ETWNC during WW2

by Curtis Brookshire
Nov 15, 1996

I want to do a little hypothesizing here. John Waite has been giving us his plan for modeling the ET&WNC around 1910. He's saying it's the best time to model. I personally plan to model around 1920, so I don't currently plan to follow this idea, just propose it for discussion.

Let's look at the World War II era for modeling the ET&WNC. I think it's interesting and has some potential for good operations.

Physical Makeup of Route

From 1942-45 the ET&WNC consisted of its original 34 miles from Johnson City to Cranberry. The route was dual gauged from JC to the coal chute, which is where end of track is today. Beyond there to Cranberry it was narrow gauge. The Linville River Railway was a memory by this time, having been washed out in August, 1940 and officially abandoned in February, 1941. The road interchanged with the Clinchfield and Southern in Johnson City, and the Southern in Elizabethton.


The Bemberg and North American Rayon Company was the ET's biggest customer. With the war, traffic increased. There were several mills in Johnson City that the road served, along with Exum Furniture. I would guess that what is now Inland Container was in place along with a few other industries in the Elizabethton area. In narrow gauge country, stations were open in Roan Mountain, Shell Creek, Elk Park and Cranberry. I'm not sure if Hampton still had a station building by this time. Help me out if you can. Sidings and house tracks were still in place throughout the line. The famous coal interchange trestle still operated. Cranberry's mines opened for a time to remove more ore (maybe that should be "to remove m'ore"),and acid wood was shipped out. Passenger service resumed from Elk Park to Bemberg to transport workers to the rayon plants. This quickly grew to six trains a day, three each way.


The Army requisitioned two locomotives in 1942. The ET&WNC sold them numbers 10 and 14, which left numbers 9, 11 and 12 to operate the narrow gauge. They acquired 2-8-0 number 204, 0-6-0 number 205, and 2-6-0 number 206 to operate the dual gauge trackage, since nearly all traffic there consisted of standard gauge equipment. Freight cars consisted of boxcars, hoppers, gons, tank cars and maybe a few flats. Gone were the stock cars, and the unique piggyback flats. 8 wheel cabooses 505 and 506 trailed each consist. Passenger equipment consisted of Combine 15, Laconia cars 22-25, excursion car 11, and RPO 18, still lettered Linville River. Coach 4 was gone by this time, and all other passenger equipment had either been scrapped or sold.


A daily narrow gauge freight ran from Johnson City to Cranberry. One or more standard gauge freights ran from Johnson City to just east of Elizabethton. Overweight trains had to double the hill leaving Johnson City, and sometimes Milligan Hill returning. Add to the mix the six passenger trains, and you have a busy railroad. All power received servicing at the Johnson City engine house. Our video gives a big window on operations during the war. Narrow gauge engines switched the interchange trestle. I'll lay odds that the standard gauge locos were too heavy to be trusted on the interchange. Narrow gauge freights would run daily, leaving Johnson City in the morning. Doubleheaded trains would have the second locomotive several cars back in the train. They would run directly to Hampton, stopping only to take on water at the Bemberg tank. Pickups and dropoffs decided where trains would stop en route.

Often they would spot a car or two along the way at different sidings or at stations in Shell Creek and Roan Mountain. Elk Park was the traditional lunch stop, and meet place with passenger trains. At Cranberry they switched both upper and lower yards. Passenger trains ran into Cranberry solely to run around the wye. They would either park in the wye or at the Elk Park station. They would proceed to Port Rayon and turn on a newly installed wye utilizing the spur track that ran into the Bemberg plant. The spur track was dual gauged to just beyond the wye switch, and the new leg was narrow gauge only. Before the wye was installed, trains would run with the locomotive reversed in one direction. Consists normally were three Laconia coaches, but our video shows combine 15 and two coaches on a train. When wying, the entire train would turn as a unit. My guess is that train length was determined by the length of the wye tail track. Since the daily narrow gauge freight ran nonstop to the Bemberg tank, it would leave Johnson City first, followed by the standard gauge train. Our video shows number 205 following a narrow gauge train at Port Rayon. Standard gauge operations follow the pattern we see today on the ET Ry. Standard gauge freights frequently doubled the hill leaving JC, and often more than one train had to be run into Bemberg to allow for business.

