Can you hear the whistles blowing?

The East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC) was certainly a local railroad. The Tennessee legislature granted permission for its’ construction in 1866. After false starts and delays, it finally was up and running to the mines at Cranberry, NC. Johnson City was the location for the Headquarters with the offices and the depot on Buffalo Street. The building still stands, although somewhat altered in appearance. One can recognize the gabled building at Buffalo, Wilson Avenue and State of Franklin Road — now owned and used by Free Service Tire Company.

Legend has it that, due to the terms of sale from ET&WNC to Free Service, a small room / location in the building must remain unused and be designated as the last remnant of the old depot and offices.

The main track ran parallel to the south side of the depot (between the depot and the current State of Franklin Road). Although we are told an extended track was made to the Model Mill (General Mills on W. Walnut Street) around 1909, the main track went east at the rear of current buildings facing Tipton Street.

During the opening years of the Bemberg Plant in Elizabethton, the railroad provided (to and from) transportation for many commuting workers from Johnson City and North Carolina. It also served as a military troop train for at least one event.

The nickname, “Tweetsie “, is said to have been derived from someone’s idea in describing the shrill, tweeting sound made by the engine whistle. There were several engines, passenger cars, boxcars, flatcars, a combination of mail / passenger cars, cabooses and motor cars in use through the years until the line ceased to operate in the fall of 1950. Several miles of the railroad are still in use between Johnson City and Elizabethton; and, it is known as the East Tennessee Railroad, with one engine and two employees.

In the early years, there were two employees of ET&WNC who made up a team who worked six days a week with their run from Johnson City to Boone, NC. C.E. “Cy” Crumley as Conductor and Sherman Pippin was the Engineer. There were many unique and colorful employees of the railroad, but these two men seem to have been most often quoted. Many books and articles have been written about their wonderful attitudes and the style with which they ran the train. Both were certainly unique as “Good Will Ambassadors” to everyone, especially during the Depression years.

Back around 1938, Cy Crumley and others appeared in a short feature movie made by Columbia Pictures featuring the Tweetsie, called “Tennessee Tweetsie”.

You can learn more at: Johnson’s Depot and Tweetsie websites.

Posted on June 6th, 2008 by Ken Harrison in History

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1. DON DAVIS - September 16, 2009

MY FATHER AND HIS BROTHERS AND SISTERS, RODE TWEETSIE, TO SCHOOL FROM LINVILLE GAP, NORTH CAROLINA TO NEWLAND NC, AND MY DAD WENT TO WORK FOR ET&WNC TRUCK LINES AFTER WWII. SO ET HAS BEEN
PART OF OUR FAMILY FOR MANY YEARS

2. Ken Harrison - September 17, 2009

Thanks for the nice connection, Don. Are you the Don that lives in the Young family house? Ken