StoryTown

The Great Outdoors

Episode Summary

Take a trip through the great outdoors as StoryTown explores East Tennessee’s wild side. Hear about some life-and-death wildfire adventures from retired Park Ranger Calvin Robinson as he shares his own stories. Discover lesser-known waterfalls, parks and wild areas from Northeast Tennessee Tourism Director, Alicia Phelps, whose stories include adventures kayaking to hidden waterfalls at Wilbur Lake, bike rides to Tannery Knobs Mountain Bike Park Overlook in Johnson City, and the Laurel Run Park abandoned homestead at the Holston Lake / Bays Mtn. Intersection Overlook in Church Hill. Stories about building the homestead on Bays Mountain come to life as the cast relates Montreal Brown’s story of his grandfather, who once drove teams of horses from Asheville to Bays Mountain, to sell to local farmers are work animals. A trip into the wilderness wouldn’t be complete without some bear encounters, which happen deep on the mountain trails as well as in the middle of Johnson City, with stories of the beloved Johnson City Bear.

Episode Notes

Written by Jules Corriere with Anne G'Fellers-Mason, Katy Rosolowski, Martha Waldron, 

Accompaniment  Brett McCluskey

Sound and Audio Engineer  Jared Christian

Editor  Wayne Winkler

Stage Manager  Phyllis Fabozzi

Social Media Marketing  Ian Kirkpatrick

Sound Effects:  Gary Degner

Stories inspired by oral stories from:

Montreal Brown

Calvin Robinson

The Waldron Family

SPONSORS

Tennessee Arts Commission

McKinney Center

Town of Jonesborough

Wild Women of Jonesborough

Gary and Sandee Degner

Rae Dee O'Lufver

Monthly Sponsor: David Castel

 

 

 

Episode Transcription

JULES[JC1]

Coming to you from Jonesborough, Tennessee, the Storytelling Capital of the World, and broadcasting from the historic McKinney Center, it’s StoryTown, Jonesborough’s original storytelling radio show. 

 

I’m Jules Corriere, and I’ll be your host tonight as we go hiking, spelunking, rafting, and exploring all this region offers for outdoor adventures. We’ve got stories from Park Rangers, hikers, bikers, cavers, and people who just love making their own action stories in the great outdoors. Joining me along with the cast tonight is Alicia Phelps, who is the director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association. Alicia has – almost reluctantly- agreed to share with us some of her favorite out of the way spots she has discovered during her work throughout the area, including lesser-known waterfalls, trails and points for beginners, interesting spots along the Appalachian trail, as well as some super-challenging adventures for those who feel more sure-footed and curious. Just bring along extra band-aids and bear spray.

 

We’re also excited tonight about our musical guest Amy Saxonmeyer with our own Brett McCluskey. They met while performing with the Tusculum University Jazz Band, and they’ve put together their own rendition of some great jazz standards we’ll hear a little later on the show. And of course, we’ll get our latest installment from Anne G’Fellers-Mason and her historically creative- or creatively historical- team at the Heritage Alliance.

 

KATY

Jules, Jules, we can’t forget our sponsors. I mean especially Parsley! I am so excited they’re back.

 

JULES

Don’t worry Katy, we always remember to thank our sponsors. 

 

KATY

I know, and I want to help. So let’s move this along and get to it. (Katy reads quickly) We really want to thank the Tennessee Arts Commission for their generous grant. And the Wild Women of Jonesborough for sponsoring this season.

 

JULES
Easy, Katy, we’ll get there. We also want to thank Gary and Sandee Degner for their sponsorship this season, and to David Castel, who is the sponsor for this month’s episode of The Great Outdoors. 

 

KATY

And we want to thank the Makers of Parsley. Yes, Parsley, that smooth, easy-going flavor that enhances every meal. Sprinkle it on, or garnish a dish.

 

 

ALL

It just tastes better with Parsley.

 

KATY

Hit it Brett. 

 

BRETT

(plays soap opera-like music) 

 

KATY/ “Rose”

Another family reunion, another contest for the best potato salad recipe. Just let me go to my herb garden and grab what I need for my award-winning recipe for six years in a row.

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

I’ve had it. Every year, every reunion,  Rose and her perfect potato salad getting all the glory, meanwhile, I’m sitting here like yesterday’s cabbage slaw. Shunned. My cousins take a dab of my own potato salad, just to be polite, but I always end up taking my whole bowl home, nearly full, with no takers of a to-go stash. Not this year, Rose. Not if I can help it. And I will. 

 

KATY/ “Rose”

There, I’ve got about everything mixed. I just have to chop my lovely parsley. 

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

(Super fake-sweet but evil.) Helllllooo Rose. It’s so nice to see you. And what’s this, it looks like you made your famous potato salad again. You know, we all would love to know your secret.

