Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 25

MOUNTAIN CURIOS

GENE AUTRY NEARLY OWNED IT

The Vagabond
Tweetsie No. 12
Yes, the little engine began its life where it rolls today, but made a trek to
Virginia and nearly ended up in California.
By JOE TENNIS

H

ad it not been for Hurricane Hazel hitting the Shenandoah Valley, the Dollywood theme park may not exist today
in the Great Smoky Mountains of Pigeon
Forge, Tennessee. And all that's because of
the little engine that could, Ol' No. 12, the
famed Tweetsie.
First, rewind the railroad tracks to the
early 1900s, when the East Tennessee &
Western North Carolina Railroad connected
Johnson City, Tennessee, to North Carolina's
High Country.
Engine No. 12 pulled train cars through
the Doe River Gorge and across the rocky
terrain along the Tennessee-North Carolina
border. And it ran on a path that later became
known as the Tweetsie Trail, a rails-to-trails
project linking Johnson City to Elizabethton
in northeast Tennessee.
Folks called the ET&WNC railroad a
nickname-"Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes."
And they called the shrill of the engine, No.
12, the "Tweetsie," as an ode to the tweeting
sound that the whistle seemed to blow.
When the railroad stopped running in
1950, the engine was acquired by some investors who had it shipped north to a farm
near Harrisonburg, Virginia, where it was put
in the service of the short-lived Shenandoah
Central Railroad in 1953.
But damage from Hurricane Hazel
wrecked the operation in 1954, and No. 12
was nearly shipped to California to become
the life-size toy train of cowboy Gene Autry.
But shipping the locomotive cost too much.
So Autry gave up his purchase rights, and the
engine became the property of the Robbins
family of North Carolina.
The Robbins clan came up with a plan:

Create the Tweetsie Railroad, a theme park
just off the Blue Ridge Parkway at Blowing
Rock, North Carolina. It opened on July 4,
1957, and became a favorite place for families anxious to meet real-life cowboys walking the Main Street of a make-believe western town.
What's not make-believe is that antique
locomotive is still snorting steam and is still
powered by coal, just as it was when it first
started operating in 1917.
By the early 1960s, Tweetsie Railroad
proved so popular that the Robbins family
opened another theme park, Rebel Railroad,
that ultimately grew into the sprawling Dollywood, named for superstar Dolly Parton.
Even so, Tweetsie Railroad remains an icon,
staging shows with cowboys and Indians
along the railroad while also providing rides
and a petting zoo in the park.

ROLL ON, TWEETSIE: Engine No. 12 pulls
passenger cars over a wooden trestle at Tweetsie
Railroad in Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2020

25



Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020

Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Intro
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover1
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover2
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 4
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 5
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 6
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 7
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 8
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 9
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 10
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 11
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 12
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 13
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 14
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 15
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 16
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 17
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 18
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 19
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 20
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 21
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 22
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 23
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 24
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 25
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 26
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 27
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 28
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 29
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 30
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 31
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 32
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 33
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 34
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 35
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 36
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 37
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 38
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 39
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 40
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 41
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 42
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 43
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 44
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 45
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 46
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 47
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 48
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 49
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 50
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 51
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 52
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 53
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 54
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 55
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 56
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 57
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 58
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 59
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 60
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 61
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 62
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 63
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 64
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 65
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - 66
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover3
Blue Ridge Country - January/February 2020 - Cover4
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/BRCSO21
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brcja21
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2021_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2021_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2021_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_11_12
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2020_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2019_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2018_0102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_1112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_2017_0304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20170102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_201612
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20160102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20151112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20150102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20141112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140708
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140506
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140304
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20140102
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20131112
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20130910
https://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/leisure/brc_20130708
https://www.nxtbookmedia.com