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The Smoky Mountain Railroad Of Tennessee | History
The Smoky Mountain Railroad Of Tennessee Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern Ry. • Knoxville & Carolina R.R. • Tennessee & North Carolina Ry.
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A Brief History Of The Smoky Mountain Railroad

William Robert Rogers
by Mr. William Robert Rogers
An excerpt from Sevier County: Its History And Heritage (1994)

The Smoky Mountain Railroad ran from Knoxville via Shook's Gap, Seymour and Boyd's Creek to Sevierville, a distance of some twenty-eight miles; for a time it was extended about ten miles further to what is now Pigeon Forge. Construction actually began in June, 1908, under the leadership of William J. Oliver of Knoxville with the railroad reaching Sevierville in January, 1910. The Pigeon River was bridged in 1917 and the rails laid through the town. The final segment, intended to make use of the vast tracts of mountain timber, was never realized even though the rails did reach McCookville (near present day Pigeon Forge).

Historical timeline of the Slow & Easy

The history of the railroad may be divided into five periods during which the Smoky Mountain operated under different names. They were:

  1. The Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern Railway Company (1907 - 1921),
  2. The Knoxville & Carolina Railroad Company (1921 - 1926),
  3. The Tennessee & North Carolina Railway (leased from the Smoky Mountain Railroad holding company and operated as the T&NC Knoxville Division, 1927 - 1938),
  4. The Smoky Mountain Railroad Company (1927 - 1957), and
  5. The Smoky Mountain Railroad (operated by Sevier Countians 1957 - until abandonment was granted by the ICC in 1964).

Throughout its history the railroad suffered from various problems. The builder, William J. Oliver made money from its construction but had little interest in operating it. The second group of owners including L.C. Gunter and Colonel W.B. Townsend had grand plans but failed to carry them out with the road sold to a new group consisting of W.J. Parks, C. Boice and J.W. Bell under the charter name Smoky Mountain Railroad Company. Competition from trucks, cars and buses hurt the railroad and in 1937 the Smoky Mountain was sold to the Midwest Steel Corporation of West Virginia, operating under the Smoky Mountain charter. Midwest Steel was interested in scrap steel and tried its best to achieve bankruptcy in order to sell the steel from the road. When the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) decided to build Douglas Dam in 1941, it intervened to stop the abandonment process in order to make use of the Smoky Mountain to haul material to the dam site. For the only time in its history the railroad made money, but after completion of the dam, the owners again pushed for bankruptcy. Conditions finally became so bad that the railroad seemed doomed, when in 1957 a group of businessmen from Sevierville including A.J. King, J.E. Temple, J.B. Waters, Sr., James Atchley and several others, purchased the road.

The efforts of all of these men proved to be to no avail and the road begun over 50 years earlier saw the last run of the train on January 16, 1961. Today, nothing remains of the track or equipment of "Old Slowpoke and Easy" with the exception of steam engine #110 which is operating as an excursion engine in southwestern Michigan.* (Please see note, below.) Ironically, the Midwest Steel Corporation would in the end get the last assets of the Smoky Mountain - its rails - for $95,100 in 1964.

WEBMASTER'S NOTES: On May 15, 1969, Mr. William Robert Rogers, then-Principal of Seymour (Tennessee) High School and a native Sevier Countian, submitted his Master's thesis to the University Of Tennessee. This 112-page work, entitled A History Of The Smoky Mountain Railroad, was the culmination of Rogers' exhaustive research, at times greatly hindered by scattered company records and a lack of general information about the line. For three decades, his thesis has remained the "source document" for students of the railroad. Numerous authors have paraphrased or quoted Rogers, and we are forever grateful for his pioneering role in preserving the "Slow & Easy's" history.

* Locomotive numbers 107 and 206 survive as static displays in Pigeon Forge and Chattanooga, respectively, while diesel #440 is privately-owned and still serviceable.

Chronology Of The "Slow & Easy"

Compiled by Joe Holloway

Senator Robert Y. Hayne
U.S. Senator Robert Y. Hayne of South Carolina, whose last public service was his effort to open direct railroad communication with the interior of our continent.

