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Norfolk and Western 611 The Blue Ridge Special 4/10/2016

by Chris Guenzler

The morning started with a 4:45 AM wake-up call. I put in the corrections in my three latest stories, uploaded them and posted on my website. David and I left the Econo Lodge and stopped by McDonald's before we parked in the parking lot across the street from the museum. We walked across the street and because of a fence around the museum, we walked through the gate and through the vestibule of Milwaukee Road "Wisconsin Valley" to get to the correct side of the train then walked back to the first open door at Car 14 and walked the train to get to Car 18. LH, our car attendant, welcomed us back and I was ready for another great day of train riding behind Norfolk and Western 611.

Norfolk and Western 611 The Blue Ridge Special

The Norfolk & Western 611 steam locomotive will be climbing the Appalachian Mountains and crossing some of the most scenic rail in the country. Entering a second season of excursions following its recent renovation, the Class J 611 will be traveling a route to our most requested location, Asheville, North Carolina.

On its journey, the train will travel the famed "loops" of the Blue Ridge Mountains, passing through several tunnels and traveling past the Andrews Geyser, a spectacular sight, before arriving in Asheville.

Passengers will then have nearly three hours for an outing at Biltmore Village. Established in the late 1890s as a planned community near the entrance of the Biltmore estate, Biltmore Village offers shopping in unique, locally-owned boutiques. Passengers can dine in restaurants and walk along brick sidewalks that parallel tree-lined streets. All of this will be enjoyed alongside spectacular views of the North Carolina Mountains.

N&W 611 The Blue Ridge Special Schedule

Boarding in Spencer 6:00 A.M.
Depart Spencer 7:00 A.M.
Arrive Asheville 12:30 P.M.
Depart Asheville 3:30 P.M.
Arrive Spencer 8:30 P.M.

The Trip Consist

Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 611, NS Heritage Unit Southern 8099, Southern FP7 6133, N&W 1402 Storage Mail Car, NS 42 "Tennessee", RPCX 2863 "Berlin" Sleeper, Iowa Pacific Full Dome 1294 "Prairie View", SLRG 511 Full Dome "Scenic View", Milwaukee Road Super Dome, Milwaukee Road "Wisconsin Valley", Northern Pacific Chicago Burlington and Quincy short dome "Stampede Pass", Atlantic Coast Line WATX 400 "Moultaire", Southern "Crescent Harbor", NS 26 "New York", NS 28 "The Powhatan Arrow", NS 29 "The Powhatan Arrow", Norfolk and Western 519 "The Powhatan Arrow", WATX 500 Florida East Coast "St. Augustine", Pennsylvania Railroad Lounge "Paul Revere" NS 43 "Iowa", NS 44 "Florida", NS 43 "New Jersey", NS 47 "Louisiana", Pullman "Dover Harbor" and Georgia Railroad Pullman "Dearing".

Our Trip

At 7:00 AM the train started by reversng out of the North Carolina Transportation Museum complex in Spencer.

We reversed by the Barber Depot in the distance.

The train then reversed to the Norfolk Southern mainline and headed south towards the line to Asheville in Salisbury.

The track on which we had came out on to the Norfolk Southern mainline.

My last daylight view of the North Carolina Transportation Museum.

Norfolk Southern RP-E4C 772 at the Spencer Yard, rebuilt in 2012 from Southern GP50 7086.

At Salisbury when we reached the Asheville mainline, I would be on new mileage all the way to Asheville.

The Salisbury power plant working hard to produce power for this very nice city.

Most of our route would be through the North Carolina forest.

There is a lone tree in front of the natural forest.

Where man-made farms at the forest end.

A nice purple bush with the forest behind.

We would see many chasers of the steam train plus families at almost every grade crossing and towns along the route.

More open fields and trees along our route.

The northwest connection in Barber.

The Barber Norfolk Southern freight station built in 1975.

The Norfolk Southern crosses itself in Barber.

A farm west of Barber.

The water tower in Cleveland, North Carolina.

A rural North Carolina farm.

Interesting tree patterns.

More tree views along our route.

The Alexander Railroad connection in Statesville.

Interesting reflections in a pond.

The passengers in Car 18 today.

Another forest view along our route.

The Catawba River.

The water tower in Newton, North Carolina.

Interstate 40 which runs from Barstow, California to Wilmington, North Carolina.

The water tower in Hickory, North Carolina.

The Hickory Southern Railway station, built in 1912, is now a restaurant.

The Morgantown Southern Railway station built in 1910.

A factory outside of Morgantown.

Two views of our excursion train to Asheville.

Table Rock.

The Blue Ridge Mountains.

The old Clinchfield Railway {CSX} the train crossed over at Clinchcross, North Carolina.

