Tweetsie’s Track to Blowing Rock

Gov. Luther Hodges waves from the Tweetsie engine in 1956. Image from the N.C. Museum of HistoryOn May 20, 1956, Gov. Luther Hodges proclaimed “Tweetsie Homecoming Day” to celebrate the return of the East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad’s No. 12 steam locomotive to North Carolina for refurbishing.

Nicknamed “Tweetsie” because of its high-pitched whistle, the narrow-gauge, coal-fired “ten-wheeler” hauled freight and passengers between Johnson City, Tenn., and Boone, N.C., from 1919 to 1940, when floods washed away part of its tracks.

In 1952, railroad enthusiasts bought Tweetsie to operate the Shenandoah Central Railroad in Harrisonburg, Va.  After Hurricane Hazel’s destruction there in 1954, they optioned the locomotive to Hollywood actor Gene Autry. Unable to transport the 60-ton engine to California, Autry sold it for one dollar to Blowing Rock developer Grover Robbins, Jr., in 1956. That’s when Robbins brought Tweetsie back to North Carolina for refurbishing in the Carolina & Northwestern Railway’s repair shop in Hickory.

Just over a year later, with large crowds on hand to watch, the locomotive was loaded onto a flatbed truck for the trip up the mountain to Blowing Rock, where it was installed as the main attraction of the new Tweetsie Railroad Theme Park. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Tweetsie still operates regularly, offering family fun for new generations.

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