 

KATY / “Rose”
(Super sweet) Oh, that’s easy, and its no secret. Not really. I’d love to share with you, thank you for asking! I feel so loved! I only use the freshest ingredients. Nothing too spicy for Grandma Lucy. And nothing too weird for Aunt Rosemary. Just good old American Potato salad, a smidge of mustard with the mayo, dash of paprika, boiled eggs, and of course, I mix in fresh parsley from my own garden. Simple. but it’s always worked.

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

Oh yes, it has always worked, for you. Well, thanks for your tips. Especially about Grandma Lucy and Aunt Rosemary. 

 

KATY / “Rose”

My pleasure.  Oh, look!  I was just about to chop my parsley, there’s all the butterflies and blue birds hovering around my birdbath in perfect formation!  I’ve got to capture that picture for the family reunion photo contest. Those blue birds seem to follow me everywhere. 

 

SABRA/”Ginger”
Well, go take that picture, and I can help you. 

 

 

 

KATY/ “Rose”

Oh, would you really, Ginger? Thank you so much. All I need is three perfect tablespoons of the flat leaf parsley chopped without the stems stirred into the mayonnaise.  Then I’ll garnish it with the curly leaf parsley when I get back. Thank you!

 

SABRA/”Ginger”
Oh, my pleasure. 

 

KATY/ “Rose”

Lalalalalala. Here I come little birdies. Smile pretty.

 

SABRA/”Ginger”
Well, perfect Rose’s perfect potato salad will finally take its last bow. It’s going down today. So nothing too spicy and nothing too weird, huh? How about parsley’s evil twin, Cilantro. Hahaha! Let me chop this up and add it in. And now, I’ll just mix the whole thing together. Then stick on a few sprigs of parsley, and viola. The award will go to me this time. 

 

KATY/ “Rose”

Hello Ginger, I’m back. Sorry it took so long, but just as I was taking my photo, a rainbow appeared in the sky, and I had to reframe and capture that too.

 

SABRA/”Ginger”
Of course it did. I mean, yes, of course. I’m sure it is beautiful and perfect as always. I went ahead and helped you a little by stirring things together. Good luuuuuck.

 

KATY/ “Rose”

Oh, thank you Ginger. What a sweet cousin. 

 

GRANDMA LUCY (PHYLLIS)

Oh, Rose, look how pretty!  I can’t wait to get a taste of your potato salad. 

 

KATY/ “Rose”

It just needs to chill a little bit. 

 

SABRA/”Ginger”
Grandma Lucy, come try my potato salad.

 

GRANDMA LUCY (PHYLLIS)

(pause-not enthusiastic)  Oh my, it a bit bold.

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

Yes???

 

GRANDMA LUCY (PHYLLIS)

It’s a strange taste---almost sharp!!

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

(to audience) Grandma Lucy plays favorites every single year.  But I’m not bitter.

 

GRANDMA LUCY (PHYLLIS)

Time to try Rose’s lovely potato salad.  The 2 types of parsley are perfect.   (firmly) No. Wait.

SABRA/”Ginger”

Yes???

 

GRANDMA LUCY (PHYLLIS)

I taste a third kind of parsley in Rose’s potato salad that is amazing.Rose, did you use Chinese parsley in your recipe this year?  Also known, of course,  as cilantro.  That is The Winner!!!

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

(proudly)  I added that.

 

KATY/ “Rose”

Oh cousin, I owe this all to you.  We need to share this year’s award in honor of the parsleys. 

 

SABRA/”Ginger”

Yeah…we don’t want to start a parsley family feud.  Here, you take home some of mine and I’ll take home some of yours.

 

GRANDMA, SABRA, KATY:

Well --- It just tastes better with parsley!!! 

 

STEFANIE

I’ve got an outdoor adventure story that goes back in my family over a hundred and fifty years. My Daddy’s family homesteaded on Bays Mountain, and the old log cabin that my granddaddy built is still there. But you can’t take a road to get to it anymore. You’ve got to make your way on foot to really get there at all. It’s a long trip back. In the early days, my granddaddy’s job was to drive teams of horses from Asheville to Bays Mountain, and that was rough going. We’re talking horse and buggy days. They would then sell the horses to farmers once they got to Bays Mountain. Granddaddy was seventy-two when he married my grandmother in 1929, and had my daddy. If you know your math, that means Granddaddy was born in 1857, and if you know your history, that means even more. My granddaddy- not my great or my great-great, but my granddaddy was born before the beginning of the Civil War. My daddy was born before the stock market crashed. And I was born before integration came, but I lived to see it happen, just like my granddaddy lived to see freedom come. Just like my father is still here to see his grandson drive a car over the mountains instead of a team of horses, and when Daddy rides with Adam, the nineteenth century sits with the twenty-first. It’s that close in our family. We’ve covered more than distance. We’ve covered time. When I hold my father’s hand, I hold history, when I hold Adam’s hand, I hold change. That’s who we are. It’s who we must continue to be. (Each generation, reaching into a better, brighter future. There will be bumps in the road for us to continue to climb over. But nothing worth doing is ever too easy. 

