The Cy Crumley Scrapbook
ET&WNC Railroad

Tour 4: Narrow Gauge still Kicking


Your host and narrator for this tour is Ken Riddle, close personal friend of Cy Crumley, legendary conductor of this great railroad. From 1906 until 1960, Cy worked on the ET&WNC as Brakeman and Conductor. This is his scrapbook of those years and his story.


Click on each photo to see a larger view.

Railroad Grade Road
Date: 1919
Engine 11 is working hard between Blevins Station and Crabtree.  You can drive down this old railroad bed on "Railroad Grade Road" today in Carter County. The scenes below show views from driving the abandoned former ET&WNC narrow gauge railroad line on sections that were converted to private and county roads east of Hampton, Tennessee. The great thing about touring sections of the old narrow gauge Tennessee Tweetsie is that it is easily accessible from U.S. 19E and essentially has the unspoiled scenic environment of a century ago.
Railroad Grade Road
Railroad Grade Road
View from RR Grade Road
Looks like 1910
Near Rittertown Road
Near Rittertown Road
Logging near Doe River Gorge
Not designed for Autos


Elizabethton Covered Bridge
Date: 1902

Date: 1910

The first number 8 pulls into Blevins station with the passenger train About 1910. The track is now Railroad Grade Road and there is a nice house sitting right where this depot was. Corrie Ford's original photo of Blevins offers a wider viewing area.




No.12 at Newland
Date: 1920

Number 12, the engine now over at Tweetsie Railroad, was about three years old when she posed at Newland with her crew. From the left we have Cy Crumley, Jim Hardin (George Hardin's son), Sam Elswick, Claude McCurry, J.O. Curry (US Mail Clerk) and Big John Lewis. Here are the specifications for Number 12.

Jim Hardin's pappy was the ET&WNC General Manager George Hardin at this time.  George was a good manager and Jim got a job as a Fireman and later promoted to engineer.  Jim had an annoying habit of going to sleep on the job.  He was well liked and supposed to have had a great sense of humor, but that nodding off at the throttle was a factor that got him fired in 1924. Jim's big mistake was running into the caboose track beside the Johnson City yard office and tearing up the 505 caboose by knocking it off the end of the track. Mike Hardin reports that after Jim was fired from the narrow gauge he went to Roanoke, Virginia when the Hardin extraordinary management/financial abilities took hold and Jim became wealthy in the insurance business. He died back in the 1970s and his wife, Helen, passed away only a few years ago. Jim and Helen Hardin are buried in Oak Hill Cemetery in Johnson City in a section that includes George Hardin and several generations of family members.



Off for a Drive
Date: 1920
Straight out of the scrapbook. Grover Miller driving with Bob Campbell and Bob McGrath in the back seat "Off for a Drive" in Newland, 1920. Below Engineer Jim Miller poses with two youngsters on Engine Number 5.

Jim Miller
Date: 1920's


Blaylock and McCoury
Date: 1923
Ted Blaylock and Raymond McCoury in 1923.  Those are Mr. Crumley's notes.  I knew both of these guys.  Raymond was such a nice quiet man. This is another example of how one of Cy's original scrapbook albums looked with his notes.



"Rabbit Foot" Watson
Date: 1930's

Here is the second Engine Number 8 cruising the Johnson City yards under the control of the famous Belmont "Rabbit Foot" Watson.  He was "Mr. Watson" by this time, serving the railroad as Superintendent.  He went way back with the ET&WNC, one of their first engineers.  This picture was from the early thirties. He got his name "Rabbit Foot" because as a young engineer he had a rabbit's foot as a charm on his watch chain.  He supposedly would amaze the local folks by standing in front of old engine 6, twirling his rabbit foot, and beckoning the unmanned locomotive to come to him just by his verbal command and the magic from the rabbit's foot.  The old 6 had a leaky throttle and would move herself from the lead after four or five minutes.  But the name "Rabbit Foot" stuck. He was replaced by Clarence Hobbs when he retired.  He is buried at Monte Vista Cemetery in Johnson City.



Clarence Hobbs
Date: Early 1900's, 1950
Johnny Graybeal had this picture of Clarence Hobbs (photo on the left) when he was young. Mr. Hobbs was the superintendent of the railroad until his death in 1967 and was very kind to me when I was a little boy, letting me ride the steam locomotives and always answering my many questions. He was a wonderful man and a mechanical perfectionist. The photo on the right is Clarence Hobbs on the footboard of Engine 11 on Sept 24, 1950.


First Standard Gauge
Date: 1930's

This is a big day for the ET&WNC. This picture, made in front of the Legion Street shop, shows the railroad's first standard gauge locomotive, Number 828, beside the old standby yard engine, narrow-gauge number 7.

The railroad bought the 828 to help with the huge upturn in standard gauge business after the Germans built the rayon plants at Bemberg.  The 828 was a disaster from the beginning.  It broke rails and spent more time on the ground than it did on the railroad.  And it would not make steam at all.  Many times it would just die on the mainline for running out of steam.  The best fireman the railroad ever had was my old friend Clyde "Tighteye" Simerly.  I heard him say many times that "If hard would woulda killed me I'd-a died on 828".

