The Cy Crumley Scrapbook
ET&WNC Railroad

Tour 5: Tighteye and Turkey


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.

A Crew to Reckon With
Date: 1920

Chick Ferrell, Bill Simerly (Tighteye's Brother), Clint Cox, and Engineer Clyde "Tighteye" Simerly, the toughest man that ever saw the light of day in Carter County Tennessee.

Brakeman Clint Cox lived on Cedar Grove Road in Carter County only about 150 yards from the railway line. His family recounts that to start the day his wife was up at 5 a.m. fixing breakfast. The train crew would let loose the whistle about 3/4 mile from the house - Clint would spring out of the house, bolt down the hill and hop the train to take his daily post as brakeman. When passing by his home again in the evening Clint would wave a lantern and his daughters would flip on a porch light - they said their daddy was going back into Johnson City to "put the train to bed." Clint daily walked 3 miles from the Legion Street shop along the ET&WNC tracks back home when the work was done.

Clint went to work at ET&WNC when he was 18 years old in 1918. At first he was not an official employee but the tall (6'3") strapping young man hung out with the rail crew near his Carter County home and helped out the crew without pay switching freight cars. The fellows liked him and when hired he already knew the duties of brakeman. At the time he met his future wife, Clint had a broken leg. It seems that while attempting to stop a railcar to be loaded with coal his brake club snapped, he then fell from on top of the car to the ground resulting in the broken leg.

A story is told that one day Clint had to make a rare trip to the doctor in the morning and was supposed to go fishing later in the day with the Tweetsie crew. When reappearing to meet up with his buddies he was asked if he "had the worms". Clint replied that he did have the worms but the doctor said it was ok to go fishing anyway.

Clint was a favorite with the media at the Tweetsie Old-Timers Day reunions and once recited to a Charlotte tv station reporter his Brakeman's Motto:

The Engineer Blows the Whistle,
The Fireman Rings the Bell,
The Conductor Throws the Signals......
And the BRAKEMAN catches Hell.

Photo of Clint Cox in 1972
. Clint was born on December 24, 1899 in the Cedar Grove area and died June 6, 1980. Courtesy of the Clint Cox family.

Second Engine No. 8
Date: 1927
Chick Ferrell, Bill Simerly, Clint Cox, Tighteye Simerly, and Dana Moody with the second engine 8, August 1927. This same month the historic Bristol Recording Sessions took place.



"Big John" Lewis
Date: 1930's
Engineer (and my Uncle) Big John Lewis steers Engine 7 around the Johnson City Wye track in the late 1930's.  Engine 7 was the largest narrow gauge locomotive in the country up to the time she was built at the Brooks Locomotive Works in New York.  She was the switch engine between Johnson City and Elizabethton.  Notice that her front coupler is a "three-way" job that can be centered to couple to a narrow (36") gauge car or offset to either side to couple to a standard (57") gauge car.  The normal trip to Elizabethton and back with Number 7 had the narrow gauge cars on one end and the standard gauge cars on the other end with the locomotive in the middle of the train.


No. 10
Date: 1930's

Big John Lewis with his oilcan, Charlie "Monk" Bayless, unknown, Brownie Allison, and Brownie's baby brother Floyd Allison.  Engine 10, late 1930's.

Brownie Allison's dad, Francis M. "Cap" Allison was the Superintendent of the railroad for many years.  Brownie was 8 years old in the summer of 1906, when the shop on Legion Street was being built.  He told me several times that he made his first day's pay on the railroad that summer.  His father came home for lunch and said that the man who was firing the steam-powered concrete mixer had got mad and quit because he had to carry his coal about twenty yards to the boiler.  Brownie told him that he could do the job.  Cap told him that he was too little to fire the mixer but he piped up and said "WELL I HAVE BEEN!".  He had been down hanging around the construction job and fired the mixer while the concrete was mixed to pour the pits in the shop, which still stands today.  That was his first day on the railroad.

His dad worked him off and on in the engine crew pool as a fireman from the time he was twelve.  When Brownie was in his junior year at Science Hill High School,  Cap ran out of men to run the trains.  He came to the school to get Brownie to run the yard between Johnson City and Elizabethton on the big yard engine Number 7.  Brownie, who was just a little guy when he was full grown, worried all the way to the shop about having to run the big 7, as it was hard to handle and even the best engineers could not handle the moves on her without putting a monkey wrench on the reverse quadrant. The 7 was so stout when a man unlatched the bar to go forward or reverse, the power of the steam would run the bar all the way to one end or the other of the quadrant, and more than once broke an engineer's forearm doing it.  The only man they had that could handle the 7 was Big John Lewis.  He was the biggest, strongest man in a family filled with big strong men.  He and four of his five brothers worked on the narrow gauge, and their dad WIlliam "Uncle Bill" Lewis was on the crew that dug the first tunnel in Doe River Gorge, and stayed with the railroad until he was 82. Well, Brownie got to the shop and headed for the big 7.  At the same time, Big John was lumbering down the ready track headed to his regular engine on the Cranberry Local, the new Number 12 (the engine now at Tweetsie Railroad).  He was ahead of Brownie, and stopped at the gangway of the big 7 and sat his great big dinner bucket up on the apron, turned around to little 16-year old Brownie and nodded over at the 12 and grunted.  Uncle John never did have a lot to say but could offer up a commanding grunt, even in my day.  He took the hard job and let Brownie go to Cranberry and back on the 12, a much easier job.  That was Brownie's first day as locomotive engineer.  He always talked about how much he appreciated Uncle John swapping out with him that day.  That would have been in 1917. 