 

JULES

Thank you, Pam Daniels, for sharing that special story about her family’s homestead on Bays Mountain. You can still hike up there to see those old buildings. Some of the old structures have fallen in, but some are still there, and it is one of the favorite places to reach for adventurous folks who take to the trail on Bays Mountain, especially in spring, when everything starts to bloom. 

 

SABRA

One way I can tell that it’s spring each year is the emergence of-

 

MARCY

The Dogwood blooms?

 

LINDA

The Redbuds?

 

BRETT

The Daffodils and Tulips.

 

SABRA

Well, those are some early harbingers of spring, but for me, I was talking about the emergence of the Johnson City bear. 

MARCY

Oh, yeah! I got it on my ring camera back in 2019. He got curious about a package on my doorstep, and even tried the door knob a couple times.

 

LINDA

It’s such a smart bear. Good thing your door was locked!

 

BRETT

I love our Johnson City Bear. Even when he disturbs our usual exercise routine. 

 

SABRA

Yes, like the year that our Johnson City bear got comfortable around the trail over by Med-Tech Center. That’s my favorite place to go running in the evening, but 

 

SABRA AND BRETT

Not when the bear is on the trail with you.

 

SABRA

When I’m on a real trail, I try to keep an eye out for bears, I mean, if I’m up on Roan Mountain or up on the Appalachian Trail, but I mean, the trail, the running trail, in the middle of Johnson City, and all that traffic-

 

BRETT

Yeah, we might be ready to turn a corner and see a group of residents or nurses taking a walk break, but nobody’s ready to turn the corner and find that fella.

 

SABRA

That year, I think our walking trail was closed due to bear activity for about a month.

 

MARCY

I didn’t mind too much. I mean, a hundred years ago, it was his territory, too. We just need to find a way to share it. 

 

LINDA

He had a lot of liberty to do so last year, when about everything was closed to quarantine. It almost felt like the wildlife would take over.

 

BRETT

It’s still early in the season, and I haven’t seen any signs of him yet, but hopefully, he’ll make an appearance soon.

 

MARCY

Just to let us get a glimpse.

 

LINDA

Just to let us see he’s still around.

 

SABRA

Just to let us know we can share this place together. Keep an eye out for our Johnson City bear, and do me a favor, when you see him again, post a picture, so we know he’s still around. And…of course…where. 

 

WENDY

I grew up in New York, and my idea of city wildlife is squirrels, birds, an occasional rabbit in the park, but NOT bears. However, when our children were young, we enjoyed a multitude of family vacations to out-of-the-way places where wildlife and wild adventure were right at our feet, and about as unusual as the City Bear. 

 

GREGG

Destinations one would never book through a travel agency or brag about on social media. 

 

IAN

Speak for yourself! I’m all over this one. But I’ll post these using an alias on Instagram, for sure. 

 

WENDY

Thus, in our extremely long but legendary van rides, we discovered Alfred the Giant Bull in Audubon, Iowa; learned about the exalted beer-drinking goat in Montgomery, TX ; 

 

IAN

And met Breaking Bad’s real life “Candy Lady” in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

 

WENDY

Hey, we told you to steer clear of that one!

 

GREGG 

However, our family’s number one most memorable vacation experience was our whitewater rafting adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains, on the Nantahala River. 

 

WENDY

Let me explain... Although my husband and I had never ACTUALLY white water rafted, canoed or even row boated TOGETHER, we SEPARATELY had accumulated some water sports experiences. I had faced & conquered the Class III and IV rapids of Pennsylvania’s Youghiogheny River in college a “few” years prior to marrying and having a family. 

 

GREGG

And remember, as middle school teacher, I chaperoned years of annual spring whitewater rafting trips on the Genesee River in upstate New York. Managing to keep a raft full of hormonal and irrational sixth graders from drowning was certainly worthy whitewater experience in my book! Not to mention Boy scout trips and church camp canoeing lessons were also on my “watercraft resume”.

 

WENDY

Hence, at the White Water Rafting Business Outpost, when given the choice between a “guided tour” and an “unguided tour”, we confidently chose to face the CLASS II rapids without the extra expense of a guide. 

 

IAN

Big mistake. Hilarious, epic, Bumpsnbruises Instagram Account moments- with over 10,000 likes, by the way, but still, a big, big mistake.

 

WENDY

The fee for our adventure covered the rafting equipment for our family of five and transportation on a bright blue spray-painted former school bus to the “put in”. 

 

GREGG 

The fee also included some “pre-trip instructions”. 

 

IAN

We listened to the guides’ tips about using the paddles properly, tucking one’s feet in for stability and what to do if one found themselves IN the water. Good thing I’ve got the waterproof go-pro. 

