Clinchfield Railroad between the covers: Five essential books

Posted by Jim Wrinn
on Tuesday, November 07, 2017

With the 75th anniversary running of CSX’s Clinchfield Railroad Santa Train on Nov. 18 just a few days  away, it’s a good time to review the Clinchfield story in print.  Several great books have been put together about the Clinchfield, a regional railroad built to outstanding engineering standards through some of the most difficult terrain of the Appalachian Mountains. Under the control of the Atlantic Coast Line and Louisville & Nashville since the 1920s, the railroad was a coal mover and a short-cut for merchandise traffic between the Midwest and Southeast. Beloved for its dramatic scenery, friendly railroaders, and family atmosphere, it has long been a fan favorite as the Rio Grande of the East. That was especially so 1968-1979 when the railroad fielded its own steam excursions with 1882 4-6-0 No. 1. Today, the Clinchfield is a part of CSX, but much of its character and personality remain strong in the hills and hollows of Eastern Kentucky, Southwestern Virginia, East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and northern South Carolina. Here are five titles you’ll want to consult and possibly own as they take you across the CRR story, from start to finish. 

  1. William Way’s “The Clinchfield Railroad.” Originally published in 1931 as a master’s thesis at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Way’s book is the alpha of a Clinchfield library with detailed information about the construction and early operation of the railroad. Long difficult to find (my first copy was a photocopied version from the Charlotte library), a paperback reprint has made this incredibly valuable resource readily available to another generation.
  2. James A Goforth’s “Building the Clinchfield.” Long the only book readily available on the railroad, this is a civil engineer’s accounting of the construction feat that was the only mainline railroad through the Appalachians with modest grades. The layout of the famous loops between Marion, N.C., and Altapass, N.C., alone is worth of study with its many tunnels, bridges, and fills designed to lift the railroad from the Piedmont Plateau to the Eastern Continental Divide.
  3. Steve King’s “Clinchfield Country.” A gritty pictorial look at the railroad in its environment. Lots of eye candy and lingering and longing for the fast-fading CRR as an independent in the 1980s.
  4. Ken Marsh’s “The Clinchfield in Color.” Continuing the CRR story into the last half of the 20th century, this volume is a colorful window into the contemporary Clinchfield from the 1950s to its 1970s amalgamation into Family Lines and its ultimate fate as part of Seaboard System in 1982. All of the gray and yellow diesels on mainline freights and locals are here along with an all-time roster.
  5. Jerry Taylor and Ray Poteat’s “The CSX Clinchfield Route in the 21st Century” brings the CRR story up to date, at least to 2008 as the railroad continues to operate in some of the most spectacular scenery in the Eastern United States. Poteat’s long-time service to the CRR and his enthusiasm for the subject alone make this a worthy bookend to remind everyone that the Clinchfield spirit is alive and well, even in the 21st century. 

That’s a quick look at an essential Clinchfield library for the veteran CRR aficionado or the novice who wants to learn more about this amazing railroad that has legions of dedicated followers 35 years after its flag joined the fallen. Maybe the “C” in CSX isn’t really for Chessie after all.   


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