We are a local chapter, No. 215, of the National Railway Historical Society, and the only such chapter whose primary interest lies in the preservation of the history and heritage of the former Clinchfield Railroad. From an humble beginning of 35 charter members in 1994, our membership has expanded to well over 275, from 24 states and three foreign countries.
Clinchfield Railroad 4-6-6-4 No. 672, shown here in an undated view, is stopped in the siding at Miller Yard, Virginia. Built in 1943 to Union Pacific plans, it first saw service on the Denver and Rio Grande before heading east to the Clinchfield in 1947. It was retired in 1953 after only 10 years of service by its two owners.
A Brief History of the Clinchfield
A long time in building, the Clinchfield Railroad was completed in 1909, operating from the coal fields at Dante, Virginia, to Spartanburg, South Carolina, 242 miles to the south. And then, six years later, the Northend Extension was completed to bridge the last 36 miles to Elkhorn City, Kentucky and a connection with the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway. With this addition in 1915, the dream of the founding fathers of the road had finally come to fruition, resulting in a 277-mile line built to modern construction methods that served as a quick service, short route connection between the Midwest and Southeast.
The road had been planned from as early as 1835, but it was many years later before any semblance of construction was begun on what later would evolve into the Clinchfield Railroad. The Charleston, Cincinnati & Chicago Railroad, commonly referred to as the "Three C's", was the first to grade right of way and lay track, but little progress was made. The work was soon taken up by the Ohio River & Charleston Railway, which completed a line from Johnson City, Tennessee into the mountain ranges of North Carolina, near Huntdale.
And then George L. Carter came on the scene, with his financial backing from a syndicate in New York that controlled interests in the coal fields through which the proposed road was to be built. Carter and his supporters bought the line from the OR&C, and renamed it the South and Western Railway. Under Carter's leadership, the line began to extend northward toward the coalfields, and southward up the northern side of the Blue Ridge mountain range.
In 1908 Carter, who served as president of the line, reorganized the railroad under the name Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio Railway, and in just over a year, through a massive construction campaign, completed the line down the south slope of the Blue Ridge, and on to Spartanburg, South Carolina, and reached the coal fields at Dante, Virginia on the north end.
The road operated as the CC&O until 1925, when the line was leased to the Louisville and Nashville Railroad and the Atlantic Coast Line Railroad for a period of 999 years. As lessees, the ACL & L&N organized the Clinchfield Railroad Company, which would operate the road independently of its parents for the next 57 years, although its equipment would be required to wear Family Lines paint and logo in the last few years of independence. But in 1982, the CRR would lose its autonomy, when the L&N and SCL folded their holdings into a new company, to be called The Seaboard System, at which time the Clinchfield became simply an operating division of its rapidly expanding owners.
Today, the former Clinchfield Railroad is an integral part of CSX Transportation, which has continued to expand after its formation by merging the Chessie System and the Seaboard System into one vast transportation conglomerate. The latest expansion of the system was acquisition of 42 percent of Conrail, with Norfolk Southern getting the other 58 percent.
The Clinchfield's fate has fared much better than some lines that have been taken over by larger roads, wherein traffic is routed off the line and rails eventually ripped up. In fact, just the opposite is true for the Clinchfield corridor. Traffic has more than doubled since the days of independent operation, and the line now operates at capacity, with an average of 24 trains per day operating out of the division terminal headquarters at Erwin, Tennessee, with an equal number arriving. Although the mallet and Challenger locomotives of the steam era, and gray and yellow diesel locomotives of the modern era are only a memory, a sense of the past lingers up and down the line. Through the pride of the few remaining CRR employees, who so diligently instill in new employees a desire to continue the tradition of mountain railroading at its best, the heritage of the Clinchfield is alive and well.
To assure that the history and heritage of the former Clinchfield Railroad and its employees are preserved, the Carolina Clinchfield Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society is intent upon using its resources to promote and publicize, primarily through its quarterly historical publication, The Jitterbug, any material that will have that desired effect.
To learn more about our publication, dues, meetings, etc., please click on the appropriate links.
Send mail to
questions or comments about this web site.