Riding the Rails Appalachia Bare at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

Earlier this month, Appalachia Bare took ourselves a little trip to Chattanooga and visited the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM). While there, we took a 65-minute train ride on the Local1)Why the term “local”? These short trains were a “lifeline to small towns along the railroad.” They often delivered mail, foods, etc. to these towns, and sometimes even took children to school. Vintage Short Line.

I. History

Chattanooga’s first rail line was built in 1850. After a series of setbacks, the East Tennessee & Georgia Railroad (ET&G) built a 58-mile line from Dalton to Athens, Georgia in 1851. The Western & Atlantic Railroad (W&A) provided a connected route between Chattanooga and Atlanta. In June 1855, a bridge opened across the Tennessee River, and burst all-rail travel out of the water, so to speak. A person could travel from Knoxville to Atlanta, Augusta, Savannah, Charleston, and Montgomery. The ET&G, however, saw prosperous possibilities in and from Chattanooga.

The city “quickly became a railroad hub with industries springing up in the area to take advantage of the new transportation corridors.” Then came the Civil War and Chattanooga became a coveted strategic city with both sides recognizing the advantages of its waterways and railroads.


II. A Waning Business Leads to Preservation

The use for railroads declined in the late 1950s, when automobiles and interstates and air travel became the thing. When this waning occurred, museums were founded “to save some of the histories of this iconic mode of American transportation.” When steam became obsolete on major railways, the engines and passenger cars were on their way to the junk pile. Before that happened, however, Chattanooga’s railroad fans bought a small collection. In the early 1960s, a “small group of local residents . . . were intent on trying to save some American history by preserving, restoring, and operating authentic railway equipment from the ‘Golden Age of Railroading’” so they established the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum. Donations came then. For example, the Southern Railway “made generous donations of obsolete rail cars to museums like TVRM . . .”


III. The Museum

The museum was a self-guided tour in a wide-open building filled with many nostalgic and historical pieces. We explored a sizeable model train layout across a large table, and noted a number of passenger areas arranged according to decades, including period furniture, dishes, travel necessities, etc. Poster-sized writeups about railroad and regional history hung on walls throughout the building. Train schedules were posted here and there. Blueprints hung from the rafters. All in all, the museum was very interesting and informative.


IV. Grand Junction Station

After perusing the museum, we strolled toward Grand Junction Station to catch the train. We passed a great number of inactive train engines and cars of all types: steam and diesel, cars and coaches, etc. The lobby at Grand Junction had long wooden benches with dividers for waiting passengers. The area was also equipped with a shoe shine station (nonoperational) and a small sitting section by a warm fireplace. Walking a little further, we came upon the Depot Deli adjacent to a gift shop.

At last, we made our way outside and joined a waiting group of people. The aura of excitement was so contagious. People were grinning ear to ear, and children were hopping with anticipation. In the distance, a train whistle sounded. In a few minutes the Central of Georgia Railroad train arrived in all her glory.


V. All Aboard

Perhaps the only unpleasant thing about the experience was the lack of crowd management. The general strategy was to hurry and squeeze in the line, which made it quite competitive, and let’s just say smiles disappeared. We boarded coach 906. The ride came with a tour guide who told us snippets of history about the area and the trains. Turns out, coach 906

. . . is unique among the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum’s collection due to the dividing wall in the middle of the coach, denoting it as a formerly segregated car, sometimes referred to as a “Jim Crow” car. The car included two sets of segregated restrooms, one set each for both ends of the car. The Central of Georgia Railroad continued to enforce segregation on the car until the end of that era on the railroads in the 1950s.

The TVRM keeps the car in the authentic segregated condition as “a reminder of a difficult time in our nation’s history.” The tour guide stated they preserve the past, even if unpleasant, to educate others so we are less likely repeat those awful times. Interestingly, the 906 may be “the only formerly segregated car in operating condition with the segregating wall intact.”


VI. The Journey

The train journey was wonderful and surprisingly smooth. We crossed the Chickamauga Creek bridge. Rain had made the waters muddy. Still, these manmade structures are always so fascinating. At one point, we came to the Missionary Ridge Tunnel, constructed ca. 1858. The tunnel was hand dug, and, as the train rolled through the darkness, the tunnel seemed just a hair’s breadth from each side of the train.

We stopped mid-ride at the restoration shop where the facility refurbishes their vintage trains. Before we re-boarded, we witnessed an awesome and incredulous demonstration where the train actually rotated on a turntable to face the other direction.2)Back in the day, the turntable was maneuvered by four men.


VII. Conclusion

Places like TVRM are such a treasure of history. They preserve trains, railways, and an overall nostalgic experience. By doing so, TVRM wants everyone to understand “the importance of this industry and how it helped create the modern world in which we live.”


Sources (for quotes and bits of information):

  • Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
  • Pullman Porters
  • Depot Deli
  • Gift Shop
  • “Civil War Echoes at the Tennessee” by Bill Schafer and Mark Brainard – Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum
  • “East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad and the Civil War” Bill Schafer and Mike Schafer, eds. – Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum, Southern Railway Association
  • “East Tennessee: The Critical Link” – Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum

**All photographs taken by Delonda Anderson


1 Why the term “local”? These short trains were a “lifeline to small towns along the railroad.” They often delivered mail, foods, etc. to these towns, and sometimes even took children to school.
2 Back in the day, the turntable was maneuvered by four men.

1 Comment

  1. I really enjoyed this travelogue, full of history, nostalgia and even a bit of supernatural! The photos were great, adding a real feel for the enjoyment of a trip personally experienced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *