Affiliated Networks


Badge

Loading…

Latest Activity

Tipper posted a blog post

When You Get in the Habit of Saying the Same Thing

Have you ever been around someone who used the same word or words in every sentence? Years ago, I was introduced to a man who at the end of every sentence said and what not. I remember being obsessed with listening to him. I wanted to see if just once he wouldn't say and what not. It never happened. He said the phrase at the end of every sentence just like clock work.A few other habitual sayings I've…See More
Thursday
Bil Stahl updated their profile
Feb 17
Ann Miller Woodford posted an event
Thumbnail

Ann Miller Woodford at Gospel Singing program: Liberty Baptist Church, Sylva, NC & Exhibit; WCU Mountain Heritage Center

February 19, 2017 from 3pm to 5pm
WCU's Mountain Heritage Center and curator, Ann Miller Woodford, will present an exhibit on African-American far western NC community, music, and history, based on Ann’s book, When All God's Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of African American People in Far Western North Carolina.The exhibit is based upon Woodford’s book of the same name, which examines musical traditions of the African-Americans as practiced at home, work, churches and schools.The exhibit examines…See More
Feb 16
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Feb 15
Rob Neufeld posted blog posts
Feb 15
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy Rytson

Tyson’s Emmett Till book probes darknessby Rob NeufeldEVENT: Timothy Tyson discusses his book, “The Blood of Emmett Till,” at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, 55 Haywood St., Asheville, 6 p.m., Wed., Feb. 15.  828-254-6734.             The headline about the publication of Timothy Tyson’s new book, “The Blood of Emmett…See More
Feb 13
Tipper posted a video

Kudzu Kickers - Waltz Clog

In case you didn't know-we dance too! Our clogging team is called the Kudzu Kickers. In this video we were practicing for an upcoming festival. The Pressley ...
Feb 11
Tipper posted a blog post

Memories and Food

Each of us have memories that are connected to food. Typically those remembrances are directly related to our childhood, you know the things we ate around the family table like the chocolate gravy I told you about earlier this week.A few years ago I…See More
Feb 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Feb 8
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Jewish Studies special events March 23-26

Center for Jewish Studies 35th Anniversary Events from press releaseUNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies (CJS) will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a series of special events on and off campus March 23-26. Rick Chess talk and readingUNC Asheville Professor of English Richard Chess has been director of the CJS for the past 25 years and will deliver the 2017 Phyllis Freed Sollod Memorial Lecture on the celebration’s opening night. A poet and essayist, Chess will offer a vision of Jewish…See More
Feb 7
Julia Nunnally Duncan updated their profile
Feb 7
David E. Whisnant updated their profile
Feb 6
Rob Neufeld posted blog posts
Feb 4
City Lights Bookstore posted an event
Thumbnail

David Joy Presents His Second Novel at Jackson County Public Library

March 3, 2017 from 6:30pm to 8pm
The Jackson County Public Library and City Lights Bookstore are co-hosting an event with David Joy on Friday, March 3rd at 6:30 p.m. He will present his second novel, The Weight of This World, in the Community Room of the Jackson County Public Library. Set in the Little Canada community of Jackson County, The Weight of This World is a story of three people haunted by their past. A combat veteran returned from war, Thad Broom can’t leave the hardened world of Afghanistan behind, nor can he…See More
Feb 4
Tipper posted a blog post

Hiccup Cures

Do you ever get the hiccups? Every once in a while I do. If I have them once during a day-I always have them again before the day is over. My record is 5 different times in one day.We've all heard drinking water or holding your breath is the remedy to stop hiccups. According to John Parris saying this tongue twister will cure them:Hickup, snicup, rise up, right up! Three drops in the cup are good for…See More
Feb 4
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

The German experience settling WNC

The German migration to Western North Carolinaby Rob Neufeld PICTURE CAPTION: An immigrant family comes down the Philadelphia Wagon Road in the mid-18th century, as had the George Schuck family done, and as this Scots-Irish family is doing in an 1872 “Harper’s Weekly” illustration, titled, “The…See More
Feb 3

Railroad history in Western North Carolina: a close-up and bottom-line look

Railroads in WNC: the perils, the people, and the profit

by Rob Neufeld

Written in conjunction with exhibit, "How The West Was Won," in Rural Heritage Museum, Mars Hill University

 

PHOTO CAPTION: The entrance to the railroad show at the Rural Heritage Museum is commanded by a mock-up of Climax engine No. 3, used in logging operations between Canton and Sunburst in the 1910s and 20s, and now ensconced at the Cradle of Forestry.

