Arts, Travel Club follows Smoky Mountain Railroad

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By Joyce McCellan

After another weekend of winter snow and wind, the Arts and Travel train pulled into the United Church of Christ Fellowship Hall on Monday, Feb. 11, with Marlys Jundt hosting and giving the program.
President Jan Auble called the meeting to order and welcomed two new members. During the short business meeting, the date of April 6 was given for the Library Tour of Tables.
Marlys then took the floor with her program on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad.
The Murphy Branch of the Western North Carolina Railroad provided thousands with a path to reach the outside world in 1889. This iron horse beat riding a wagon even though it was still very primitive.
In 1892, a visitor from Chicago described it as “little more than 2 streaks of rust and a right-of-way.” With tongue in cheek; he told the Chicago Tribune “when the wind is just right, the fastest train on the line, the Asheville Cannon Ball, can make 10 miles an hour.”
The railroad was built by convicts working under the gun. In one of the most chilling accidents during construction, 19 inmates drowned when the raft carrying the shackled convicts capsized. In the 1920s and 30s, highways began to appear in the mountains as automobiles became more popular. However, this branch experienced its heaviest use during the early 1940s when the massive Fontana Dam was built. By 1985 freight traffic had also dropped off and part of the line was closed and the state of North Carolina purchased the tracks to keep them from being destroyed.
By 1988, many entities had come together to form the Great Smoky Mts. Railway, which then began running excursions. More than 200,000 passengers per year now enjoy the scenic route, which is currently owned by American Heritage Railways.
You will ride in vintage 1940s rail cars while dining in first class and you will pass through river gorges, across fertile valleys and through tunnels carved out by the convicts long ago. Tickets range from $50 to $94 for adults and include free admission to the Smoky Mountain Train museum. They have many different packages to choose from and include “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown” and “Easter Beagle Express.” Maps and ticket information was shared with the group.
At the end of the evening Marlys served a delicious Lemon-Strawberry Tart.
The next meeting on Feb. 25 will be at Sylvia Cahill’s with Vicki Rothstein giving the program.

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