and a silent auction and antique roadshow in August.

“More details will be forthcoming,” Erwin said. “There will, of course, be music and food with all of the events.”