           

There are easier ways to make money than building railroads.  It’s true in the game of Monopoly; and it’s true in the world of mountains and machines, including the political kind.

            You get a sense of the riskiness of the business while viewing a video at the Rural Heritage Museum’s “How the West Was Won” exhibit at Mars Hill University

            “We’re standing at the top of Saluda grade, the steepest main line grade in the United States,” Ray Rapp, the producer of the exhibit, announces in one segment.

            He’s telling about how safety had fallen to the wayside when the Asheville & Spartanburg Railroad had dropped its financial bottom line to a desperate level on the interstate route.

            Back at the entrance to the exhibit, Rapp, as tour guide, had pointed to a Climax locomotive—or rather, a mock-up of one created by museum director Les Reker to face the door on simulated tracks—and said, “See, it’s number 3.  I like to use that to point out that there are three ways to get into the mountains by rail.”

            One way is “to go straight up and over, as they did in Saluda...Another way is to build loops,” as on the road to Murphy and on the Clinchfield route through Altapass; and a third is “to follow the river, as along the French Broad and Nantahala.”

 

Full steam ahead

 

            “In railroading,” Rapp says, “engineers do not want more than a 2% grade.”  That was also what Asheville & Spartanburg’s engineers had felt in 1878 when they’d reached Tryon and surveyed the way ahead.

            But a 2% solution there would have to involve not only loops but also tunnels, and the builders had neither the greenbacks nor the green light for that.  Up and over it would be—and on July 4, 1878, flags waved as a train chugged to the top of Saluda Mountain.

            Not long afterward, Cary Poole notes in “A History of Railroading in Western North Carolina,” “the first fatalities occurred.  In 1880, 14 men died on Saluda,” as a train lost its breaks and sped to a crash, “and other deaths quickly followed.  In 1886 nine more died; in 1890 three died; and in 1893 another three lost their lives.”

            It wasn’t until 1903 that someone came up with a way to abate the carnage.

 

Joining the birds         

 

            “The idea of truck runaway ramps was pioneered on Saluda Mountain,” Rapp relates. 

            “There was an engineer who took a train down the Saluda grade in July of 1903.  His name was William Pitt Ballew, from West Asheville.  He lost a train going down that 5% grade.  You lose a train, you’re not going to stop it.  You jump.  And he jumped.”

            They called that “joining the birds.” 

            Ballew was in the hospital in Asheville for about four months after the accident. 

            “But at the end of July,” Rapp says, Ballew “woke up in the middle of the night and he was shouting, ‘I got it!  I got it!”  And the nurses came running in.  They thought he was in a fevered state and there was something wrong with him. 

            “What he had was the idea for safety tracks on the mountain.”  Ballew then called the superintendent in the Asheville yard, who advised him he needed to heal, and could then come back to work.

            “August, they had a second wreck on Saluda,” Rapp continues.  “September, they had a third.  And the superintendent called Pitt Ballew and said, ‘What was that idea you had about those safety tracks?’  By December 1903, two safety tracks were installed on Saluda Mountain.  This is in Melrose.  You can see the 10% grade. 

            “Now, you can never stop a runaway train.  But the whole idea was to minimize the damage in destruction.”

 

Railroad history

 

            The Asheville & Spartanburg Railroad became part of the Southern Railway in 1894, which functioned as a huge engine in our economy until 1982, when it merged with Norfolk & Western to become Norfolk Southern.  The other big rail transportation provider in the region today is CSX, into which the Clinchfield Railroad had merged in 1983 when CSX had been called Seaboard System Railroad.

            Today, we see railroads and yards closing down, such as Norfolk Southern’s roundhouse in Asheville; and CSX’s terminal in Erwin, Tenn.

            But from the 1830s through World War II, the competition for lines and connectors had been epic.  And then, after 1950, when ridership went from its zenith to its nadir, the business became cutthroat again.

            One of the legendary figures who emerges from this outsized story is Dennis William “Bill” Brosnan, Southern Railway general manager in 1947; and president and then board member from 1962 to 1983.

            “Between 1949 and 1954,” Rapp says, “Southern completely dieselized.  They eliminated steam locomotives.  Brosnan said, ‘We don’t have steam locomotives, we don’t need firemen’; and he began the layoffs. 

