Steam on the GSMR

NW Mailing List nw-mailing-list at
Tue Mar 8 21:09:52 EST 2016

Yes, it is not Amtrak or any great subway or American commuter line, but I do have some interesting passenger train news. A freshly overhauled steam locomotive will be running on old Southern Railway tracks in late July.

I believe it was announced earlier today, March 8, but the news is that the great old steam engine that used to run all the Great Smoky Mountains Railway excursions will be back in steaming condition with the first trips planned for July 22, 2016.

This is a case of local government at its best. The GSMR could not afford to overhaul the engine through its own revenues, however, the local County was smart enough to know that an operating steam engine on the GSMR would bring in lots more visitors with lots more money to spend in the county.

So, with a few restrictions -- especially regarding the engine not leaving the area -- the county forked over the cash and the engine will be up and running in four months. How's that for a bit of government doing some very good work?

For those who have never heard of this railroad or even know where it is, I'll take a few minutes and fill you in.

For most of the century this piece of Western North Carolina railroad was operated by the Southern Railway. The locomotive in question is an ex-US Army locomotive, but the number 722 loco, also a Southern Railway product, may be next to be overhauled and then run on the GSMR. Who knows how Rall-friendly that county may turn out to be.

I am guessing that sometime in the 1980s, Southern turned that line over to the great Smoky Mountain Railroad or to the state of North Carolina. (corrections will be wonderfully received). 

The GSMR Is located in the very western reaches of North Carolina … About 30 or 45 minutes southwest of Asheville. The railroad has lots of great curves and very steep mountain grades to keep the fans entertained throughout the trip.

While not quite as steep as neighbor Saluda Grade (2.5 miles averaging 4.6 percent), the Southern Railway crews out of Asheville preferred to run Saluda as opposed to what would become GSMR because the curves on the Red Marble Mountain grade -- not to mention the incline -- were just plain nasty. Near the top, crews used to perform switching maneuvers (feeding and receiving from a Shay powered short line) over a portion of the grade that was the steepest on the mountain.

The bad news for railfans is that GSMR has not run that grade in years. I am hopeful that with the steam engine back online and passenger load factors greatly increased, that the railroad will again take on Red Marble and run all the way to Andrews, North Carolina. 

Even better would be if it ran all the way to Murphy where the Southern Railway used to interchange with the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. There used to be a Y at Murphy and I got to see the GSMR steam engine turn itself around for the trip back home. The Y was in bad shape at that time and I doubt it's usable today.

The GSMR received a bit of national notoriety back in the 90s when the film "The Fugitive" was shot partially in the area and specifically on the GSMR rails for the bus crash that many of you will remember. Harrison Ford was the supposedly cruel doctor who killed his beautiful wife and was on the run from the law when Tommy Lee Jones caught up with him in western North Carolina. 

Did Ford really jump off the face of one of North Carolina's largest and highest dams?

The school bus (use for prison transfers) and the GP 30 that smashed into it still remain in place beside the mainline as GSMR proformance props to show off some of the luminary greatness of this region. It is my best guess that neither  Tommy Lee nor Harrison will be stopping by there anytime soon.

However – – even better! – – latter part of July they'll be one fine steam locomotive pulling passenger trains through the area. Don't miss it.

Maybe I'll get a free ride for this promo ... Bob

Bob Loehne
7028 Tallent Court
Sherrills Ford, NC 28673
oezbob at
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