Carter would eventually win this fight in the courts and later established an interchange with the C&O at what became the Clinchfield's northern terminus in Elkhorn City. By 1908 the S&W had built 35.8 miles of new railroad to Marion, North Carolina giving it a main line of 98.2 miles. It was this section of the route in which the famed Clinchfield Loops are located. Carter believed that the railroad should be constructed to a very high standard, which was especially difficult considering it would be built through the southern Appalachians. Throughout construction steel was used in erecting bridges, not wood (unless it was a temporary structure), tunnels featured dimensions of 18-feet across and 24-high (much larger than standard designs called for), and the road's chief engineers wanted the line set to a maximum grade of just 1.2% when the standard mountain grades of the era were commonly set to 2%.
The Clinchfield Loops defined this high level of engineering. They begin just south of Altapass, North Carolina (Spruce Pine) and feature a series of five horseshoe curves that includes seventeen tunnels in just 11 miles! Even more fascinating is the fact that to keep grades at 1.2%, the loops feature 29 railroad miles when in fact they only travel an actual 12 miles from north to south. For instance, as the book A History of Railroading in Western North Carolina by Cary Poole points out, during one stretch of the line between milepost 208 to Wasburn Tunnel a train must negotiate 16.5 miles of railroad while if one could walk this in a straight line it would only be 1.9 miles. In all, Carter's railroad featured 55 tunnels (totaling nearly 10 miles in length), 80 bridges (totaling 3.3. miles in length), and cost between $200,000-$1,000,000 per mile (an exorbitant amount for that time period, which likely would not have been justified today).
After the line was completed to Marion the company was renamed as the Carolina, Clinchfield & Ohio although another seven years of construction were required before the railroad was opened officially by George Carter himself during a golden spike ceremony on February 9, 1915 between Elkhorn City and Spartanburg, South Carolina. The CC&O's entire main line stretched just 276.9 miles but it was built to such high standards that it was an industrial marvel. Coal became the staple of the road, a commodity it could move in significant numbers thanks to the forward thinking of its designers. Additionally, the Clinchfield had connections with the Atlantic Coast Line, Louisville & Nashville, C&O, Norfolk & Western, Interstate Railroad, Yancey Railroad, and East Tennessee & Western North Carolina.
the Clinchfield was acquired by the L&N and then passed into the
Family Lines system, merged into the Seaboard System, and disappeared
into CSX Transportation during the 1980s. Under CSX the route remained an important corridor until the fall of 2015. That October, as a result of more than $1 billion in coal tonnage declines since 2012 the railroad mothballed the line between Elkhorn City, Kentucky and Spartanburg, South Carolina. Its future is unknown but trains rumbling in the hills of this part of southern Appalachia will likely not be heard throughout the foreseeable future and many never again.
Related Reading You May Enjoy