The Carter Railroad Museum’s ‘Appalachian Rail Fest’ set for Sept. 26

Published 4:46 pm Friday, September 25, 2020

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JOHNSON CITY — Coal seams and timber spreads of the south were a primary reason for the railroads of the southern Appalachians back in the day, and remains the case when Appalachian Rail Fest returns to the free Carter Railroad Museum on the campus of East Tennessee State University on Sept. 26.
Now an annual part of the restarted Heritage Days program held on the final Saturday of each month, this event is a fan favorite and sure-fire hit for visitors to the multi-room facility. 
“American success came from the businesses of coal, coke and limestone mined out of this region, while timberlands played an equally vital role in construction,” said Heritage Days Coordinator Geoff Stunkard. “These were the iron men of the nation, working in adverse and dangerous conditions, and this day honors them. These railroads overcame serious technical challenges to reach this vital traffic source, and provided access unheard of into the small settlements that dotted the region. Many people in the Tri-Cities are familiar with this, and a lot of our regional railroading was related to that business.”
From the Kentucky coal mines to the legendary Blue Ridge, coal was king, while other important stone-based resources were mined as well — iron ore, mica and more. Trees were a vital source of lumber, paper and other materials. Through it all, the sound of steam working hard up the valleys, lonesome whistles echoing from the canyon walls, and strings of cars creaking through curves added to the idea of romance as a part of the region’s history.
These old lines are gone now  name like the Clinchfield, the Interstate, the L&N, the N&W, the C&O, the original Southern Railway and others have entered history forever. All four of the operating layouts at the Carter museum feature mining scenes and logging scenes, and train equipment specially related to the lines above will be part of this day’s events.
Copies of the book “Tales of the Rails” related to regional rail history will be offered at the museum’s sales table.
The Mountain Empire Model Railroaders club and the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society serve as hosts during the museum’s operating hours, and many members will be showing off personal equipment on the museum massive 24×44-foot HO scale model display. G scale, N scale and cabinets also host regional lines, and the newest addition, dedicated to the long-defunct but well-remembered “Tweetsie” line, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, is focused on the ore mining business.
The Carter Railroad Museum is open on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and includes model railroad layouts, a special child’s activity room and ongoing programs. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome for its upkeep.
The museum is also seeking artifacts for display, including the newest addition dedicated to the long-defunct, but well-remembered “Tweetsie” line, the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad; this room, still under construction, again will be open for guided tours during event days. Info can be found online at or  In addition to the displays, there is also a growing research library and an oral history archive being established. 
Members of the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and the Mountain Empire Model Railroaders (MEMRR) club coordinate the exhibits. Visit to learn more about MEMRR, or visit to learn more about the Carter Chapter, which helps demonstrate and maintain the model layouts, museum exhibits and other projects. Membership opportunities are available to adults and include special benefits and model railroading enjoyment.
The museum can be identified by a flashing railroad crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road (at the traffic light) onto Jack Vest Drive and continue south to David Collin’s Way (then left) to John Roberts Bell Drive at end, then right then next left on Ross Drive (176) to end, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign. 
For more information about this Heritage Day, contact Fred Alsop at 423-439-6838 or For disability accommodations, please call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.
Note: Because of COVID-19 all visitors must wear a mask to be admitted and will be temperature checked at the museum entrance.

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