 

WENDY

Meanwhile, my husband and I nodded with a sense of superiority at the simpleness of the guides’ directions and safety warnings. 

 

GREGG 

Afterall, these were CLASS II rapids...How rough could this two-mile course be? 

 

WENDY

Lulled by the strong accent and colloquialisms of the South, my husband and I paid little attention to the guides’ directive about the location of the “take out”. I do recall one young man explaining that this would be the place where we would meet up to gather our rafts and equipment and board the bright blue bus to return to the outpost. 

 

GREGG 

The mention of PVC pipes, waterfalls and hospital trips didn’t penetrate our concern as we were tranquilized by the drawl of the wet suited guides. 

WENDY

A few “over-concerned” parents asked annoying clarifying questions before we boarded the bus, but soon we were on our way. Once in our raft, we drifted over the gentle current. 

 

IAN

Then we hit the rapids. My sister and I paddled and balanced, it was great. 

 

WENDY

As the sunshine peeked through the canopy of trees, I leaned back and relaxed, enjoying the sound of the rippling water and the looks of delight on our young family in this beautiful and natural surrounding. 

 

GREGG 

The rafts containing guides triumphantly scooted passed our raft as the staff encouraged simultaneous paddling. 

 

WENDY

Once again, my husband and I shared a look of superiority at not having to share our family time with an outsider. We were truly enjoying this afternoon on the river. In shallow areas, the kids waded and splashed each other. It was a truly glorious morning. 

 

GREGG 

Close to the two-hour mark, the whitewater rapids began to increase. We had to do some back paddling to negotiate a large stone or two in our path and we noticed some bright blue arrows painted on rock faces directing us when the river forked. As our trip continued, we began to notice other rafting companies’ “take out” signs and saw yellow and orange buses pulled up with trailers filled with rafts. Tired-looking families were toweling off following the completion of their trip. 

 

IAN

Hey, dad, there’s no bright blue buses or familiar faces on shore over there. Should we go anyway> 

 

GREGG 

Hmm. I don’t think so, Let’s just keep paddling. 

 

WENDY

Understandably, the glimpse of other families with their feet on dry ground, reminded our children of their own bodies. 

 

IAN

I’m getting sunburned. Are we there yet? 

 

KATY

My knees are getting stiff. Are we there yet?

 

IAN

I’m hungry.

 

KATY

I’m getting thirsty. Are we there yet? 

 

WENDY

We thought we’d been through the rapids, and would be wrapping up soon on the shore, but the rapids increased.

 

GREGG 

We dug our paddles into the water and encouraged our children to do the same. 

 

WENDY

Another bend in the river and we saw a green “take out” sign with a matching bus and loaded trailer. 

 

GREGG 

Uh oh, did we take the wrong fork? 

 

WENDY

Look, there’s a sign ahead that says “public take out up ahead.” Is this our stop point? 

 

 

GREGG 

Nah. It’s not bright blue. Keep paddling. 

 

SFX

Water noises, rushing sound. 

 

WENDY

The rapids increased even more and water started splashing into the sides of our raft, as we rounded a sharp bend in the river. 

 

 

 

IAN

Mom, there’s a white “public take out” sign perched next to a bright blue bus. And there’s our guides.

 

WENDY

Honey, they are waving their paddles at us. Sort of frantically. 

 

KIDS

What are they shouting?

 

JONATHAN

Hey, Over here!

 

WENDY

Their slow Southern drawl was no longer recognizable. The shouting became louder as they waded into the water with their paddles reaching out in our direction. 

 

JONATHAN

Stop! You need to stop now! 

 

GREGG 

Unfortunately, the shouting, waving guides, waiting families and bright blue buses were on the right side of the river. 

 

WENDY

Our raft is on the left side of the river. Rough rapids and large boulders are now separating us. 

 

GREGG 

The splashing was becoming more intense and the rapids were gaining speed. 

WENDY

Taking in all of these sights, my eyes focused on the strangest sight. Directly in front of our raft, a rope was strung across the river. Perfectly spaced on the rope hung white cylinders. We briskly approached them and I reached out to grab one. It slipped from my grasp.

 

IAN

Mom, didn’t the guide say something about PVC pipes right before a waterfall?

 

WENDY

Waterfall!

 

ALL

Waterfallllllllllllllll!

 

WENDY

Immediately down we went. All five paddles were digging into the rapids simultaneously. Gasping for air as the water flew in my face, I mentally counted the bodies still in the raft. 1,2,3,4,5. 

 

GREGG 

Was THAT the waterfall 

 

WENDY

Phew, if it is, then we all made it.

 

ALL

Hurray!

 

 

 

IAN

Mom, I don’t think so. Remember the other thing the guide said.

 

KATY

“Y’all will enjoy a ride to the hospital. If you’re lucky, that is.” 

