Book Excerpt: The Clinchfield No. 1 — Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine

Posted by | August 18, 2014

Mark A Stevens and Alf PeoplesPlease welcome guest authors Mark A. Stevens and A.J. “Alf” Peoples. Stevens has served as an editor and publisher of both weekly and daily newspapers in Tennessee and Louisiana in an award-winning journalism career spanning more than 25 years. He has been recognized for his work by Washington, D.C.-based Presstime Magazine, the Tennessee and Louisiana press associations and the Society of Professional Journalists. He is president of MAS Communications, a South Carolina publishing and marketing company. In 2010, he received the Unicoi County Historical Society Walter Garland Award for History Preservation. Peoples is a third-generation railroader. In 2014, he retired as a locomotive engineer from CSX Transportation. His first job was as a car marshal with the Clinchfield Railroad in 1969. Today, he is active as a member of the board of directors of the Clinchfield Railroad Museum and the Unicoi County Heritage Museum. He is a member of the Carolina-Clinchfield and Watauga Valley chapters of the National Railway Historical Association. In 2014, the East Tennessee Historical Society named Alf and Mark as recipients of its Award of Distinction for their work in preserving the history of the Clinchfield No. 1. The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee’s Legendary Steam Engine is a follow-up to last year’s The One & Only: A Pictorial History of the Clinchfield No. 1, published by MASproduction and available on amazon.com.

 

The following is a partial look at Chapter 7, titled “The Hatcher Brothers.”

•••••

Ed runs. George fires.

That’s as succinctly as H. Reid could make his apt description of the Hatcher brothers, who became as synonymous with Clinchfield Railroad history as the iconic steam locomotive the two powered through the South for eleven years. Ed and George were the sons of Fanny Lasure Hatcher and George L. Hatcher Sr., a Clinchfield Railroad conductor. The brothers had nine other siblings and grew up in a large home in the Canah Chapel community of Erwin. Ed was born on January 27, 1917, and George on October 14, 1920, which, he likes to point out, is also the birthdate of General Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Clinchfield No 1 cover

Ed was confident and a star athlete at Unicoi County’s only high school. He went on to play for East Tennessee State College in nearby Johnson City, where he became an All-American fullback on the football team.

He was easy-going and employed a dry sense of humor. Like his older brother, George was a good athlete, known for many years, even late in life, as a star runner and bicyclist. Growing up, the brothers were inseparable, so it surprised no one to see them working side by side on the railroad.

Ed went to work for the railroad on January 25, 1940, and George signed on for railroad work on December 7, 1941, the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. George reported for railroad work the next day, but a little more than six months later, he enlisted in the war effort with the U.S. Army Air Corps on June 25, 1942. On January 9, 1943, he left to serve in the war. Soon after, Ed left his railroad job behind and also signed up to fight in the War to End All Wars.

Before George became a household name as the No. 1’s exuberant fireman, he made Erwin history in another way: as a German prisoner of war and a member of what would become known as “the Erwin Nine.” Nine young men from the small town of Erwin, population 3,350, had all volunteered to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps. None served together, and all were shot down at different times and in different locations.

Amazingly, though, despite there being more than fifty prison camps throughout Nazi Germany, all nine Erwin men were captured and sent to the same POW camp, Stalag Luft IV. Their stories are told in Hilda Padgett’s excellent volume, The Erwin Nine, and in George’s own thirty-eight-page book, titled simply My World War II Experiences. After he and his fellow prisoners were liberated by the Fourteenth Armored Division of the Third Army, George returned to work for the railroad on October 22, 1945, followed soon after by Ed. Both had survived the war and were eager to return to a familiar life in Erwin.

Ed and George both served as engineers on freight trains for the Clinchfield. Both had run steam engines, but by 1968, when the No. 1 was overhauled, they, like all their co-workers, were operating diesels. With nearly fifty years’ experience between them, the brothers were just what general manager T.D. Moore was looking for in a team to run his prized steam locomotive. He also wanted loyal men who would embrace the job with a passion and a duty, and the men needed to be strong and have the stamina to do the hard work.

The Clinchfield No. 1 leads an excursion in 1973. The famed steam locomotive was used for hundreds of excursions from 1968 until 1979 and visited seven states from her Erwin, Tenn., base with the Clinchfield Railroad. She is now housed at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD.

The Clinchfield No. 1 leads an excursion in 1973. The famed steam locomotive was used for hundreds of excursions from 1968 until 1979 and visited seven states from her Erwin, TN base with the Clinchfield Railroad. She is now housed at the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore, MD.

The restoration of the No. 1 was already under way when Robert Rice, assistant road foreman, called George at his home and asked if he could come down to see Moore. When George arrived, the general manager asked him straight out: “Will you be the fireman for No. 1?” “Well,” George recalled in a 2014 interview for this book, “the first thing I said was, “Who’s going to run it?” And Mr. Moore said, “Your big brother.”

I told him I’d only fire her for Ed Hatcher and no one else. I had a regular job and made it clear that I was not to be called for anybody else…Ed Hatcher was a good engineer. He could run them like nobody else. I would know what he was going to do, and he knew what I was going to do.”