Family Lines System Seaboard Coast Lines caboose 0793 built by the railroad.

The Southern Railway Marion station built in 1867.

Mount Mitchell is the tallest mountain in the state of North Carolina at 6,684 feet in elevation.

Norfolk and Western 611 has reached Old Fort, North Carolina where Chris Parker and I visited on the NRHS Chattanooga Convention Trip.

The Arrowhead Monument in Old Fort, North Carolina. This town square is defined by a 30-foot-tall arrowhead hand-chiseled in granite. The landmark was unveiled to a crowd of more than 6,000 people on July 27, 1930 by Marie Nesbitt as a symbol of the peace achieved in an earlier century between pioneers and Native Americans. The train always stopped here. For many years, travelers through these mountains looked for the familiar sight of a tall, hand-carved arrowhead in front of the depot, signaling a stop in the historic town of Old Fort. As one of the oldest towns in the region, it prides itself on its historic roots. Originally a fort built by the colonial militia before the Declaration of Independence, the settlement served for many years as the western-most outpost of the early United States. In those days, it was also the site of many skirmishes between pioneer settlers and Native Americans. Much of the fighting, in fact, took place on the banks of Mill Creek, which runs through the center of town. Many years later, a monument was built to the peace finally made between the two peoples.

Southern Railway Old Fort station built in 1881.

Southern Railway caboose X581 built by Gantt Manufacturing in 1971.

A picture of a map from one of our passengers. Thank you Trains Magazine for producing this map in your great magazine. Now the part of the trip I have always wanted to do, the trip over the Old Fort Loops of the old Southern Railway. Designed by Colonel A.B. Andrews and built between 1875 and 1879, the line snakes through the Appalachian mountains between Old Fort and Asheville with a maximum gradient is 2.2 percent - up 2.2 feet and out 100 feet. The rail line is 15 miles long while Interstate 40 is seven miles long. Land was moved to form cuts or fills so the line could maintain the 2.2 percent grade. Since the railroad has to maintain a maximum gradient, it undulates and curves over and around the Appalachian mountains.

After the stop to change pilot engineers, the train left Old Fort.

A Dogwood tree in spring bloom.

We would be seeing our train through the trees for plenty of the trip up the mountain.

The stream that runs along our route. We went through Point Tunnel which is 212 feet long.

The train could be seen as it twisted and turned up the grade.

A local bridge over that stream.

We could follow the smoke from Norfolk and Western 611 as we climbed.

Interesting view from the train.

We will be up there in a few more minutes.

Our train took another of the many curves on this piece of railroad.

The first view of Andrews Geyser is seen through the trees.

Norfolk and Western 611 took the Round Knob will we travel west, then turn north then end up going east.

Looks like a homeless shelter at Round Knob.

Andrews Geyser. Andrews Geyser is a man-made fountain in Old Fort in McDowell County. The fountain is named for Colonel Alexander Boyd Andrews, a North Carolina native who was the Vice President of the Southern Railway Company and one of the men responsible for the construction of the railroad between Old Fort and Asheville, North Carolina, in the late 19th century. The fountain was constructed in 1885 with a dual purpose: it was a feature of the Round Knob Hotel, and a tribute to the approximately 120 men who died building the railroad through this particularly treacherous stretch of land, that culminates with the crossing of the Eastern Continental Divide through the Swannanoa Tunnel. The fountain was said to be eye-catching for railroad passengers ascending the 13 miles of track and seven tunnels that peaks at the top of Swannanoa Gap because it could be seen several times along the route.

The Round Knob Hotel burned to the ground in 1903, and the fountain fell into disrepair. In 1911, George Fisher Baker, a wealthy New York financier and philanthropist who had been friends with Colonel Andrews, funded its restoration. The Southern Railway Company did not grant continuation of the easement for the fountain at that time, so a new, five-sided basin was constructed about 70 yards across Mill Creek, and the piping and nozzle were moved (to the fountain's current location). The town of Old Fort was given rights to the basin and the pipe that carries the water, and the fountain was formally named Andrews Geyser.

The town of Old Fort continues to use Andrews Geyser and the surrounding area as a public park. Andrews Geyser underwent extensive restoration again in the 1970s, and was rededicated on May 6, 1976. Signs at the park describe Mr. Fisher's role in the early 20th century and the role of Old Fort's private citizens in the 1970s in keeping the fountain running.

