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Written by Paul D. Race for Family Garden Trains(tm)

Exhibits of the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum

Thanks to diligent efforts of many individuals, some significant artifacts of the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company have been preserved, including:
The Walland Depot - Around 1903, this station was built where the Little River Railroad met the Knoxville and Agusta branch line from Maryville and a spur (or branch) to a large tannery operation. Freight cars from the K&A were transferred to Little River trains. So were passengers interested in sight-seeing or just getting to Townsend and its surrounding communities. This building fortunately survived efforts to eradicate all traces of the railroad. In 1986 it was moved to the grounds of the future museum. Today it houses the "museum proper," including many professional exhibits that were prepared with the help of the University of Tennessee and a grant from the Tennessee Humanities Council. Walland Depot originally stood where the Little River Railroad took over from the K&A, which had no interest in serving the Smokies. Click to see this photo on the museum web site.
Walland Depot today. Click for bigger photo.

The museum's gift shop is housed in a replica of the Elkmont Post office. Click for bigger photo.Elkmont Post Office Replica - Next to the depot is a replica of the Elkmont Post Office, a typical frame building of the settlements: frame construction, large front porch, and low sloping roof. This building currently houses the gift shop.

The museum also hopes to build a replica of a passenger platform. These were covered waiting areas that were used instead of stations where the trains stopped for towns and resorts.

The Steam Crane/Skidder - Although none of the steam cranes that the Little River Lumber Company used were preserved, the museum was able to acquire an identicalSteam-powered cranes like this one were used to move logs and also to set up the networks of posts, cables, ropes, and pulleys that were used to 'skid' logs across difficult terrain. model elsewhere. After some restoration work, they hope to install it on a flat car to show how it would have been used during a logging operation on the railroad.

The Setoff House - Remember the wooden cube-shaped houses that the railroad built to move wherever they needed temporary housing for their workers? When I got home, I realized that I didn't have a photograph of the museum's setoff house, except that I caught most of it in the photograph above. Does it still need restoration? Sure. Considering Between the time I visited in July and the time I published this article in August, volunteers have painted the LRRR's name on the water tower. Click for bigger photo. The Walland community water tank is also on the grounds, with new supports. Click for bigger photo.that these were built as the most temporary of housing options, it has held up pretty well. How will the "mobile homes" being built today look in a hundred years?

The Walland Water Tank - The community water tank from Walland has also been salvaged and put up on new piers. Though technically it isn't a railroad water tank, it has a similar look, and the museum plans to give it a spout and other details to make it look more "railroadey." It certainly gets attention from the road, especially since the LRRR's name was painted on it during a volunteer effort in August, 2008, only a few weeks after our visit.

This photograph from the early eighties shows the caboose before it was taken into the engine house for repairs. Click for bigger picture.L&N Caboose - Though L&N freight trains rarely, if ever, transversed Little River trackage, their passenger cars did, so this is a nice tribute to one of the LRRR's best railroading partners.

The museum's "Little Woody" caboose was originally converted from a boxcar for the L&N railroad about 1918. It spent the first part of its retirement as a cabin at a Boy Scout camp near Norris Dam, before being donated to the future museum a few decades ago. In 2008, it was being stored in the engine house because the roof needed repair.

Shay 2147 - The museum's most unusual display, of course, is Shay 2147, one of the few standard gauge Shays remaining anywhere, and one of the last locomotives to run on the Little River Railroad.
Shay 2147 in her youth. Click to see a slightly larger photo.Shay 2147 in 2008, still needing some work on her drive train. Click for bigger photo.

The Shay locomotive was invented by scholar, logger, and railroad entrepreneur Ephraim Shay. When his logging railroad had trouble with its locomotives, he brought a new perspective to a decades-old problem: how do you build a small, but powerful steam engine that doesn't literally pound the They still let crazy people get close enough to touch the equipment.rails (a real problem on light, hastily-laid trackage)? The answer was to move the pistons to the side and use gear shafts to drive the wheels. This not only spread out the force of the pistons, but it "geared down" the torque, allowing a relatively small boiler to provide a great deal of pulling power. Yes, you couldn't go very fast, but it wasn't safe to go more than a few miles an hour on most industrial railroads anyway.

Although most Shay locomotives were built for narrow gauge logging or other industrial operations, the Little River Railroad's Shays were all standard gauge. Engine 2147 is a "three-truck" shay, a larger and less common example. In 1982, she was shipped at great expense from Robbinsville, North Carolina, where she had been awaiting the scrapyards. (When our family first saw her, she was at a temporary location, not on the present grounds of the museum.) In current photos you can see that part of the drive train has been disassembled to allow the locomotive to be pushed and pulled along the track as necessary. There is a plan for fixing that, rebuilding several structural parts, and replacing the cab, which is not original.

'I'm flying, Jack, I'm flying.' 'Shut up and help me stop this thing!'Alcoa Flat Cars - The museum also has two vintage flatcars that were owned by Alcoa, but which are similar to some cars used on the Little River Railroad. The museum hopes to install the steam crane on one of them eventually so visitors can get a better idea of how the thing looked in action. They have many other plans as well.

Frick Steam engine - The museum's portable Frick steam engine looks quaint today, but represents the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company's Portable Frick Steam Enginegroundbreaking reliance on steam power to do much of the work that had previously been done by mules.


As you can see, the museum has done a pretty good job of rescuing important artifacts and making them available for display. Now that they have such fine pieces on the grounds (and a few smaller exhibits planned) the big jobs remaining include restoration and signage - I confess I didn't always know what I was looking at until I got home and started comparing the photos I took to articles on the museum's web site. It looks like their priorities have been preservation first and presentation second, exactly as they should be. Based on the little I know of their budget, they've done a lot on a shoestring, and I expect they will continue to spend wisely.

If you are a fan of logging, of steam locomotives, or of Shays in particular, Townsend should be on your list of places to stop when you get to the Smokies. If you're in favor of educating the next generation about the practical value of railroads, this also seems to be a good project to support.

Return to the Little River Railroad index page.

Links for More Little River Railroad Information

The Museum's Home page:

'Last Train To Elkmont' - describes the people who built, worked on, and were served by the Little River Railroad. Click here see this book on the museum's internet bookstore.

'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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