 

WENDY

My husband’s memory of the guide’s words must have been restored with that splashing decline in altitude and he ordered 

 

GREGG 

“DRAW PADDLE!” 

 

WENDY

With the superhuman strength that is often described in news stories, working together, the 5 of us we somehow managed to steer our raft safely to the shore where we were greeted by white faced wet suited guides who helpfully lifted our raft from the sandy shore and carried it to the trailer. Shame faced, we boarded the bus. 

 

IAN

At the outpost, we changed into dry clothes and returned to our family van. 

 

WENDY

As we left the adventure behind us, instead of taking the right turn taking us to the main road, my husband made a left-hand turn. I looked over at him questioningly. He explained that he wanted to see the waterfall that we had managed to avoid. 

 

IAN

I turned the go-pro back on to see what might have been, to add to what already happened to us. 

 

WENDY

The van backtracked on the dusty road that the bright blue bus had just traveled. Beyond the “public take out” we continued on. Following another bend in the road, we pulled to a stop. 

 

IAN

To the most picturesque, steep falling waterfall through greenery and cliff side you could imagine. Luckily, from the safety of our dry van. 

 

WENDY

As a family, we have never enjoyed another white-water rafting adventure.

 

KATY

Well, with one exception. We rode on the Kali River Rapids in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. 

 

WENDY

This trip can be booked through a travel agency. 

 

IAN

You can also read about it on my Instagram page! And mom’s Facebook. 

 

 

JULES

What a story. Thanks to Martha Waldron, who was brave enough to face those rapids, and even braver, to share that story! If you are just tuning in, you’re listening to StoryTown, Jonesborough’s original storytelling radio hour on WETS 89.5 FM out of Johnson City, Tennessee. 

 

BRETT

30 seconds music.

 

JULES
And we’re back, along with tonight’s music guest, Amy Saxonmeyer is a well-known artist, vocalist/musician and community volunteer in Greeneville/Greene County TN, which has been her home since 1979.  She is one half of the musical duo, The Smooth Sounds of ROUTE 66, which specializes in Jazz Standards and tunes from the 50’s, and has been performing at private parties and events in the area since 2003.  In addition to having had numerous local art exhibits, Saxonmeyer, who refers to herself as a contemporary folk artist, designed and painted fifteen of the twenty large quilt square images which are permanently displayed on various commercial buildings and properties as part of the Downtown Greeneville Quilt Trail. And now I’d love to invite this incredibly talented performer to the stage. Please welcome, Amy Saxonmeyer. 

 

 

AMY AND BRETT PLAY 3 SONGS

 

JULES

Amy, I am going to have this music in my head all week long. Now, is there a place people can go if they want to hear more of your music or to see some of the really cool videos you’ve been putting together? Or art exhibits. 

 

AMY

Gives sites. 

 

JULES

Thank you again. We hope you’ll be back to sing with us again in the future! Up next, we have another special guest. Alicia Phelps is the director of the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association. Many of you will recognize her, as before she took this post a few years ago, Alicia served as Jonesborough’s own Marketing and Tourism director. That’s when we first met. Since then, Alicia has really helped put northeast Tennessee on the map, with the great social media campaigns, television commercials, and print guides. Last year, when COVID hit the region and tourism, which is such a big industry here began to take a hit, Alicia headed up the folks who would keep our area thriving, promoting the things we still could enjoy, even during quarantine, and that is all of the incredible outdoor opportunities were are lucky enough to have here. Tonight, Alicia is going to share with us some of her very favorite spots, and give us some insights as to where we can go, whether it’s with a family, a friend’s trip out, for avid hikers or true beginners. There’s a place outside for everyone here in Northeast Tennessee, isn’t there Alicia.

 

ALICIA-

Talks about outdoor places, and does interview with Jules live for 7 minutes. 

 

JULES
Thank you Alicia. Now, if people want to check online for these places, to get maps, directions, or more information, where should they go?

 

ALICIA
They can go to (give all the locations)

 

JULES

Thanks Alicia. Well, now we’re going to go from twenty-first century technology and adventures to a little further back in time, where people were still coming to this region for some outdoor adventures. TO hear stories all about it, please help me welcome to the stage Anne G’Fellers-mason of the Heritage Alliance in a segment we like to call, 

 

ALL

“Ask The Historian.” 

 

ANNE

Thanks, Jules. We’re going on a little train ride today from Johnson City to Boone, North Carolina. Along the way, we’ll see plenty of scenic sites. Miles and miles of natural forest.

 

CAST

Oooooh

 

ANNE

Tunnels that go right through the mountain.

 

CAST

Aaaaawwww

 

ANNE

Rivers and waterfalls.

 

CAST

Oooooh

 

ANNE

And it should only take about four hours.

 

CAST

Four hours?!

 

ANNE

Maybe a little longer.

 

PHYLLIS

Four hours?! But I can drive there in less than two.