            The union sued him and won in court, and Brosnan responded by hiring janitors to sit on the firemen’s seats and do nothing.  Eventually, Brosnan and the union renegotiated the role of the firemen, but it was clear: labor-saving was going to be a ruthless strategy.     

            “When all the other railroads were going belly up in the 60s and 70s, the one profitable railroad was Southern,” Rapp relates.  Brosnan invented a tie replacement machine that trimmed a 17-man track crew down to three. 

 

Brilliant and hard

 

            Brosnan had a place on Fontana Lake, in Almond, to which he would bring his superintendents every fall to review performance and technology.

            “He had a siding by his house out there on the Murphy branch,” says Rapp, “and he would bring new equipment out there.”  

            One time, he brought a cherry-picker, just invented, to see how it might be integrated into railroad operations. 

            During cocktails, Rapp recounts, “a couple of his superintendents were standing there, watching this operator move the bucket.  This is in Charles Morgret’s book, ‘Brosnan: The Railroads’ Messiah.’  One superintendent said to the other, ‘I bet you Brosnan doesn’t have the guts enough to get in that bucket.’  He didn’t realize that Brosnan was standing right behind him.”

            Brosnan ordered the bucket to be lowered at his feet, climbed in, had the arm extended to its full height, and then had it lowered at the superintendent’s feet.

            “You didn’t think I had guts enough to get in there,” he told his superintendent.  “And you don’t think I have guts enough to fire you.  Get your ___ off Southern Railway property.”  The guy had to hitchhike back to Asheville to catch an airplane home.

 

The labor of unsung heroe

PHOTO CAPTION: Railroad men on Southern 2839 from Jim Coman collection.  The conductor, leaning out the window, is Cecil Case.

            You don’t build a $12 billion aircraft carrier unless you plan to gain from 21st century world domination.  You don’t build giant dams and turbines unless you’re about to bankroll World War II and a revolution in living standards.

            And, in the 19th century, you don’t build a railroad system unless there’s enough coal, timber, minerals, and ready-to-be-exploited wealth to justify a nearly unjustifiable expense.

            When you’re ready to think big—real big—you pony up; and you also muscle up, the muscles being the kind of workers, like “Al,” featured in the song, “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

            “Once I built a tower to the sun...Once I built a railroad, now it’s done.”

 

Deadly task

 

            Some of the heroes of Western North Carolina railroads were the civil engineers who had to figure out how to get rails over and through mountains without machines and within budgets.

            Other heroes were the mostly African-American convicts, drafted without consent from Central Prison in Raleigh to blast and grade the landscape, and build tracks, trestles, and tunnels from Salisbury to Asheville and beyond in the late 1800s.

            After being fed supper, journalist Rebecca Harding Davis reported about the convicts, “they were driven into a row of prison cars, where they were tightly boxed in for the night, with no possible chance to obtain either light or air.”

             Many laborers died of disease and in escape attempts, as John Ehle chronicled in his novel, “The Road.”  The Swannanoa Tunnel killed 23 in a collapse shortly after completion.  In 1882, 19 black prisoners drowned, chained together, in the Tuckaseegee River on the way to work on the Cowee Tunnel.

            Matt Bumgarner, railroad historian, has identified the Cowee 19.  They ranged in age from 15 to 52, and had been originally incarcerated for larceny.

            No monument exists for these victims.  The route to prosperity, however, is lined by hundreds of unmarked graves.

 

Getting a lift

 

            When Les Reker talks about the black laborers represented in the exhibit, “How the West Was Won,” he also refers to later “positive developments for African-Americans” on the railroad.

            “The largest single employer of African-American men in the U.S. from the 1870s through the 1960s was the Pullman Company,” he notes.  Tens of thousands worked as sleeping car porters.

            “We have placed on view in the exhibition a jacket once worn by Mr. Tolbert Haynes, Sr.,” a Pullman porter based in Asheville, “thanks to a loan from his granddaughter, Fatimah Shabazz.”

            The jacket was a symbol of pride in a professional career that facilitated luxury travel.  The merits of the job extended beyond service, as the porters brought back news of jobs in the North; formed a union; and became leaders in the Civil Rights movement.