Over the years, the brothers, immediately popular with the media, enjoyed playing down their skills and playing up tall tales. A couple of examples:

Ed said to Sandlapper magazine in 1971: “We got this job because we scored lowest on the engineer’s exam.”
George told Dot Jackson, columnist for the Charlotte Observer, in 1972: “Well, they got 90 engineers workin’ for the Clinchfield. When they started runnin’ this thing again, why they had us all draw straws t’see who’d have to do it. Ed drawed the shortest ’un and I drew the next shortest.”

The Hatchers actually took immense pride in being the driving force behind the No. 1. “The truth is,” Moore once said, “the Hatchers don’t like anyone else touching No. 1. They love that old engine.”

Brooks Pepper, the West Virginia Hillbilly columnist, wrote in 1969: “A description of the One Spot, its train and its railroad, would be incomplete without mention of its crew, the brothers Ed and George Hatcher. The Hatchers have been in the cab of the old engine on nearly every one of its trips, Ed at the throttle and George at the coal scoop. Both men are engineers of some years’ standing, and both have regular runs. From the careful attention the brothers give the engine and the skill with which they run and fire it, it is evident that they are genuinely fond of it. The One Spot returns the care by not breaking down.”

Engineer Ed Hatcher takes a look at his train from the cab of the Clinchfield No. 1. This is one of the many excursions Ed and his brother, George (the train's fireman) would lead between 1968 and 1979. Behind the coal tender is a diesel locomotive designed to resemble a box car or passenger car. The excursions were often too much in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee for the little steam engine, which was built in 1882.

Engineer Ed Hatcher takes a look at his train from the cab of the Clinchfield No. 1. This is one of the many excursions Ed and his brother, George (the train’s fireman) would lead between 1968 and 1979. Behind the coal tender is a diesel locomotive designed to resemble a box car or passenger car. The excursions were often too much in the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia and Tennessee for the little steam engine, which was built in 1882.

Bill Cannon once wrote that Ed Hatcher “pampers and pets the Number One with plenty of tender loving care.”

His first time aboard the No. 1 was a learning experience for George, who remembers that he “had to use a lot of muscle to open the throttle. I had to learn how to fire the engine,” he said. “You might not believe this, but when you shovel coal, the fire box lights up so you can’t see nothing but white hot. So I had to learn to count the scoops of coals to know where to put them. I put nine scoops of coal. That way, I had a level fire…Each and every steam engine has a different personality. A diesel is clean and very efficient, but, for some reason, we had all fallen in love with the steam engine. I was honored to be offered to fire the One Spot. My seniority really shouldn’t have let me fire a steam engine, but I jumped at the chance.”

The brothers were instant celebrities, and the passengers wanted to hear the No. 1’s whistle pierce the mountains and bounce through the valleys. In his marvelous book Trains, Trestles & Tunnels: Railroads of the Southern Appalachians, Lou Harshaw wrote, “What great charisma the two Hatchers have! Their coveralls were immaculate, pressed knife sharp, and their handsome ruggedness portrayed perfect images of the railroad folk heroes of the earlier days.”

The Hatchers were the perfect men for the job, and they took their roles seriously. “A lot of people would want to talk to us, have our autographs and talk about the engine,” George said, “and they’d get in the cab and want to know what makes it go and how do you fire it. And, you know what? It never got old. I was proud to work on a steam engine. I was proud to work on the No. 1. I welcomed the people asking questions. I’d let people ride it for a little while. I asked Mr. Moore about that once. I said, “I know I’m not supposed to, but once in a while if there’s a special reason, can I do it?” He said, “Now, George, I don’t want anyone getting hurt, but, OK, go ahead.”

Brothers George Hatcher, fireman, and Ed Hatcher, engineer. Photo by Roger Cook.

Brothers George Hatcher, fireman, and Ed Hatcher, engineer. Photo by Roger Cook.

One of those passengers was nine-year-old Julie Kilby, daughter of Tom Jennings, the Clinchfield’s road foreman for engines. “I kind of grew up riding the No. 1 Spot,” Kilby recalled. “I was very fortunate to get to know George and Ed Hatcher and all the guys on the train, and one of the things I was very fortunate to do was ride the engine itself…There was a certain whistle it would do. I had the whistle remembered, and it would go, “Doo, Dooooo, Do, Do.” So I tried to do the whistle like that…It was almost like a rope-like handle that swung down. I had to reach up kind of high for it, really, and I was standing in the seat with Ed holding me.

I just remember trying to pull it down, and I thought it would be so easy, but the steam coming from just the whistle, it was hard for me to do. I had to…get my knees up and really pull with two hands. It totally took me back, because I thought it would be so light and not hard to do at all…Even the way that they had their signature whistle, it was hard to do. Again, a lot of respect for what they did and how they did it. Those guys worked hard. I loved George and Ed…I can still smell the coal burning, and to me, it’s like a childhood memory for me—like warm cookies baking might be for someone else.”

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