 

ANNE

Today you can, but in 1920, you were on Tweetsie time. The East Tennessee & Western North Carolina (ET&WNC, for short) was a celebrated railroad that connected travel between Tennessee and North Carolina and dated to the late nineteenth century. The thoroughfare was nicknamed “the Tweetsie,” referencing the bird-like sound of the train’s whistle, which one newspaper characterized as a “mellow toot.” Despite its notoriety, the ET&WNC was never a large system. It was chartered in 1866 by the Tennessee General Assembly to connect Johnson City, TN, and Cranberry, NC, (located in the Blue Ridge Mountains); the distanced totaled approximately 32 miles. Failure to secure enough financial backing prevented construction, and the charter remained untouched for almost two decades. The Cranberry Iron & Coal Company, under the direction of financier Gen. Ario Pardee, acquired the railroad in 1873. Pardee helped to introduce a route between Johnson City and nearby Hampton, TN, in August 1881. This original section later expanded, connecting with Cranberry in July 1882. Iron and timber bustled out of western North Carolina, 

 

SFX Tumbling bustling.

 

moving through Johnson City and along interchanges provided by the Southern Railway and Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railway (also known as the “Clinchfield”).

 

PHYLLIS

Unlike other railroads, the ET&WNC route was constructed according to three-foot, narrow-gauge specifications by engineer Col. Thomas Matson. Narrow-gauge standards reduced construction costs and allowed the trains to navigate the difficult terrain of the Blue Ridge. This railroad not only had to go around mountains, it also had to go over them, and sometimes through them. Its very existence is an engineering marvel.

 

ANNE

Indeed it is. In 1919, the Tweetsie adopted an extension to Boone, NC, known as the Linville River Railroad. At its peak, the line represented a 66-mile track, with two additional, short branches that reached Minneapolis . . .

 

PHYLLIS

Minneapolis?!

 

ANNE

Minneapolis and Pineola, NC.

 

PHYLLIS

Oh, that makes more sense.

 

ANNE

In addition to the traditional iron and timber products, the railroad also shuttled furniture, brick, agricultural goods, tanneries, and textiles. According to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, in 1938, the Tweetsie was “the highest railway in eastern America, and one of three commercial narrow-gauge railways remaining in this country.” Like other nineteenth and twentieth century rail-lines, the Tweetsie did offer passenger services. However, it did not operate scheduled passenger trains throughout the entire year. Instead, these services were only offered during the summer months, which allowed tourists to ride the train in order to view and visit the scenic local mountains. As one Johnson City Press headline from July 1939 boasted, the route “Shows Off Scenic Wonders To Jolly, Carefree Excursion Crowd.” Some passengers did not even bother going to a train depot; they would simply flag the Tweetsie down outside of their homes for a ride.

 

PHYLLIS

Cy, is that someone waving us down, running towards the train?

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

Yeah, good thing we just shoved off. Better slow us down again. They’ll catch us when we stop.

 

MARCY

Whew! I’m glad you saw me. I’ve gotta get to Boone for a church social this evening.

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

You got a ticket?

 

MARCY

Uh, no. But I heard the Tweetsie was the “friendliest” railroad and I could hop on just about anywhere.

 

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

We are friendly, but we also have to make a living. You can pay your ticket price at the next Depot.

 

MARCY

Yes, sir.

 

ANNE

Cy Crumley was a conductor on the Tweetsie for a number of years. He saw and heard it all.

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

All aboard! This train is about to depart from the Cranberry Depot!

 

PHYLLIS

Uh oh, Cy, here’s someone else running at us.

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

That’s Mrs. Brown. What can I do for you today, Mrs. Brown?

 

LINDA

Well, Cy, I’m hoping you can help me out. I need some fabric from Johnson City, a very special kind. If I give you a description and some money, can you fetch it for me?

 

PHYLLIS

You want to hop on the train and come and get it for yourself? Make sure you get the kind you want?

 

LINDA

Goodness, no, I don’t have the time for that. Thank you, Cy.

 

PHYLLIS

You do everyone’s shopping for them?

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

“There’s hardly a day that some house-wife doesn’t ask me to bring her a spool of thread… or that some man doesn’t give me an order for a pair of shoes, a hat or some tools from town.”

 

ANNE

That last line is a direct quote from Cy Crumley himself. And that’s part of the reason your trip to Boone might take so long, that and the number of Depots along the way where the train had to stop, and there was the occasional stray cow.

 

PHYLLIS

Got a message in, there’s a cow up ahead, prepare to stop.

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

It felt like a cow on the tracks kind of day.

 

PHYLLIS

What do we do after we stop?

 

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

We put on our gloves and encourage the cow off the tracks.

 

PHYLLIS

I didn’t think there’d be so much bovine work in the railroad business.

BRETT/CY CRUMLEY

The railroad business is a little bit of everything, especially on a line like the Tweetsie.