1836 South Carolina Senator Robert Y. Hayne spearheads the Louisville, Cincinnati & Charleston (LC&C) Railroad project and proposes its construction via Knoxville and Sevier County.
1837 A slowing economy forces the abandonment of the LC&C project.
1887 The Carolina, Knoxville & Western (CK&W) Railroad begins construction on a line between Greenville, South Carolina and Knoxville via Sevier County. The company goes bankrupt, but not before its crews complete a heavy cut at Shooks Gap in Bays Mountain.
1898 The original Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern (KS&E) Railway Company is chartered in the State of Tennessee, for the purpose of building the Knoxville-to-Sevierville route. Its financing falls through, however, and the company fails.
1905 The Knoxville, Sevierville & Newport (KS&N) Railway Company is chartered in Tennessee, and submits an aggressive plan to Sevier County for the construction of the much-anticipated line. The proposal leads to a citizens' vote the following year in favor of a county bond issue.

Southern Railway System president Samuel Spencer
Southern Railway System president Samuel Spencer

1906 Southern Railway System president Samuel Spencer and members of his hunting party die in a train wreck at Lawyers, Virginia, near Lynchburg. Meanwhile, despite its victory in the Sevier County bond issue election, the Knoxville, Sevierville & Newport Railway Company fails due to insufficient private investment.
1907 Knoxville industrialist William Jesse Oliver and associates form their own Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern (KS&E) Railway Company. This, the second KS&E, acquires the first KS&E and the KS&N franchise rights. The company's chartered purpose is to establish rail service between Knoxville and Sevier County. However, prior to the accidental death of Southern Railway president Spencer, Oliver purportedly agrees to sell the KS&E to the growing Southern. Oliver proceeds with the KS&E, believing Spencer's successor, William F. Finley, will honor the gentleman's agreement. The sale is contingent upon the eventual extension of the KS&E from Sevierville to Newport, Tennessee, a junction with the Southern. (An alternate proposal routes the KS&E via Gatlinburg and across the Smoky Mountains to a junction with the Seaboard Air Line Railroad in North Carolina.)

KS&E founder William J. Oliver
KS&E founder William J. Oliver in his prime

1908 Oliver's Revilo Construction Company (Oliver spelled in reverse) begins work on the KS&E. The existing rock cut in Shooks Gap is a key factor in determining the new route.
1909 The KS&E trackage is completed to Revilo, six miles short of Sevierville, and passenger service begins between Knoxville and Revilo.

Article describing Sevierville's first train
Article from The Republican (Sevierville, Tennessee,) newspaper describing the arrival of the first KS&E train one mile west of Sevierville, January 10, 1910. (Courtesy of Sevier County Library Genealogy Section)

1910 On Sunday, January 9, Oliver and a group of prominent Knoxvillians arrive on the first train to Sevierville behind the locomotive "S.B. Luttrell". At least 200 (and possibly up to 600, according to one newspaper account) Seviervillians meet the train and welcome its passengers. Since the Little Pigeon River remains unbridged, the KS&E's first (temporary) depot is located one mile west of Sevierville on property owned by A.C. "Andy" Love. The Love property was just south of the present-day Sevier County Fairgrounds.
1911 Although revenues are sufficient to pay operating expenses, the KS&E (known affectionately as "Knoxville, Slow & Easy") is unable to pay the interest on its funded debt. Oliver abandons any hope of extending the line to Newport and selling his line to the Southern. The company enters its first receivership, beginning an unprecedented string of court appearances during the next half-century.
1916 Oliver and his associates form the Pigeon River (PR) Railroad as an affiliate of the KS&E. The PR will link the KS&E and downtown Sevierville with McCookville, Tennessee, ten miles southeast.
1917 As part of the PR right-of-way, the Revilo Construction Company completes the Little Pigeon River rail bridge, creating a junction between the KS&E and PR. A new purpose-built depot on Sevierville's E. Bruce Street is also completed.
1918 From January 1 until June 30, all United States railroads (including the KS&E) are placed under Federal control as a result of World War I.
1921 The KS&E is sold to Mr. L.C. Gunter, president of Stony Fork Collieries and the Southern Coal Operators Association. Gunter then transfers ownership to the Knoxville & Carolina (K&C) Railroad. Among the officers of the new K&C is Colonel W.B. Townsend, president of the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company in nearby Blount County.
1922 Floods in January and December necessitate expensive repairs to the Boyd's Creek trestle and other bridges along the K&C route.

