City engineer will oversee completion of train project

By Rozella Hardin
STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   The Historic Train Development located on the Highway 19E Bypass next to the Elizabethton-Carter County Chamber of Commerce is expected to be completed this summer.
   Frank Robinson, who has overseen the development, said Alan Pope, Construction Engineer for the City of Elizabethton, has agreed to pick up the project and see it to completion. Also, M.C. Campbell, local builder, will assist Pope. "This has been an ongoing project for three years, and it has come to the point that my health will not allow me to continue with it," said Robinson. He said that a number of people as well as businesses have contributed to the development. "They have helped financially and by contributing materials. The train cover was donated by Star Builders, and brick were donated by General Shale," he said.
   Completion of the project will include extending the Chamber parking lot to the train display, some grading and landscaping, guttering the shelter, as well as the construction of a concrete walkway around the train. Also, the lighting will be upgraded, and a water fountain added.
   Also, the train committee is hoping to locate the original bell from the NAR steam engine. Robinson said that he was told that after the decision was made to scrap the NAR engine, some employees or former employee took the bell off the engine to preserve it because of the historical significance of the train and bell. However, the bell has never been located. "We would like to get the original bell back," said Robinson, who said a cash reward will be given for the bell. Persons having information regarding the bell are asked to call Robinson or Sheriff John Henson.
   "Our goal from the beginning has been to recognize the importance of the railroad in Elizabethton's development and growth as well as its history," Robinson said.
   The display includes the legendary North American Rayon steam engine -- a reminder when rayon was king in Elizabethton; a boxcar from the Tweetsie narrow-gauge railroad; and a caboose from Southern Railway.
   The glory days of the railway here ended almost a generation ago, but the memories -- and the traces -- still remain.
   The ET & WNC Railroad and the Southern Railway dominated the local scene from the turn of the last century on. To the north, the East Tennessee and Virginia Railway (one of the railroad branches from which the Southern was created) ran from Bristol to Mountain City, and the ET & WNC, Tweetsie for short -- ran from Johnson City to Boone.
   The train display is representative of the railroads which have been a part of Elizabethton and Carter County's history.
   Pope said labor for the project will be provided by the Tennessee Department of Corrections, Carter County Annex. "The City has a permanent crew from the prison, which provides the labor for many of our projects. The most recent work they have done has been at the Carter County Courthouse in the offices of the Register of Deeds and the Clerk and Master," Pope said.
   In addition to the train project, Pope said the prison crew will this summer put a new roof on the Elizabethton Senior Citizens Center as well as do the Veterans Walkway of Honor once plans become available. "We hope to have the train project completed by late summer," he added.
   A historic marker, which has already been secured from the Tennessee Department of Conservation, will be placed at the site.
   The services of Pope for the project were made available by City Manager Charles Stahl.
   Robinson said, "We are grateful to the City Manager and staff for making Pope available for the train development. He has the expertise to see the project through to completion. Once completed, the project will be a tourist attraction as well as a historical attraction."