This page is dedicated to the Southern Appalachian Logging Railroad Historical Association. The quarterly newsletter is called the "Black Satchel," a reference to the common nickname that was applied to the small Climax locomotive in the fledgling timber railroad industry. If you are interested in joining the association, drop an email to us, and we will forward the information to the appropriate people.

    In the northwestern region of Caldwell County, North Carolina, various narrow gauge logging lines fanned out from the timber village and mill located at Mortimer. These lines were primarily operated by Hutton-Bourbannis and W.M. Ritter  with the latter being the predominant company.
     One of the longest lines ran between Mortimer and Pineola, the site of an earlier Ritter operation that necessitated the building of the Linville River Railway. The logging link between the two towns was approximately 12-14 miles in length and was in operation from approximately 1904/05 until around 1911/12.  It was at one time considered a possible route of expansion for the Carolina & North-Western Railway as it planned to cross the Blue Ridge into Tennessee.

Above, a  loaded W.M. Ritter logging train heads down the mountain over North Harper Creek Falls on its way to Mortimer.

    A few years back, Matt Bumgarner and Johnny Graybeal decided to trace this line with the help of Rob Messick, a nature conservator surveying the old growth trees of the Pisgah National Forest.  The upper part of the old logging line near Pineola, about 4 miles, was turned into the Roseboro Road. Old spikes have dug out of dirt road and earthen abutments are clearly visible in several locations. Local newspapers in 1914 even talked about the building of the road, which went "along the route of the old pole road."
    The lower part of the line is much less documented, though trail maps seemed to indicate it could be easily found.  So, about 3/4 mile out of Mortimer, the adventure began.

A hiking trail with gentle climbs and curves seemed to scream "railroad grade", but still, conclusive proof was elusive. There were many clues that we were indeed on the right track (no pun intended), and with little imagination, we could easily make out the route of the logging line. However, due to the many times this region had been logged, and with the presence of many old Forest Service roads, we couldn't say with certainty what we were following.
     Fortunately, the closer we got to the creek, the rockier the terrain became. The presence of drill marks in many hillsides (see right) certainly added to our evidence.

    Finally, we struck gold, or rather, iron. Armed with a trusty Radio Shack metal detector Matt had gotten for Christmas some 25 years ago, Johnny  hit the mother-lode and the speaker screamed in agony. The deer hunters in the region certainly weren't pleased!
     Using our hands and a garden spade, we uncovered an ancient rail-joiner smack in the middle of the trail we were following (photo at left ). The old rusty relic reflected a 25 or 30 lb rail, exactly where we hoped it would be.

      As we continued our walk, we found a few more relics, mostly track bolts, and the roar of the creek grew progressively louder. Finally, we came to the edge of the cliffs that overlooked the Harper Creek falls and marveled that a bridge was ever built across it.  They are far more awe-inspiring in person than a photograph does them justice. The trestle must have been at least 75 feet high. Solid bed rock abutments on either end  must have made for an impressive structure.
      Unfortunately for us, daylight was short in the winter days, and darkness was rapidly approaching. We had no more time to spend exploring, but we left satisfied that we had well-documented a forgotten logging line that begged to be remembered.

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