Look at the picture of Uncle John and Brownie together and you can see the difference.  Monk Bayless was a big guy, and Uncle John makes him look downright scrawny.  You can see the size of his forearms and those huge hands, which looked like a big wrestler even when he was an old man.  Then look at little Brownie with his baby brother Floyd.  His cousin George told me that Floyd was a real flashy guy, drove an REO automobile, had nice clothes and alway had a bunch of women after him.  One of them gave him a bad disease that wrecked his body and mind and he died quite young.  A reputed part-time resident of Johnson City in the 1920s, Al Capone, died of the same disease. As far as I know this was the only picture in Mr. Crumley's stuff that showed Floyd.



Runaway Train
Date: April 16, 1916

Miller's Crossing
Date: 1976

On April 16, 1916 a cut of standard gauge freight cars got away from the yard crew in Hughes Cut and rolled down the hill toward Milligan College.  They hit the Cranberry Local and smashed everything up on the front of engine 9 right on Miller's Road crossing.  Despite the destruction, the "only" injury was Fireman " Turkey " Hughes who got his toes cut off on the tender apron when it hit.  Engineer Big John Lewis was not injured.

The photo below is Miller's Road Crossing in 1976, right at the location where Turkey Hughes lost his toes sixty years earlier.




Yard Engine 7
Date: 1932

Yard Engine 7 outside the Johnson City Legion Street shop on June 6, 1932.  She has been modified since the pictures in 1909, with a different frame and smaller driving wheels to make her pull better and not be so prone to break rails. Her tender has been modified to hold more water as well. 

Below is the 7 after Cap Allison gave her a new frame, wheels, and changed the tender to hold more water. This 1930s photo was taken down between Spring Street and Buffalo Streets Johnson City.

Downtown Johnson City
Date: 1930s



At the foot of the wye
Date: 1930s
Here is old 7 right at the foot of the wye in Johnson City. The train would head into Johnson City from Boone, then come off the main line up by the Legion Street shop.  The wye went around the yard office and another short track came off the east leg right beside the yard office (which still stands) where the cabooses were stored.  This was the "cab track".  The bottom of the we (the "Tail Track") crossed Legion Street and went into where that project is today.  The switch on the tail track was thrown and the whole train backed up westbound up the west side of the we, rejoining the main line on the west side of the yard office.  The conductor stood on the back of the train and watched out all the way across Roan,Spring, and Buffalo.  He had a rear-end brake valve that would stop the train in case of an emergency.  It had a little air whistle on it to blow for the crossings.  The old main line is gone now after the switch that goes into Builder's First Choice. BTW, that track is the old tannery spur that went all the way around Tannery Knob to the furnace in the old days. You cross if on State of Franklin right at Builder's First Choice.

Below is a shot of the yard in the late 1930's.  The Clinchfield is on the right, the narrow gauge transfer is on the left. You can see the still-standing shop and yard office and the now gone car shop and paint shop.  The "wye" split the yard office.


Yard View
Date: Late 1930s



Leaving Johnson City
Date: 1930s
Here is the Boone passenger train crossing Spring Street in Johnson City.  This location is now the middle of State of Franklin Road.   Mr. Crumley was a mite mixed up on that 1916 date.  They didn't get the Engine 14 until 1919, I think.  This picture was probably around the mid to late 1930's. It is the same block of buildings as the photo immediately above. I have found a few of Mr. Crumley's photos that are mislabeled - and have adjusted them accordingly but for the most part Cy had tremendous recall of events, people, and places.




Tighteye and Brownie
Date: 1940s
Here is Tighteye Simerly grabbing the drinking water while talking to Brownie Allison on the deck of the 11.  This is a videocap Dave Spiceland sent me.  Looks just like them!  This is most likely on a labor train during World War II.



Tighteye and Brownie
Date: 1933

TIghteye Simerly and Brownie Allison, the engine crew of the 50th Anniversary Excursion, pose at Linville Gap.  Why don't you walk up to Tighteye and tell him he looks like a sissy??  This was in 1933 I think.  Author Johnny Graybeal has all the information about the excursion in one of his books. Two better friends never worked together on any job than these two men did on the narrow gauge.  I knew both of them very well and I just can't tell you how much fun we all had together.  I miss them a lot.