Andrews Geyser shoots water continuously to a height of about 80 feet. Its water supply is drawn from a pond located at the current site of the Inn on Mill Creek, a local Bed & Breakfast. The Inn's property contains the original dam constructed by the railroad in the late 19th century, and the pond formed by the dam with the water of the Long Branch of Mill Creek. A 6-inch-diameter cast iron pipe runs from the dam, through a hidden gate valve, then underground approximately two miles downhill to the fountain. The water comes out a half-inch nozzle pointed skyward, and the 500 feet of elevation difference creates the pressure that drives the fountain.

In 1967, author John Ehle wrote a historical fiction novel called The Road, which is set in the construction of the railroad from Old Fort to Swannanoa, North Carolina in the late 19th century. The novel concludes with the main character (an amalgam of several real people who oversaw construction of the railroad) making a direct reference to the Andrews Geyser.

Back to the Trip

We continued to climb then made a loop back to the west.

The tracks that we had just climbed up below us.

A look at where we had come from.

Looking through the trees at the track on which we had just been.

We would be following Norfolk and Western 611 steam plume as we climb the grade.

The road is a long way down.

The train has reached Coleman, a siding on the mountain.

Still following that steam plume.

One last view down. We went through Mud Cut, Jarrett's Tunnel 123 feet long, Licklog Tunnel 589 feet long, McElroy Tunnel 77 feet, High Ridge Tunnel 494 feet, Burgin Tunnel 250 feet long and the longest of all, the Swannanoa Tunnel at 1,832 feet which passes beneath the Eastern Continental Divide.

The train exited the Swannanoa Tunnel at Ridgecrest. We went down the much more gentle west slope of the Appalachian Mountains to Asheville.

Mt Mitchell as we rolled through Black Mountain.

Nickel Plate caboose 443, built by the railroad in 1960 painted and lettered as Norfolk & Western 557543, at Black Mountain.

The Black Mountain Southern Railway station built in 1907. I went and got two hot dogs for lunch before Norfolk and Western 611 arrived in Asheville at 1:15 PM. It had been an incredible and unique trip over the old Southern Railway mainline. Most passengers exited the train for a three hour layover in Asheville. I would stay aboard and write the Lynchburg Norfolk and Western 611 trip from yesterday. I went to the next car to use the electrical plug and plugged my computer back in so it could recharge while I worked.

The old Southern Railway office building here built in 1895. Once all passengers were off and the door closed we started reversing the train to wye it for the return trip.

Two views as we backed up to wye the train.

The railfans, families and many passenger including David were trackside to watch Norfolk and Western 611 wye the train.

The Asheville Southern Railway station where I first met David when Chris Parker and I had an early dinner with him in the station's restaurant when we visited here on the NRHS Chattanooga Convention trip.

The southwest leg of the wye we would return on.

The southeast leg of the wye we would take next.

We started around the southeast leg of the wye.

The mainline track we had taken to get here.

Norfolk and Western 611 pulled the train around southeast leg of the wye onto the old Saluda mainline.

Next we would take the southwest leg of the wye to return to the Asheville yard and our departure point.

The Southern Railway Biltmore signpost.

Norfolk and Western 611 started reversing the train west.

The route we were just on.

The train photographers were out in force today.

Norfolk and Western 611 returned the train to the boarding location just as I finished the story.

A Southern phrase "Flyash". We departed Asheville at 4:40 PM and started back for Spencer.

Leaving Asheville for good. At Black Mountain we met a westbound Norfolk Southern freight train. Next a few more pictures on the Loops.

Views of the tunnels.

Mt Mitchell for the last time on this trip.

It looks like a road race as the the train chasers try to get to their photo spots they had picked out or hoped to luck into.

Into another tunnel we went.

Looks like a geyser down below.

Our train crossed this bridge as it completed another of the loops on this mountain.

The tracks down below.

The train on another curve.

The train taking another of the loops.

The Andrews Geyser is an amazing sight from the ground or a passenger train.

One last curve picture before Old Fort.

Later the curve near MP 85 and I put away the camera. I got out the computer and put the pictures into it then did what I needed to do to them before converting them to the right size for stories. Next I renamed each one for my story before putting the computer away. Next good conversions were had with car attendants and passengers. We were delayed at Salisbury to get back onto the Norfolk Southern mainline. Once there, David and I moved to Car 17 so we could make a quicker escape. We stopped then Norfolk and Western 611 reversed the train into the North Carolina Transportation Museum grounds and we ended these two days of Norfolk and Western 611 trips when we stopped at 10:45 PM.

My two first Norfolk and Western 611 trips were fantastic and a great personal success. We walked around the rear of the train to the parking lot across from the museum and David then drove me to McDonald's where I picked up hot cakes and sausage before he dropped me off at the Salisbury Amtrak station. I thanked him for everything and we said goodbye, ending a fantastic adventure in North Carolina and Virginia with Norfolk & Western 4-8-4 611.