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The Little River Railroad index page. Click to see this photo on the Little River Railroad and Logging Company Museum page. Links for the museum's web site are at the bottom of this page. Garden Railroading  Primer Articles: All about getting a Garden Railroad up and running well Garden Train Store: Index to train, track, and other products for Garden Railroading
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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

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The Little River Railroad

These photos must be from our second trip, in '83 or '84.  Our first child demonstrates that to a two-year-old ANY locomotive seems pretty big.Sometimes good train stuff happens to you when you least expect it. In the early 1980s, we traveled to the Smokies for a family vacation, staying at a friend's cabin in Townsend, Tennessee. And there in a vacant lot near the road to Pigeon Forge was an unusual locomotive - a three-truck Shay built to standard gauge. Much of the poor thing's drive train was laying alongside it on the ground. I asked several people around town if someone was trying to restore or at least preserve the locomotive, but nobody I spoke to knew anything about it. A few years later, we made a similar trip, and very little had changed, although things seemed to have been moved around a little and more of the Shay's drive train was attached. A few yards away was a small caboose. In the background of the photos is an old train station waiting to be restored, but at the time, I didn't recognize it as anything but a boarded up building.

The Shay's drive train is mostly reassembled, but it has been partially disconnected to allow it to be pulled. Click for bigger photo.

We learned later that this caboose was built by the L&N.  The musuem can accept standard gauge equipment because the Little River Railroad was built to standard gauge, an anomal for logging railroads. Click for bigger photo.Later, while doing research on logging railroads, I started hearing about the Little River Railroad, which once served logging camps, company towns, and resorts over a good part of what is now the Smoky Mountain National Forest. As far as I could tell, the same folks who had preserved the barns and mills at Cade's Cover thought that the Little River Railroad and the tiny communities it served were a blight on the land and were trying to remove every trace that they had ever existed. "Too bad," I thought, from my home in the flatlands (Springfield, Ohio). But other urgent things were happening closer to home, and, as it turned out I didn't get back to Townsend until 2008. Before we went down, I spent some time researching real-world railroads in the region, and discovered that Townsend, Tennessee was now the home of a small railroad museum chronicling the rise and fall of the Little River Railroad.

The Shay, gift shop, and museum building (restored Walland Depot) in 2008. Click for bigger photo.

When we were finally able to visit, we noticed that the museum had moved the locomotive to a nicer location, had added a flatcar and other equipment to its collection, and had three buildings and a water tower. The caboose was "missing;" I found out later that it was inside one of the buildings for repair.

Touring the small museum and gift shop, I learned some things about the Little River Railroad (and its sister company, the Little River Lumber Company) that would make it a very interesting prototype to model. Even if the Little River Railroad is different from the kind of railroad you plan to model, you may find some particulars inspiring.

Note for 2023: Most of the information in the articles below is pieced together from notes I took on my 2013 visit to the museum, with some additional input from the museum's original web site. Sadly, many of the museum's most informative web pages have since been taken down when they "upgraded" their web site to Wordpress and never bothered to migrate the detail pages. The following pages include a great deal of rewriting and reconstruction in an attempt to restore what was lost from the museum's web pages. Ironically, they may now be the most complete source of accurate historical information on the company.

For me, what started as one brief article rapidly became several, because there is just so much to tell about this pint-sized "common carrier" that broke all the "rules," yet made excellent profits, helped inspire the creation of a national park, and disappeared as suddenly as it appeared.

The following articles shed light on the development, unique practices, and modeling possibilities of the Little River Railroad.

Links for More Little River Railroad Information

The Museum's Home page:

'Whistle Over the Mountain' - the best available reference on the Little River Railroad, includes maps to places you can still see traces of its infrastructure.  Click here to see this book on the museum's internet bookstore.

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