The Carolinas are a great place to soak up railroading history, sites, and attractions. A few years back, noted railroad author and preservationist Jim Wrinn sketched out the Top 10 places to visit from the Charlotte region in the June 14th, 1996 edition of the Charlotte Observer. With his permission, we are able to reprint it here. Have more suggestions? Send them in, and we'll make a Top Twenty list!
1) Saluda Grade. The nation's steepest mainline railroad grade is in this small town near Tryon. The grade rises as much as 5 feet for more than 100 feet of horizontal travel; normal railroad grades are about 1/5 of that. The grade was the scene of so many runaway train wrecks at the turn of the century that the bottom was named Slaughterpen Cut. You can see it all from Saluda's quaint downtown, and the Green River Barbecue offers a tasty snack nearby.
2) Andrews Geyser/Loops. It takes the rail line between Old Fort and Ridgecrest 13 rail miles to travel a distance that's three miles by air. Several tunnels and numerous bridges over Mill Creek give the rail line the chance to coil and twist to gain elevation in the Pisgah National Forest. A park at Andrews Geyser is a great place to watch.
3) Clinchfield Loops near Little Switzerland. From atop the Blue Ridge Parkway just north of Little Switzerland, a turnout provides a vantage point from which to watch the CSX line between Spartanburg,
S.C., and Elkhorn City, Ky. climb across the Blue Ridge. Like the loops near Old Fort, the tracks zigzag to gain elevation between Sevier and Altapass.
4) Tweetsie. Located near Blowing Rock, it's home to North Carolina's last narrow gauge steam locomotives. The original Tweetsie was the East Carolina and Western North Carolina between Johnson City, Tenn., and Boone. Nicknamed, ``Eat Taters & Wear No Clothes,'' the line was abandoned after severe flooding in the late 1940s. Tweetsie's last steam engine was rescued, and the Robbins family set up the park.
5) Salisbury Depot. This 1907 Spanish Mission-style building is one of a handful of remaining Frank Milburn-designed stations in the Piedmont. The Historic Salisbury Foundation restored the depot in 1993, turning the waiting room into a reception hall.
6) Spencer Shops. This 100-year-old railroad shop complex now houses the state transportation museum. After four years and $8 million in work, the N.C. Transportation Museum's 1924 Roundhouse building opens Sept. 15. A steam train operates on weekends. Info: (704) 636-2889, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m. Sunday (summer hours).
7) Hamlet Depot. This wood 1900 building is a jewel with its giant cupola. It houses the National Railroad Museum & Hall of fame, which actually memorializes the Seaboard Air Line, whose major junction was at Hamlet.
8) Great Smoky Mountains Railway. This tourist railroad covers some of the most scenic rail lines. The route between Dillsboro and Bryson City provides super views of the Tuckaseegee River and the farming country and a trip through Cowee Tunnel, thought to be haunted by the ghosts of convict laborers who died during its construction.
9) Nation's longest straight stretch of track. Between Laurel Hill and Acme, CSX's line doesn't stray off course for 78 miles. Stand at grade crossing along the route and the headlight of the oncoming train is visible for several minutes before it comes near. Watch from the small town of Maxton.
10) S.C. Railroad Museum. Located just south of Winnsboro, this is a good representation of what a Southeastern short line was all about. The Rockton & Rion hauled marble from the quarry near here for many years. Today, a small collection of equipment shuttles visitors down the line. Info: 1-800-968-5909, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.