            “A Pullman Porter named E. D. Nixon helped plan the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott of 1955-56,” the exhibit states. “Pullman Brotherhood Union leader A. Philip Randolph pressured President Franklin Roosevelt into issuing Executive Order 8802 in 1941, barring discrimination in defense industries and creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee.”

 

Romance of the rails

 

            There is romance in train travel.  Frank Mulvaney, a Southern Railway clerk from 1913-1959, waxed nostalgic about old-time passenger service in a 1976 interview with UNC Asheville’s Dr. Louis D. Silveri. 

            The railroad man, Mulvaney said, provided an important service, made good wages, shared his good fortune with the community, and was very visible. 

            “Every boy,” he recalled, “seemed to be attracted to the casual way that a railroad man in full brass-buttoned uniform boarded trains and started on long journeys, filled with excitement.”

            Then, there’s the taste of that sausage, procured by the Manager of Dining Cars from local markets—and more: stately porters, china dishes, fresh fruit vended by “news butches,” strolls to the water fountain, nights in Pullman cars.  You could leave Asheville in the early evening and arrive the next morning in Washington D.C., Jacksonville, or Cincinnati.

            “I have often said,” Mulvaney reflected, “that passenger train traveling was the most comfortable of any…I have thought that...in the future people would come back to rail passenger service.”

            The dream of passenger service returning to the mountains continues to be pursued today, despite financial constraints. 

            Ray Rapp, expert consultant for the Mars Hill exhibit, had, when he was a state legislator, met with the president of AMTRAK to show that the mountain region could generate about 72,000 passengers a year.

            “He pointed out,” Rapp relates, “that in an era of data-driven decision making, we’re not even close.  Their threshold was 240,000.”

 

Long hours, dangerous work

 

            This brings us back to the economy of railroading, and its impact on labor.

            Ira Waters, a veteran at Asheville’s roundhouse before Norfolk Southern started closing it down, recalled, in a 2002 interview with Pat Berkley for the YMI, how his father, James Waters, a maintenance worker, had had to work sixteen hour days seven days a week.

            Before Norfolk Southern started sending big engine jobs to Philadelphia, many people were getting hurt.  Waters’ team had to raise engines up on four jacks without tipping them.  They removed brake pads, released with a powerful force.  They worked on pitted dirt ramps in poorly lit areas.         

            Railroad work was even more dangerous fifty years earlier.

            Stonewall Jackson “Jack” Fortune had been a brakeman for the Southern Railway in the first decade of the 20th century when the air hose broke on a train he was on, and it came barreling down Saluda Gap.  He avoided a crash, Jack’s son, Albert Fortune, told me in 1992, by climbing atop the train and turning the manual brake on each car. 

            Applying hand brakes on mountain grades put brakemen in grave danger.  Trains barely cleared the tunnels that had been blasted through Appalachian rock, and the railway had to hang “dead man’s” warning ropes a distance before tunnel mouths to help the brakemen avoid decapitation.

            A few years later, Fortune was switching freight cars in the Old Fort Yard when a gravel-jammed switch pitched him under the wheels of a moving engine.  He lost both legs.  He acquired prosthetics, went to business school, married, started a family, and founded Ideal Paint and Hardware in West Asheville. 

            Clayton Harmon told me in 1999, how, when he was in training in the 1930s, he was approaching the Ridgecrest Tunnel with the engineer and fireman when a “red board” made them stop.  It was a signal that someone had to walk the train through to avoid collision with another train stalled within the tunnel.

            “We started off from a dead stop going into that tunnel,” Harmon recalled, “and the fireman’s getting up steam and putting coal in the box and here comes all of that black smoke...burning my lungs.  Listen, I tell you, I thought I was going to die! 

            “When we come out on the other side, I looked at that engineer, and he was just sitting there as unconcerned as if it were an everyday thing.” 

            Later on, Harmon learned that the engineer and the fireman had masks that supplied them air during the passage.  You can see one of those masks in the exhibit.

THE EXHIBIT

How The West Was Won: Trains and the Transformation of Western North Carolina,” an exhibit of films, artifacts, images, and text, can be seen in the Rural Heritage Museum, Montague Hall, Mars Hill University, through January 31, 2016.  For group tours, call (828) 689-1400.  Museum hours are daily (except Mondays), 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and by appointment.  Admission is free.  Also visit                  www.mhu.edu/museum.

Views: 300

Reply to This

© 2017   Created by Rob Neufeld.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service