Fans like it because it is short, completely independent (in more ways than one), and sticks staunchly to steam power—represented by three extraordinary locomotives, the like of which there is not anywhere else. They like also its galloping rails, which are rough enough to thrill but not sufficiently out of line or surface to derail more than once a trip.
Railroad historians are well hardened to tales of corporate vicissitude, but even they grow weepy when confronted with the hard luck story of the Smoky Mountain Railroad—a fit subject for Voltaire’s “Candide.” It never did have a smooth middle class existence; from the year it was opened it never found a visible means of support and, like a street Arab, wandered from lease to lease with a reducing trip through the courts in between tries.
W.J. Oliver is said to have built the old Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern in 1909 for the purpose of selling it to the Southern, but somehow, the sale fell through. Local banks took over the property and tried to get as good a deal as possible for trackage rights of 2.2 miles between Vestal and Knoxville over the Southern’s Marysville branch. Since lumber formed most of the traffic in those days, rapid deforestation brought the line to its first financial crisis: in 1921 the little railroad took its first whirl through the courts and emerged shirtless, though still trousered, as the Knoxville & Carolina Railroad.
Five years later its management eyed the courts once more—this time with a threat to take the matter up with a junky. But the taxpayers of Sevier County were still paying interest on the $150,000 in bonds issued to aid original construction and were anxious to keep the road going. Hence, they offered to waive county taxes for five years, and the local trade volunteered to order in its merchandise by rail.
With these as talking points, the road’s management offered the property to the Tennessee & North Carolina then operating a lumber road from Newport, TN 21 miles up the Pigeon River to Crestmont, NC and a separate 25-mile line which, connecting with the Southern’s famed Asheville-Murphy branch at Andrews, ran in circles through the woods to Hayesville. Neither of these T&NC roads was located anywhere near the other or the Smoky Mountain.
Nevertheless, their owners liked the proposition; they announced plans to run motor trucks for l.c.l. (less than container load) over the 24-mile gap between Sevierville and Newport; and, with personal funds amounting to $75,000, acquired the Smoky, the territory of which was described at the time as 75% in timber, 15% under cultivation and 10% in pasture.
Weaklings united do not make for strength. Late in 1937 the T&NC interests sold their Smoky stock to Max Kesselman and Joe Silverstein, acting as the Midwest Steel Company, of Charleston, WV—a junk outfit. On the first day of 1938 the T&NC, with approval of the Interstate Commerce Commission, abandoned its Newport Division, ending the daily service of a quaint “gasoline passenger bus” for passengers, l.c.l. and mail.
In April the T&NC sought to abandon operation of the Smoky, while, at the same time, Midwest Steel asked for permission to dismantle the property. The latter proposal was not successful, and on October 14 the Smoky undertook independent operation under its scrap dealer managers.
Arguing that the road was in terrible shape, President Silverstein asked the ICC to approve an RFC “rehabilitation loan” of $40,000, a request which the Commission denied promptly, on grounds that present and future earning power was insufficient to sustain it and that the movable security which the Smoky offered comprised but two combine cars, two flat cars and one box car—all exceedingly old and disheveled.
Source: ‘Smoky Mountain,’ by William H. Schmidt, Trains magazine, December 1949, pp. 28-30
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