Last revised: March 27, 2023
By: Adam Burns
The Tweetsie Railroad, based in Blowing Rock, North Carolina
has been in continuous operation since 1957. Today, the railroad
operates on a three-mile section of narrow-gauge, which was constructed
for the Tweetsie's star locomotive, 4-6-0 #12, to operate on.
The locomotive is the last operating steamer of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad and the tourist line actually takes its name from the nickname which was given to the ET&WNC by locals who, becoming used to the steam locomotives' high-pitched "tweet, tweet" whistle, dubbed the railroad the "Tweetsie".
Surprisingly, despite the fact that the little railroad operates only three miles of track it sees thousands of visitors annually (which can likely be partly explained by the fact that the cities of Asheville, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte are each only about 2 hours away).
While the ET&WNC operated a railroad of some 66 miles connecting Johnson City, Tennessee with Boone, North Carolina the tourist line actually operates on no original ET&WNC trackage, which was actually constructed from scratch.
The ET&WNC gave up on railroading in 1950 after increased competition by trucks and automobiles and severe flooding in the 1940s eventually forced the railroad into bankruptcy.
However, the Tweetsie Railroad tourist line continues to carry on the tradition of the long-gone ET&WNC and today is a very popular tourist attraction in western North Carolina. Along with the train the railroad features an entire western town theme with plays and mock train robberies very common!
Today's Tweetsie Railroad is in a large part thanks to Grover Robbins, Jr. who wished to see the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad's #12 saved and preserved.
Robbins had the locomotive shipped to his hometown of Blowing Rock, North Carolina and received so much fanfare upon returning home that then North Carolina Governor Luther Hodges declared May 20, 1956 "Tweetsie Homecoming Day".
After much work, a year later #12 was operating again by the summer of 1957 in Blowing Rock, just a short drive from her old haunts at Boone.
North Carolina railroading offers a wide variety of operations, found in few other Southeastern states; from coastal and mountainous operations to high-speed main line freight and passenger trains, including plenty of local short line services.
And, as Southern states typically go, North Carolina offers spectacular scenery as a backdrop to railroading operations, whether you are along the coast, in flatlands of the Piedmont or high in the Smoky Mountains.
The Tar Heel State also has a rich railroading heritage dating back to the early 1830s and during its peak was home to no fewer than four eastern Class I railroads with the highly profitable and respected Atlantic Coast Line headquartered in its coastal and port city of Wilmington until 1960.
The Tweestie Railroad, of course, allows you to see western North Carolina's mountain splendor behind one of two historic steam locomotives.
While the steam locomotives and railroad are certainly the main attraction at the Tweetsie, they do offer other activities as well.
The train itself offers the "Wild West Train Adventure", which means that you should plan to be robbed "Old West" style while on the train!
However, the railroad also features live entertainment, kids shows (feature Hopper and Porter™), magic shows, and the "Tweetsie Country Clogging Jamboree").
As you have probably figured out, the railroad is themed around the old west and is very much a family affair so if you have kids it is a great venue for them. While #12 remains the star on the railroad it has since gained a sister in White Pass & Yukon Railway #190, a 2-8-2.
For more information about the Tweetsie Railroad please click here to visit their website.
There, you can find everything they currently have to offer such as activities for the kids, pricing, when they are open and even things you can find nearby such as shopping and restaurants.
If you would like to learn more about the history of the actual East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad please click here.
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Wes Barris's SteamLocomotive.com is simply the best web resource on the study of steam locomotives.
It is difficult to truly articulate just how much material can be found at this website.
It is quite staggering and a must visit!