 

ANNE

Sadly, the ET&WNC began to decline in 1940. Massive floods along the Linville River Railroad near Cranberry, NC, forced the section to be abandoned, as there was minimal online traffic (which mostly consisted of tourists) and the costs of repairs were extensive (estimated at $50,000). In March 1940, the Tweetsie again became a short, 34-mile system. World War II temporarily increased the traffic on the railroad, with newspapers reporting that “A War 3000 Miles Away May Rescue 'Tweetsie' From Being Abandoned.” In fact, in 1943, two of the Tweetsie’s engines were loaded up and sent to Alaska as part of the war effort. Unfortunately, after the conflict ended, the iron and timber industries diminished. As a result, the final train traveled between Elizabethton and Cranberry in October 1950.

 

MARCY

All that remained from the once interstate route was a 10-mile section connecting Johnson City and Elizabethton, which was mostly used to transport textiles. Throughout the 1960s, the Tweetsie continued to use steam power before eventually switching to diesel locomotives. In 1983, the ET&WNC was renamed the East Tennessee Railway after being purchased by the Green Bay Packaging Company. Today, most people encounter the “Tweetsie” in two new forms- as a paved walking and biking path that stretches between Johnson City and Elizabethton, covering the train’s original route, and via the theme park in Blowing Rock, NC, where the ET&WNC steamers (saved after the closure of the narrow-gauge lines in 1950) still chug along the tracks.

 

ANNE

You can learn more about the Tweetsie railroad at the George L. Carter Railroad Museum in Johnson City and at the Chuckey Depot Museum in Jonesborough. The latest exhibit at the Chuckey Depot “As Fast As Birds Can Fly” is all about the ET&WNC and it features several of Cy Crumley’s artifacts, including his conductor cap. There’s even a whistle from one of the old engines on display, and if you listen very closely, you might just hear the Tweetsie’s distinctive call.

 

JULES

Thank you Anne. That’s was another amazing story from Ask The Historian! Up next, we’ve got a great story. We’ve got the last of the old-school, do- all park rangers, Calvin Robinson, who’s experiences cover ground between Asheville to the Sierra Nevadas and places in-between.

 

CALVIN

I was at the end of an era where Park Rangers did everything. These days, there are specialty positions. I was the last of the do-all rangers. In fact, people used to call me “Dudley Do-Right” because I was sort of that image. 

 

I remember my first month as a ranger. I showed up to work, fresh out of college and there was a fire season going on, all over the country. I was working in Asheville, but as a Ranger, we are ready to be called in anywhere. I got a quick book course on fighting wild fires, and the next thing I know I’m taking my first airplane flight to California where I’m assigned as a squad boss in charge of five young men from the Job Corps. My first ever forest fire, in the Middle of the Sierra Nevadas. 

 

GARY

Hey, greenhorn. see these MRE’s, you and your crew go ahead and load up as much of these as you can. 

 

CALVIN

I got with my five team members, an we started loading up.

 

KATHLEEN

Hey’ ya’ll don’t need to worry about all that. You can get more at the base camp. You’ll just be lugging extra weight otherwise. 

 

CALVIN

The second trainer left, and the first Host Shot trainer came back and said not to listen, and load up anyway. Base camp will have food, but fire is tricky, and you never know when you’ll get back to base camp once you’re up taming the flame. Well, I trusted that, and we loaded up.  All right, so is there a big truck or maybe fire truck that takes us up or something, with our gear? 

 

SFX

HELICOPTER.

 

KATHLEEN

We do things a little differently here, since we have, you know, actual mountains, and not those hills you have in North Carolina. 

                   

CALVIN

Then I took my first helicopter ride to the top of a mountain where they unloaded us and I was, like, “Wow!” I couldn’t believe it.  And, so, I kind of had my firefighter training on the job.  The first fire I ever was on, in the middle of the Sierra Nevadas with, responsibilities way over my head.  I cannot remember the name of the fire.  It was in the Shasta Trinity Wilderness area. California was burning.  That’s why they needed help. I was on part of the interagency fire crew. 

KATHLEEN

Here you go, these guys are going to be under you, Robinson.

 

CALVIN

They gave me young men to fight this fire under me who were mostly inner-city kids -- they’d never even been in the woods. So, they’d had training and they had all that, uh, book work and some -- they taught ‘em some things about how to use the fire tools. But we get out there and one of ‘em said, 

 

IAN

Hey, I, I, I need to go to the bathroom; uh, where do I go?

 

CALVIN

And I’m like, “Uh, you see these trees?  Any of ‘em that’s not on fire will do.”

                   

IAN

Oh, yeah. OK, I get it. Like, in the old TV shows. OK. I can dig it. 

 

CALVIN

So, he goes out there behind a tree, and in a few minutes we hear this awful scream. 

 

IAN

Whoah! Oh no! No way!

