Sunday, August 31, 2014
In the spring of 1978, the famous steam engine train, Clinchfield No. 1, traveled the tracks to Georgetown and Andrews for the first-ever Lowland Fling.
This year, Pawleys Island author Mark Stevens retold the story of the steam engine, its excursion trips and its unusual visit to the area in his new book, “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee's Legendary Steam Engine.”
The Clinchfield was first built in 1882. After being retired in the 1950s and nearly rotting in a railroad yard in Tennessee, it was rebuilt in 1968 to lead excursion trains in the South until 1979.
Today the Clinchfield No. 1 is in a museum in Baltimore, Md.
Stevens said the Clinchfield No. 1 was running excursion trips from Spartanburg, S.C., to Elkhorn, Ky., during its most successful years. It was that South Carolina connection, coupled with a new Georgetown County celebration and an Andrews tie to the railroad administration that brought the engine to Georgetown and Andrews.
“All of this was about bringing something to the Lowland Fling. In the planning, it was all about ‘what can we [the county] do to make this special?'
With Andrews being a railroad town, there was an Andrews native by the name of Ettre Vee Rogers McDonald and she happened to be a vice president with the corporate railroad company that owned the Clinchfield. The local people here in Georgetown County called her up and said they would love to make the railroad part of the Lowland Fling,” said Stevens.
With McDonald's help, the Clinchfield No. 1 chugged into Georgetown and Andrews in May 1978.
“This was a big deal because it was off the Clinchfield track. When the train came here in May of 1978, this was the most eastward the train ever went, and this was the longest trip it had ever done (almost 700 miles round trip) up to that point.”
The Clinchfield No. 1 was in town for three days – it arrived on Thursday, May 4, 1978 at 4 p.m. and the public had opportunities to ride it between Andrews and Georgetown that Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
Stevens wrote in his book that according to a Georgetown Times article, more than 5,000 people rode the train that weekend.
“They really loaded them [the passengers] on, there was such an interest in riding the train,” Stevens said. “Steam engines had been gone for a very long time by then. For a railroad town like Andrews, there was and still is a lot of nostalgia for things like that. A lot of heritage, and that means things to these communities.”
Local nostalgia may have drawn riders to the train, but the Clinchfield No. 1 also had earned a national reputation at the time and that may have also attracted residents to the train.
Stevens said the locomotive's excursion trips had become so popular they were written about in renowned publications like the New York Times and Southern Living magazine.
“It wasn't just a train coming to Andrews, it was the Clinchfield No. 1,” he explained.
But the surprise trip to Andrews and Georgetown was unusual, and was almost left out of the book altogether.
“I had always heard that the Clinchfield No. 1 came to Georgetown, South Carolina, but we [my co-author, Alf Peoples, and I] didn't have any information on it, there wasn't anything we'd actually seen on it. We had asked some people that were still alive that had dealt with the train if they remembered the trip, but it didn't ring a bell.”
Previous to this book, Stevens and Peoples co-authored another, pictorial book on the Clinchfield No. 1 and had already done years' worth of research on the locomotive.
Stevens had also just moved to Pawleys Island when he started working on the second book, and he still was unaware of the county's connection to the train.
It was only from looking through the archives at East Tennessee State University that Stevens rediscovered the trip to Georgetown County.
“At the archive, part of the archival material was newspaper clippings. The archivists can tell you how excited I got when I found a front page clipping from the Georgetown Times.
“What I had found was only an advance of the story that was going to happen, but it was an April clipping, and that gave me a date to start my research on.”
Upon his return to the South Strand, where he had moved to from the Clinchfield No. 1's “hometown” of Erwin, Tenn., Stevens found most of his information on the locomotive's trip to the county locally.
“For me it was such an interesting thing. This train was such a huge part of where I came from, and I was writing about it because it was a part of my local history, but then I moved here and I found myself doing research about it locally here. It was very interesting, as if it was some kind of worlds colliding.”
Through his research at the Georgetown County Library and the Georgetown Times, Stevens found many articles about the Clinchfield No. 1's trip to town, which is used for reference throughout his book.
He also used the Times earlier this year to get more information on the trip by asking locals who remembered the steam engine's trip to town to contact him.
The Epps family and the Cagle family, both of Andrews, contacted Stevens after seeing the article and both families' photos are used in his book.
Stevens said meeting the locals was a thrill for him, and confirmed his idea that the locomotive was larger than its – and his – Tennessee roots.
“It reaffirms my entire thinking about this train and writing the two books. The Clinchfield No. 1 really was so much bigger than Erwin, Tenn., and I knew that because it had been written about in newspapers and magazines, but to find that local connection so often – to go to Spartanburg and find a local connection, and go to Elkhorn and find a local connection, I could go to all these places and find all these connections – it means something to people.
“Mary Cagle [of Andrews], her father worked for the railroad, so it was such an event for them, and it means a lot to me that people love this little steam engine. They love it like I do, and so many people do. …
“For so many years it brought a lot of joy to people. Meeting the Cagle and the Epps families, that brought a lot of joy to me – it put a nice local flavor to the book that I hadn't expected. I had no idea I would have such a local tie here.”
Stevens will be holding a book signing of “The Clinchfield No. 1: Tennessee's Legendary Steam Engine” at Clock Tower Books on Sept. 6 from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. His book is also available for purchase online at popular bookseller sites.