Its public image of elegance can be traced back to 1926 when the railroad began adorning some of its steam locomotives, the first of which were the fabled Class Ps4 Pacifics, in a royal livery of Virginia Green with gold trim and white-wall wheels. At the time, nearly a decade prior to the colorful streamliner hitting the rails, this was a radical change from the mundane black and/or dull Pullman Green, the former of which had been used on equipment practically since trains first began plying the rails. As a separate consist the Asheville Special operated only between Asheville and Salisbury; north of Salisbury its cars were combined with the Augusta Special and carried on to Washington, D.C. where passengers could then continue north on the Pennsylvania if they so chose.
The city of Asheville became a popular destination on the Southern thanks to its location within the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains and not far from the Great Smoky Mountains. The railroad marketed the resort city as "The Land Of The Sky" and for many years trains like the Asheville Special were quite popular. The routing west of Salisbury/Greensboro provided stunning views of the western North Carolina mountains where trains passed through the "Old Fort Loops" west of Marion. This engineering feature was not exactly a true loop but the line zigzagged back and forth several times in an attempt to gain elevation. It was just another reason why the Special was saw high patronage for many years.
The years after World War II were times of great change for the Special. Diesel power, first Electro-Motive E6s and then later E7s and E8s, replaced the handsome Mountains and several routing changes occurred: first, in October of 1949 the connection with the Augusta Special was changed from Salisbury to Greensboro via Winston-Salem; then, in 1955 the through sleepers were switched to the Southerner in May of that year. Entering the 1960s more downgrades and cutbacks continued as travelers slowly vanished in favor of automobiles and airlines. In 1966 the #15 southbound run was combined with the Southerner and the #16 northbound consist was grouped with the Crescent. Two years later in 1968 the downtown Asheville depot was demolished and that December trains began terminating at the Biltmore Station located about two miles to the east. The train's New York sleeper incredibly survived until February 15, 1970 when it was finally discontinued.
A few months later service to Asheville was cut to thrice-weekly as a coach-only run. Interestingly, the Special added a dome-coach around this time and even more amazing survived the start of Amtrak in 1971. Fred Frailey quotes Southern's Graham Claytor as saying, "I looked over the situation, and it was clear to me that we didn't have to sign up for Amtrak. We could afford to keep our primary train and make it the finest in the country. If we turned the Crescent over to Amtrak, I knew what would happen. It would go to hell, very fast." With the start of Amtrak on May 1, 1971 the Special was changed to trains #3 and #4. It continued to operate this way with an FP7, standard combine, and dome-coach until its final run on August 8, 1975 when the Southern permanently discontinued the train. To this day, Asheville, a city of nearly 100,000, has not regained passenger rail service.
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