 

CALVIN

Then I see this bewildered elk come running out of one side of the bushes and this young man coming out of the other side, pulling his pants up. So, at least I wasn’t the only one kind of learning new things.

 

But seriously, I was assessing the situation. I got helicoptered up and dropped on top of the mountain. The first thing that went through my mind was panic, because I had a radio.The helicopter took off and crashed. Yeah, The first helicopter I ever flew crashed right after loading me and the crew off. We were told to keep in radio contact, because things can change really quick working a fire. Well, it did. 

 

SABRA

Mayday.  I’m going in. 

 

CALVIN

I looked in the direction, and I saw it go down. I didn’t know what happened. It was silent for a few minutes. And then…

 

SABRA

It’s me. I’m OK. I auto, auto-rotated in. I’m fine. I mean, I’m jammed up, I won’t be walking down this mountain, but I’m here. 

 

CALVIN

I had seen where he went down, and called in the location. I guess they sent somebody in to get him, but the fire was coming up, and we had to get going on our own work. Yeah.  I wasn’t looking forward to the helicopter ride back out, and fortunately, I didn’t have to ride back out. The fire swept up they wouldn’t be able to get to us. I’m glad we listened to the older guy about stocking up on food, because we weren’t going to get back to any base camp for many more days. 

 

Later in that same fire, um, I, uh, was on top of a ridge and the fire was burning up towards us. We were in danger pretty deep. 

 

IAN

What do we do, boss?

 

CALVIN

Start digging in. We have to deploy our fire shelters. 

 

IAN

There’s some traffic on the radio. I can’t make it out. You better listen. 

 

CALVIN

They wanted to know our location.  We told ‘em, and they confirmed the fire was coming up our way fast. 

 

KATHLEEN

Hang tough; we’re bringing an airdrop in.

 

CALVIN

We dug in our shelter, and I saw this plane coming. It was a small plane followed by a larger plane. 

 

IAN

Hey, look at that!

 

CALVIN

Quick, guys, now, lay down, fast. Cover your tools. Lay down!

 

SFX

Whooshy squishy sound

 

CALVIN

Next thing I know we’re being covered in slurry -- it’s kind of a pinkish-orange, slimy stuff and it knocked the fire out as it was coming up towards us, and covered us in this pinkish-orange retardant. It keeps fire from you know, coming up on us, but it also is a mess.  You couldn’t get it out of the clothes. It didn’t hit us straight on, it was like a glancing blow.  It hit the ground and just kind of sprayed over us. Every bit of our skin was covered up. But by keeping an eye on things, and using  sort of hyper-focus, I stayed safe and kept my crew safe. and I ow it all to a learning disability. Yeah.  I had a learning disability early in life and I learned to watch, to overcome it. As crew boss, as assistant crew boss, a three squad boss, and the rest are firefighters.And, so, I kind of brought my crew towards the rear and watched what was going on in front of me, learned, and told my guys how to do what they needed to do by hyper-focusing and teaching. I had, uh, what you would call A-D-D -- attention deficit disorder -- and I would get distracted. I was always very bright but I was unable to achieve where I should have in school because I’d get distracted and daydream and everything like that. So, I wanted to learn how to get over this, and what I learned was, I hyper-focus -- I said, I have learned to cover when I don’t know what to do by observing and picking up real quickly and that’s how I got through it. And, then the next fire went on, I felt a lot more confident.  But we had a really good crew boss and he looked after us.  He also knew I was marginally experienced this next time. He didn’t give me any special treatment, but he did explain exactly what he wanted, and, I do appreciate him for that, because I was a lot more clear on what me and my team had to do to get the job done. Mostly, I try to be prepared, not just for my own needs, but those around me. I’d usually carry a pack of snacks with me or something extra and find people out there that had low blood sugar or something and I’d give ‘em that. Some people called me Dudley Do-Right because I always seemed to have something handy they needed. But that all comes back to that earlier disability- which really became my superpower. I learned to cover for what I might have missed, then hyperfocus to make sure I don’t and that hyperfocus made me look at the bigger world, which extended beyond me, beyond Asheville, and even beyond the Sierra Nevadas. It includes me, and my neighbors, and the world. 

 

JULES

What a story. Thank you Calvin, for the work you did to keep the parks and the country safe for us, and a place we can still enjoy, visit, and survive in. 

 

That’s all the time we have for tonight- I know- our outdoor adventures always seem to wrap up too soon. We’d like to thank all the people who contributed stories for tonight’s program. And of course to our sponsors who help make it all happen. The Tennessee Arts Commission, The Wild Women of Jonesborough, Gary and Sandee Degner, and our April show sponsor. David Castel. We also want to thank our wonderful music guest Amy Saxonmeyer. Now, it’s getting warm out there, you’ve heard about some of our wonderful places to explore around East Tennessee, so we say, go out there and enjoy it all!  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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