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Short Lines & Industrial Rail: Carter Railroad Museum sets February Heritage Day

From Staff Reports

The pivotal years of the American railroad industry will be recalled on Saturday, Feb. 26, at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum. As part of its monthly Heritage Day program, the multi-room facility located in the Campus Center Building of East Tennessee State University will showcase a variety of exhibits. The event is free to the public.

Called “Short Lines & Industrial Rail,” this event is focused on the variety of railroads that were, organizers said, off the beaten path. Such companies normally operated less than 200 miles of track. For this area, most beloved was the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Tweetsie line built to move ore from mines in Cranberry, North Carolina, to a steel mill in Johnson City.

 “Though work continues on all of our exhibits, the detailed effort on the Tweetsie model makes this day very special for us for a number of reasons,” said Geoff Stunkard, the coordinator of the museum’s Heritage Days program. “We have committed to be as accurate as possible on this project and are proud of the results we can show the public.”

The layout highlights operations circa 1925, when the local line was one of the few straightforward ways to pass through the mountains. 

Led by Fred Alsop, the museum’s director, recent efforts have included rendering the town of Elk Park, North Carolina, and detailed recreations of features in the region of Valley Forge and Hampton, all of which can be seen by visitors to the museum.

 In addition, the Marsh Hall also contains a true-to-scale model of the original Johnson City steel mill. In the Alsop Hall, a layout focuses on timber operations with interactive buttons for children to operate. Nearby, the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders club will have various short line equipment and engines running on their 24×44-foot display.

The works-in-progress are also going to be part of the museum’s upcoming Big Train Show, a nationally promoted event in the Ballad Health Athletic Center, formerly called the Mini-Dome, June 3-4.

 “We have not been able to host the Big Train Show for the past two years,” said Stunkard. “This show brings in people and model displays from all over, and we will fill that 64,000-foot field with railroad models and history. We are really excited to finally say, ‘All Aboard!’ for it again in 2022.” 

 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.

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 onto Jack Vest Drive and continue east toward 176 Ross Drive, adjacent to the flashing railroad crossing sign.

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