Considered one of railroading’s most interesting periods, sophisticated and timeless trains from the age of streamlining will operate in miniature form at Heritage Day on April 28.
East Tennessee State University’s George L. Carter Railroad Museum will highlight the unique steam and diesel locomotives stylized for eye-catching beauty during the 1935-1950 era.
“The Great Depression was perhaps the greatest catalyst for these changes to some of the nation’s best-known railroad operations,” recalls Geoff Stunkard, coordinator of the museum’s Heritage Days program. “The railroads were desperate for traffic, and this modernization was one way to get attention.”
Some of the best-known industrial designers were called on to do the re-stylings, which sometimes included entire trains from front to rear. Other instances were more rudimentary, with creative locomotive shop forces executing home-built designs. Regardless, many lines ended up with at least one steam locomotive meeting this criteria, and mass production of diesel locomotives just before the war and afterward would see the widespread use of streamlined power until a more utilitarian design became fashionable.
“The success of the new diesel engine designs used for these colorful trains convinced many in railroad management that it was indeed the wave of the future,” Stunkard said. “Others created custom shrouds for their steam locomotives. The World War that started in the 1940s precluded any major changes going forward, but it was an amazing era of development.”
Volunteers from the Mountain Empire Model Railroad club (MEMRR) and the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society will be on hand to operate equipment, some bringing in a mix of personal and not-often-seen trains to benefit the day’s visitors. Two of the four operating model layouts will feature these trains in action, though all layouts will be operational for this event.
Located in the Campus Center Building at ETSU, the Carter Railroad Museum is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and includes model railroad layouts, a children’s activity room, and ongoing programs. Heritage Day is held the last Saturday of each month. There is no admission fee, but donations are welcome.
The museum is also seeking artifacts for display, including the newest addition dedicated to the “Tweetsie” line, the ET&WNC, which will be open for guided tours during event days. In addition to the displays, there is a growing research library, and an oral history archive being established as part of the museum’s programs. For more information, visit www.etsu.edu/railroad. Members of the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society and MEMRR coordinate the exhibits. For more information, visit www.memrr.org or www.glcarternrhs.com.
The museum can be identified by a flashing railroad-crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road onto Jack Vest Drive and continue east to 176 Ross Drive, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign.
For more information about Heritage Day, contact Dr. Fred Alsop at 423-439-6838 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.