Meet Railroad ‘Captain Tom’ Goodin

Published 2:35 pm Friday, March 24, 2023

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JOHNSON CITY – Supervisors called him faithful and loyal and ever safety-minded. Patrons lauded him for kindness and empathy.

Some said he loved the job more than life itself.

One thing is for sure: he was passionate about the railroad.

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The late Thomas E. Goodin, a conductor with the Clinchfield Railroad, is an anomaly in railroad history. He worked an astonishing 51 years and received neither an injury nor a demerit.

This work and more has been digitally cataloged by the Archives of Appalachia, part of the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services at East Tennessee State University. The archive is home to scores of documents unique to the area, including letters, images and even sounds that chronicle life in the Appalachian Highlands.

“This is the story of a man who lived out his passion,” said ETSU’s Sandy Laws, who curated a virtual exhibit of these materials. “And his passion was the railroad.”

The area has rich railroad history, much of which is regularly told at ETSU’s George L. Carter Railroad Museum. The Clinchfield Railroad, financed by Carter, cut through 277 miles of mountain terrain from eastern Kentucky to the North Carolina piedmont.

Born in 1877 near the end of Reconstruction, “Captain Tom” Goodin began his near-lifelong railroad career in late 1898 as an employee with the Southern Railway. He earned the rank of conductor a mere three years later, making his first run on August 19, 1901.

Through the years, both supervisors and the public showered praise on him, noting his alertness, attention to duty and compassion to those who boarded the train.

But he wasn’t a pushover.

Once in 1901, two workers were having a heated dispute. One pulled a pistol. Goodin, legend has it, stepped in front and explained that “you’ll have to shoot me first.” “Daddy (another fond nickname for Goodin),” the man with the gun said, “I can’t shoot you.”

Goodin died in 1963, less than a decade after his retirement from the railroad. He is buried in Limestone, not far from his Greene County birthplace.

“Fifty Years on the Clinchfield: ‘Captain Tom’ Goodin” may be accessed at

“We have so many incredible artifacts that help tell our collective rich history,” said Dr. Jeremy A. Smith, director. “All are welcome to utilize this incredible research, whether it is just for fun or scholarly research.”