KS&E founder William J. Oliver in later years
KS&E founder William J. Oliver in later years. (Photo from "Montgomery's Vindicator" (Sevierville) newspaper, courtesy Jerry Dowling)

1925 William J. Oliver, age 57, father of the Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern Railway, dies on March 28 "after a lingering illness, the direct result of injuries Mr. Oliver sustained (in 1919) when he was struck by a heavily loaded truck..."
1927 The bankrupt K&C is sold to the new Smoky Mountain (SM) Railroad holding company, which in turn leases the railroad to the Tennessee & North Carolina (T&NC) Railway. The officers of the T&NC intend to operate the Knoxville-to-Sevierville line as the Knoxville Division of the T&NC. They also plan to coordinate truckload shipments between Sevierville and the T&NC proper in Newport.
1929 Dwindling forests and other natural resources along the Pigeon River Railroad force its abandonment. A key segment of the PR right-of-way is retained by the T&NC Knoxville Divison, however. This includes the Little Pigeon River rail bridge into Sevierville, the E. Bruce Street depot, and the trackage serving nine Sevierville industries.
1936 The T&NC (Knoxville Division) moves its leased Knoxville office and depot from a 2-story brick building at 847 W. Main Street to a frame section house at 848 W. Main Street. The brick depot was originally built for the Atlanta, Knoxville & Northern (AK&N) Railroad, and later utilized for the Knoxville, Cumberland Gap & Louisville (KCG&L) Railroad.
1938 After suffering years of financial losses, the officers of the T&NC are forced to dispose of their Knoxville Division holdings. The assets are purchased by the Midwest Steel Corporation of Charleston, West Virginia, well-known for its scrap metal dealings. Almost immediately, the new owners apply to the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) for permission to abandon (and presumably scrap) the Knoxville-to-Sevierville route. The ICC denies permission on the basis that the railroad had, at times, been profitable and showed potential for future profitability. The Midwest company continues operating the line as the Smoky Mountain Railroad.
1940 Midwest Steel Corporation again requests ICC permission to abandon the Smoky Mountain Railroad. This petition is based upon the large sum required to properly repair the line from Vestal to Sevierville ($49,019).

TVA's Douglas Dam under construction in 1942
TVA's Douglas Dam, under construction in 1942. (Library Of Congress photo)

1942-1943 The Smoky Mountain Railroad is contracted by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to haul bulk materials to the Douglas hydroelectric dam construction site. A new 5.6-mile spur is laid from the Smoky's mainline at Ewing to the Douglas reservation. Although Midwest Steel reaps great profits during this period, little capital reinvestment is made in the Smoky Mountain Railroad.

General Frank Maloney
Brigadier General Frank Maloney, Federally-appointed receiver (1947 - 1948) of the Smoky Mountain Railroad, Chief Engineer of the Pigeon River Railroad extension, and one of the railroad's most outspoken proponents. (National Park Service photo)

1947 A January washout strands seven cars of foreign lines on the Smoky Mountain property. Midwest Steel again requests ICC permission to abandon the line. In the meantime, the Smoky Mountain again enters receivership. Its Federal trustee, Brigadier General Frank Maloney, raises the necessary funds ($3,750) to repair the washout. Ol' Smoky returned to service in May.
1948 The ICC again refuses to grant Midwest Steel permission to abandon the Smoky Mountain Railroad.

Announcement of passenger service termination
A March 3, 1950, Knoxville News-Sentinel article announces the end of Ol' Smoky's 40-year passenger era.

