Two busloads of people - over 100 - left Blairsville, Georgia on Monday, September 9th, 2013 for a day-long excursion through the Hiwassee River Gorge in eastern Tennessee. That's Hi-wassee without the "a" following the "i." This was a trip sponsored by the United Community Bank via their Golden Club. The buses had picked up folks from Cleveland, Hiawassee, and Blairsville, Georgia. Little did we know at the start how fascinating this trip was to be.
The first stop in Tennessee was at The Olde Farmhouse Restaurant in Etowah where we were fed an early lunch of good old Southern cooking. After lunch we reboarded the buses which shuttled us to a park a few miles south of town where the train was waiting. There were five passenger cars - two of which had observation domes. Everyone had the opportunity to spend a little time in one of those domes. The other coaches were comfortable with large windows, remarkably clean and clear.
This section of track was originally laid back in the late 1800s to complete the rail link across the Blue Ridge Mountains from Marietta, Georgia to Knoxville, Tennessee. The inclines were so great that a series of switchbacks were necessary to get to the summit. That proved so time consuming the railroad finally installed an unusual loop to reduce the grade from 5% to 2%. That loop near the town of Farner makes this adventure unique as the track passed under itself, then over itself. A longer train would be visible at both levels during the climb. For 100 years, the L&N Railroad hauled copper, iron ore, and sulphuric acid from the mines at Coppertown northward over the mountains on this line.
Then in the early 2000s that all ended. Now it's an excursion line for tourists on this passenger train. The views along the river are outstanding, and the history as told by the conductor kept our attention. It was a 3 1/2 hour, 50 mile round trip from Etowah to Farner and back. At the top there was a side track which allowed the engine to switch ends to pull the train back to Etowah. We passed through Reliance, Probst, MacFarland, and Appalachia, all now ghost towns except Reliance. There was a power plant built during World War II at Appalachia - still in operation. We crossed the river at Reliance which allowed the folks on the left hand side of the train views of the river. Then, on the way back, everyone switched sides to give the others a chance to see the river. It didn't take much imagination to realize how even more beautiful this scenery would be when the colors of Fall come along.
It was amazing how wide the river was in places - 150 yards? - and how narrow in others - 6 feet?. In the narrows the depth was over 100 feet. We saw many rafters and kayakers. Those things can be rented in Reliance.
The trip was made even more enjoyable by the presence of our friends Rose and Royce Breedlove.
After the train ride we reboarded the buses and were transported back home. It had been a good day.