The rayon plants received coal shipments, and tank cars with acid for the manufacturing process. I'm not sure if they shipped out finished products by rail or not. If so, they'd most likely go by boxcar. Boxcars would also go to other plants on the line. Covered hoppers were in their infancy at this time, so grain and feed went by boxcar. I believe there was a scrapyard in Elizabethton on the Southern interchange, and that would require gondola cars. All standard gauge engines faced west, and backed to Elizabethton. The ET&WNC had no standard gauge cabooses, so all crew members rode the locomotive. Since the ET's standard gauge locomotives were small, either they doubled the grade a lot, or ran some doubleheaders. At some time, the ET extended yard limits to coal chute. They run like that now, which eliminates the need for timetable and train orders. Narrow gauge freight trains received orders for each run, and ran extra without flags. Passenger trains were timetable listed and ran on schedule.


Despite the fact that the railroad had been in decline for years, a lot of the glory remained. We have an advantage to model this time since we have quite a few photographs depicting the war years. The Doe River Gorge of course was as spectacular as always. Elk Park had its familiar photographic appearance, Shell Creek and Roan Mountain had their depots, and Roan also had those buildings we see today including S.B. Wood's store. Cranberry had its depot and enginehouse, although the latter was either vacant or used to store unused equipment. The general store also stood close by the depot. I can't speculate on what mine structures were used, but I'll guess that most of them we see in photos of the glory days of mining had disappeared. They probably worked out of makeshift facilities. The through covered bridge and deck covered bridge were still green and still in use. Depot colors were green and red. From coal chute east, you can still model the beautiful scenery John talks about in his descriptions of an earlier era layout.

Any layout can heavily emphasize Johnson City and Elizabethton also. Dual gauge trackage would be everywhere, with standard cars on the sidings and spurs. This would, of course, be an almost all steam layout, but if you had room for some Southern trackage, their Tennessean ran through behind E6 diesels and had streamlined equipment. The Clinchfield had their early Challengers (non UP design). Bemberg had the fireless cooker, since steam could not run in parts of the plant. Steam could run up to the coal dock behind the factory, but other in-plant trackage had to be switched by the cooker. As far as the ET itself, as usual, the ten wheelers are essential. Here we refer to the last Stemwinder for details. The 9 had been relettered from Linville River, and 11 and 12 began the war in green were later repainted black. Providing this brass run actually runs, you could have a 12 in green and 11 in black. Number 205 can be pretty easily modeled using a Model Die Casting 0-6-0 and modifying some details. The most difficult here would be changing the crossheads. The tender would need a coal bunker built, and the headlight would have to be put on the smokebox front. Another example, but with the wrong cylinders and a too short wheelbase is Manuta's 0-6-0. Number 206 can be converted from an IHC 2-6-0. Some details would have to altered, the cylinders changed and a different tender added, but here is an easy conversion also. The 2-8-0 is a little more challenging. "Close" versions, may be the Bowser "Old Lady" 2-8-0, MDC's old timer 2-8-0 or the one from Model Power, but this one needs major work.

Rolling stock on the standard gauge would be all foreign road, since the ET had no standard gauge interchange stock at this time. A lot of good kits are out there for a WWII era line. You'll need boxcars, gons, tankcars and hoppers. Narrow gauge cars would primarily consist of boxcars and gons, with some hoppers and tank cars also. You'll need an eight wheel caboose, and the Laconia passenger cars. My guess is that the excursion car 11 did not see much, if any service during the war, since it was all business then, without much time for excursions. It would see service after the war on the annual stockholders runs to Cranberry. Lettering would be as we have recorded in the many photographs of the time: freight cars in white extended roman lettering, and passenger equipment in gold with the letters E T & W N C across the letterboards.

As indicated above, this was a busy little railroad. On a typical day, at least three trains would be on the line at one time: standard and narrow gauge freights and the passenger train running either west or east depending on the time of day. Extra standard gauge freights could be run depending on traffic. With freights doubling the hill, switching out cars, running around the train to spot cars, and the passenger trains shuttling back and forth, this could keep 3-5 operators occupied.


As you can tell, the was not all that sleepy during the war. It was definitely past its narrow gauge glory, but there was plenty of life in it. We also see the operating patterns on the standard gauge that the ET Railway follows today.

Let me know what your comments are. I invite you guys to nitpick my factuality since I'm doing this in the office at work off the top of my head. (It was a slow day today) While most of us will choose to model the ET&WNC in its glory at the beginning of the century, I want to offer an alternative that allows for dual gauge operation and allows you to run some of what we have an extensive photographic record of. OK, your turn, talk to me.