This picture was made by Corrie Ford on her Kodak but was in both her collection and Mr. Crumley's scrapbooks.  From the left we have Charlie Carver, Grover Miller, Clarence "Brownie" Allison, Chester Ford (not working that day-look at those nice clothes), Monk Bayless, Cy Crumley, and "Tighteye" Simerly.  Don't know who that is up in the cab of the 7. The tender tank of old 828 still exists in Duffield, Virginia.



Mystery Photo
Date: Unknown

Tweetsie historians and railfans are working to identify a probable location for the photo above. Few reference points exist and after examination, the vicinity of Cranberry has been suggested with the area near the Cranberry Hotel shown in this photo being noted as appearing similar in grade and topography. Noted ET&WNC cartographer Chris Ford suggests the photo was taken basically looking east, which would eliminate a few places or scenarios, such as the engine coming up State Line Hill. Another viewpoint offers that it could even be between Elizabethton and Johnson City prior to the dual gauge track being laid. The original unretouched photo shows more detail.

Historian and author Johnny Graybeal has pointed out the challenges of matching a location from 75 - 100 years ago in which a long abandoned railway line and surrounding features are compared among different eras since most photos of the route depict the Depression or World War II years. However, the combined knowledge base of the ET&WNC Historical Society and the Tweetsie Yahoo Newsgroup allows the photo to have a chance of being assigned a potential location(s) based on today's knowledge of the original route and to at least rule out areas incompatible with the grade shown in the mystery photo.

Unfortunatley the definitive authority Mr. Tighteye Simerly is not around to express his opinion or offer up his intense knowledge of every crosstie and feature along the old right-of-way. Tighteye and his story will be reckoned with in Tour 5.


Mail Train
Date: Unknown

This is the daily Boone-Johnson City passenger train in town. During the Depression, this train was the only thing that ran the line beside the yard engine. It probably would not have been rolling either had it not carried the U.S. Mail. Mr. Crumley kept a regular job on this train throughout the hard years.


Passing Trains
Date: Late 1930's
My old buddy George Allison went to work with his dad, engineer Walt Allison one day in the late 30's when Walt was called on a freight extra from Johnson City to Boone. He brought his camera along on the trip. They met the passenger train and George Frank popped off this shot out the fireman's window. Looks like Lorne Harrison in the fireman's window on the 14 and Mr. Crumley on the rear of the combine waiting to be handed the Johnson City morning paper by the guys on the extra engine. These men were quite adept at feats (such as the newspaper transfer routine) of locomotive and personal coordination that required considerable timing and finesse. The white flags on the front of the locomotive signify an extra (not regularly scheduled) train.


Running the "Wye"
Date: 1930s

Another shot of the daily train at Johnson City. When the train would come into Johnson City from Elizabethton, they would “run the wye” track out by the shop and turn the whole train around. It would then back into the depot across Roan, Spring, and Buffalo Streets. The cars could be swept out and if any attention needed to be paid to the locomotive it could be cut off and taken back down to Legion Street for service.


Pushing the Freight
Date: Late 1930's
Here is a great shot showing a typical narrow gauge (yet unusual anywhere else in the railroad world) operation from the late 1930's. There was a freight train that needed to go east in the afternoon. The freight train would be tied to the head end of the daily passenger train and the whole works would head east as one train. This was done quite often on the narrow gauge, both east and westbound. Looks like this one had crushed stone possibly for the Avery County Highway Department at Newland. Thanks to ET&WNC historians Snyder and Graybeal for identifying the location in the photo as Cranberry Gap.


Rock Haul
Date: 1930's
A great shot courtesy of Phillip Snyder.  Looks like a "rock haul" doubleheaded eastbound at Pardee Point.  That tank car has asphalt most likely.  The narrow gauge hauled a lot of rock for the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway and also for the Avery and Watauga County highway departments.  This is a great picture, Phillip. Original photo from the Mike Hardin Collection.


Double Train
Date: 1939
Phillip Snyder sent me this--looks like it was made at Watauga Point near the Topper Egg silo in Elizabethton. Looks like we have an extra freight eastbound coupled to the front of the Boone mail heading home one wet afternoon.



Foundry Ad - Johnson City Comet - 1890

Thomas Matson
Date: 1880's

Colonel Thomas E. Matson (1848-1921) came to Johnson City from Philadelphia to survey, design, and build the ET&WNC Railroad. For five years, Matson was superintendent and engineer of the railroad, and his skill in mountain railway construction is legendary. Using manual labor and mules, Matson cut, filled, and tunneled through the mountains. Matson was known to haul mules up rock cliffs with block and tackle to build the scenic ET&WNC route. Later President of the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Works, Matson served as Mayor of Johnson City from 1892 until 1896.

Johnson City Foundry - 1912
Elizabethton Covered Bridge Designed by Thomas Matson

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Feel free to copy and use these photos.


Kenneth Riddle
Johnson City, Tennessee
November 2005