1950 Passenger service is discontinued on the Smoky Mountain Railroad after four decades.
1952 Brigadier General Frank Maloney passes away.
1954 A single diesel-electric switcher is leased to the Smoky Mountain Railroad by Sevierville's A.J. King Lumber Company. The switcher ostensibly replaces the three vintage steam locomotives in Ol' Smoky's stable. The change is dictated by the Southern Railway, which dismantles its Knoxville steam facilities. The Smoky has long-relied on these facilities.
1957 The Midwest Steel Corporation sells the Smoky Mountain Railroad to a group of Sevierville businessmen for $65,000.
1960 Between January and April, the Smoky suffers 55 derailments. Failure of the diesel switcher results in a "dead railroad" for two weeks.
1961 The last run of the Smoky Mountain Railroad occurs on January 16, after which all operations are embargoed due to poor track conditions.
1963 Proposals to keep the Smoky Mountain Railroad in operation as a combination railfan / common carrier fail to materialize. The Sevierville owners apply for final ICC permission to abandon the line.
1964 The ICC grants permission for abandonment of the Smoky Mountain Railroad after a half-century of operation. Removal of Ol' Smoky's rails and other assets begins in earnest. Legal problems persist for some years as the railroad's affairs are sorted out.

Crews remove rail from Shooks Gap
In February 1966, crews remove the Smoky's rails from Shooks Gap, stranding Pacific #110 at that location for the next six years. (Thomas Lawson, Jr. photo)


1907 - 1921 C. S. McManus, Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern Railway
1919 - 1929 L. E. Wooten, Pigeon River Railroad
1921 - 1926 L. C. Gunter, Knoxville & Carolina Railroad
1926 - 1938 J. W. Bell, Smoky Mountain Railroad (during lease to Tennessee & North Carolina Railway, Knoxville Branch)
1938 - 1957 Joe L. Silverstein, Smoky Mountain Railroad
1957 - 1961 B. M. Angel, Smoky Mountain Railroad
1961 - 1963 John B. Waters, Jr., Smoky Mountain Railroad
1963 - Close Of Business John E. Temple, Smoky Mountain Railroad

Receivers And Trustees

1911 William J. Oliver, Sevier County Receiver
1921 - 1926 Sam E. Cleage, Sevier County Receiver
1947 John W. Bush and W. N. Garrett, Temporary Federal Trustees
1947 - 1948 General Frank Maloney, Federal Trustee
1947 - 1957 John B. Waters, Sr., Sevier County Receiver
1964 - Close Of Business John B. Waters, Sr., Sevier County Receiver

Remembering The "Slow & Easy"

KS&E historical marker, Sevierville
For the benefit of future generations - KS&E historical marker, located at northwest corner U.S. 441 and S.R. 66, Sevierville.

At our request, a shiny new highway historical marker commemorating the "Slow & Easy" was generously placed by the Tennessee Historical Commission in late-2006. It is located at the northwest corner of U.S. Highway 441 and State Route 66 in downtown Sevierville, just across the street from the former location of the Smoky Mountain Railroad terminal. Its inscription reads:

The eastern terminal of this 28-mile shortline
stood southwest of this site. It was established
in 1907* by Knoxville industrialist W.J. Oliver
and constructed by his firm. The KS&E and
its successor companies were dubbed "Knoxville,
Slow & Easy." The line aided the economic
growth of Sevier County and was essential to
the construction of Douglas Dam during World
War II. Later known as the Smoky Mountain
Railroad, it ceased operations in 1961.


* A slight change by the Historical Commission in the wording requested for the marker resulted in a minor inaccuracy. Our intent was for the marker to state that the railroad company, not the Sevierville terminal, was established in 1907. In actual fact, the first train did not reach Sevierville until January 1910. (As originally written, the inscription was to have read, "The eastern terminal of this 28-mile shortline stood southwest of this site. Established in 1907 by Knoxville industrialist W.J. Oliver and constructed by his firm, the KS&E and its successor companies were dubbed 'Knoxville, Slow & Easy...'")

Nevertheless, we are pleased and proud to have this handsome marker to remind local citizens and travelers, alike, that a standard gauge railroad once served Sevierville!

For more detailed information about the "Slow & Easy," please E-mail us!

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