Here they are again (photo below), and looks like they have struck the same pose as they had in 1933.  I did NOT pose them, they did that without any coaxing from me.  This photo was taken at the Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park in 1977. We were at one of the Old-Timers' Days at Tweetsie and these annual tributes to the retired railroad personnel were treasured by the veterans of the ET&WNC and truly were something special to experience.


Tighteye and Brownie
Date: 1977


Tighteye and Brownie
Date: 1977

Railroading is dangerous work. Tighteye Simerly and Turkey Hughes experienced tragic accidents that could occur within a split second working with and around locomotives, freight cars, and railway equipment.

After the narrow gauge portion of the ET&WNC went out in of operation in 1951, Tighteye took a job with the Southern Railway out of Bulls Gap as a locomotive fireman.  He worked his last day on the ET&WNC in the summer of 1951, on the train that was pulling up the steel rails.  The rails were out as far as Blevins when he made his last trip.
He worked the extra board jobs on the Southern mainline to Knoxville and frequently to Asheville, firing the big standard gauge steam locomotives equipped with stokers.  He finally stood for a regular second shift yard job in Bulls Gap in 1952, firing for a man named Lace Ellenburg, and frequently for engineer Jim Campbell, who was the father of Hee-Haw comedian Archie Campbell.
The diesels came to his division of the Southern and about that time he stood for a regular job on the Johnson City Yard working on Frank Williams' crew.  Frank was the son of George Q. Williams, the old narrow gauge man, and the nephew of Mr. Crumley.  They were switching at the crossing where the Norfolk Southern yard office now stands and Tighteye was on the ground helping the brakemen with some moves in and out of the short sidings.  This was at the time they were putting in automatic signals at that crossing and his feet tangled in the unburied signal wires and he fell beside the moving cut of cars.  His jacket sleeve got hung up in the truck and he got rolled over a hundred yards tangled up in the wheels of a boxcar.  It tore him all to pieces.  He broke his back, fractured his skull, and his left arm was mangled to the point it had to be amputated.  That was in the late fall of 1953, and that was his last day on the railroad. 

Tighteye got a comfortable settlement from the Southern Railway and bore them no ill will, and lived the rest of his life quite comfortably.  He was as good as ever until about two weeks before he died, when he got really weak and his blood just "started going away".  His mind was as good as ever right to the end, and I mean until the night he died.  I was in Alabama and Ruth called me to tell me he was not doing good so I sent my Dad over to see about him.  Dad said he wanted to see me, but I had a meeting in Memphis that I just had to be at so I didn't get there before he died.  I hate I missed seeing him, but we were square.  I had seen him about a month before and he told me then that if anything happened to him that he wanted me to be there "when they put me away and be my pallbearer".  I was and took Ruth to both the visitation and the funeral.  I carried his right shoulder as is the railroad tradition. The youngest railroad man is supposed to carry the right shoulder of the departed railroad man, and I was certainly not the youngest man, but the only railroad man of the six, so I took the spot. 
He is buried in the mausoleum over at Happy Valley.  He is about twenty yards from Mr. Crumley and Ruth, and across the road and up the hill from my uncle, BIg John Lewis and his brothers.  I had his ET&WNC pass from 1922 good for passage on the ET&WNC and Linville River Railway.  When we put him away, I had his pass in my hand and stuck it to the needle on the flower they gave me to wear as a pallbearer.  We laid them on top of his casket and I put his pass with those flowers to be put in the crypt with him.  I knew that when Gabriel showed up he would want to take the narrow gauge up to heaven, and I thought he might could use his pass.
Clyde Simerly had more influence on me than anybody I ever knew in my life except maybe my Daddy, and even that one is close.  He not only taught me about his railroad days and tricks of the trade but he taught me about life and how to be a man, a real man.  He taught me that being rich is not very much about money.  He showed me how to be tough and not to be afraid to say what you mean, even if it might not be what somebody might want to hear.  He showed me how a man can have a lot of birthdays behind him but not be old at all.  I guess he just taught me about life and how to live it and have a great time living it, no matter even if you have one arm or three!
He was one of the best friends I ever had and I think about him and miss him every day.


The Eye is still Tight
Date: 1992
Mr. and Mrs. Clyde "Tighteye" Simerly, Tweetsie Railroad, 1992. Tighteye was 93 in this shot and as sharp as he ever was and nearly as tough. I named my youngest son after him. The Elizabethton Star published a well deserving editorial - tribute to Mr. Simerly following his death in 1993.


Tighteye and Walt
Date: 1976

Engineer Walter Allison (Brownie's Uncle) and Tighteye Simerly at Colonial Hills Nursing Home, Johnson City in 1976.

Walt died a week after I made this shot.  He would not respond to his children or the nurses.  I took Tighteye over there to see him and TIghteye told the nurse that he could get a rise out of him.  Tighteye went over to Walt who just would sit with his head hung down to his chest in a wheelchair and said something in his ear.  Walt rose up and roared with laughter.  I am really proud of getting this shot of the two old friends the last time they got together in this life. Unfortunately to report, I do not know what Tighteye said.

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Kenneth Riddle
Johnson City, Tennessee
November 2005