Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway aka NC&StL, NC&Stl.L, ncstl,  




Athur J. Robinson

My later grandfather was Arthur J. Robinson who worked for the NC for more than 50 years. He had just retired as WWII began and was asked to come back for the duration, which he did. His job was supervisor of the water supply. With water being such a critical element in the pre-diesel era, the NC maintained a network of employees to keep the water flowing along the right-of-way about every 20 miles or so. Regular, and emergency, water tanks with stand-pipes were spaced at those intervals so a fireman would never run out of water. Routinely, the water would be pumped [electrically] from an adjacent stream into the tank beside the right-of-way. An employee and his family would usually live next to the pump in a house provided by the RR as part of the compensation package. It was the responsibility of each maintenance employee to never let the water supply run out. As the NC meandered through the countryside between Nashville and Chattanooga, dipping into Alabama and Georgia along the way, the water supply crew made up a sizeable staff.

When my grandfather finished at the University of TN in Knoxville before the turn of the last century, he immediately went to work for the NC where his father had been the water supply boss for 25 years or so. His father retired and he stepped up to the only job he held in his entire working life. Between him and his father, they managed the water supply for roughly 75 years!

Grandfather's office was located on the top level of the Union Station on 9th Street in Chattanooga [across the street from the "new" Read House hotel]. The family always suspected the regular volume of engine smoke that rose to the top of the poorly ventilated building was a contributing factor to his fatal emphysema. He was raised on his father's farm in Sherwood, TN, just north of the Alabama state line and he maintained a small farm of his own in that valley. He preferred the rural environment over Chattanooga as a better place to rear my mother and her three brothers.

Sherwood is more remote today than it was when my mother was growing up. At least back then there were passenger trains to get one in or out of the place. During the school year my mother and brothers took No. 6 in the morning across the mountain, through the tunnel, through Cowan and into Decherd to the county high school. They made the reverse trip every afternoon on No. 5 back to Sherwood.

Between Sherwood and Cowan the NC right-of-way travels up the Cumberland Mountain [near Sewanee], through the tunnel before moving back down the mountain. One of the photos on your web site depicts a northbound train coming out of the tunnel just as the Mountain Goat is passing over the top side. The Mountain Goat ran on a spur put in by the NC to move coal down the mountain from the Tracy City/Altamont areas to Cowan and other points on the road for consumption by the steam engines. A typical Mountain Goat train makeup would be [approx.] 20 coal gondolas with a combination passenger/baggage car on the end. For many years the Mountain Goat was the only mode of transportation up and down the mountain available to University of the South students at Sewanee.

Also a picture on your web site depicts a Mallet engine which was among a group of three that were used exclusively as pushers to assist freight trains up the mountain from either side. There was always one idling on the southside of the mountain just north of Sherwood waiting for a freight hook up. There was a modest maintenance yard on the north side of Cowan where steamers could top off their coal and water. While they were replenishing a Mallet would switch around to the back side to provide the necessary push for southbound freights. Once a train had cleared the tunnel they would slow to a speed where the Mallet could disconnect and leave the freight to it own devices. The Mallets were never used on passenger trains. Passenger smaller engine pushers would always hook up in front of the main engine and never at the back. I seem to remember it had something to do with the longer length of passenger cars vs. freight cars.

My grandfather and one of his mechanical engineer brother built a working model engine and tender of a certain full-size locomotive the NC&StL placed in service soon after 1900. The model was built to scale 1" to 1' and the boiler was rigged to run on alcohol. I believe it was used in a NC&StL display at a Fair [state-wide or national] as sort of a PR thing. The last I heard the model was on loan to a small railroad museum that is located in the old depot in Cowan. The staff at the little museum are all NC retirees.

--Tom Nicholson



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