Mount Mitchell Railroad
In the Land of the Sky

By Donald R. Hensley, Jr

Mt Mitchell RR

    This all started out on eBay, due to a purchase of a couple of postcards awhile back. They depicted a narrow gauge Climax locomotive and small homebuilt excursion cars climbing the highest mountain in the Eastern United States at 6,711 feet. Intrigued, I purchased a few more cards and did some digging into the story about this railroad.

    This railway was built by the Dickey & Campbell Lumber Company, to reach the virgin timber in the Black Mountains of Western North Carolina. Construction started in 1911 at Black Mountain City, NC and climbed 21 miles of three foot gauge track up the ridge using sharp curves and nine switchbacks with a maximum grade of 5.25 percent. D&C built a large band mill at Black Mountain City which was served by Southern Railway.

    The Perley & Crockett Lumber Company (of Williamsport, PA) purchased the mill, railroad and lands of the D&C on November 17, 1913 and rebuilt the mill to handle up to 110,000 feet of lumber a day. There was over 300 million board feet of timber available on their tracts, with Spruce and Balsam being the most important. Around 1914 the railroad had climbed to Camp Alice, which was located near the summit of Mount Mitchell. The logging line used two Shays and five Climaxes while the standard gauge mill trackage was switched by an ancient Cooke 0-4-0.

    Early on, the P&C company found that they could run excursions over their railroad for the paying vacationers who ventured to the mountains during the summer to get away from the hot conditions of the flat lands. These trains operated every summer until 1918, when the war effort, meeting maximum production of Spruce lumber, forced their cancellation. Spruce was used in the manufacturing of fighter planes. The excursions returned in 1919.

    The State of North Carolina stepped up pressure on the company in an effort to save some of the scenic forest for a state park. P&C stopped lumber cutting in 1920 and sold their railroad and equipment to the Mount Mitchell Scenic Railroad. This railroad had a short life, shutting down after the 1921 season in favor of a toll road. The rails and equipment were sold to nearby logging operations. The toll road was built mostly over the former narrow gauge railroad which was only wide enough for one car. This road had to be operated one way up the mountain in the morning and one way down the mountain in the afternoon.

Roster of Locomotives

1 Shay Lima 2512 /1912 36” Gauge New. Sold to Rapides Lumber 1
2 Shay Lima 2568/1912 36” Gauge New. Sold to Natwick Nixon Co.
3 B-35 Climax ? ? 36” Gauge
4 B-42 Climax ? /1913 36” Gauge new to Blackwood Lbr Co., East LaPorte, NC
5 B-42 Climax 1235 1913 36” Gauge new to Suncrest Lbr #4 Sunburst NC, to Blackwood Lbr Co., East LaPorte, NC
6 0-4-0 Cooke 1056/1879 Stnd Gauge used to switch mill
7 Climax 1319 /1914 36” Gauge New. Sold to Blackwood Lbr Co.
8 Climax 1321 /1914 36” Gauge New. Sold to Suncrest Lbr Co.

Blue Ridge Siding
View from Blue Ridge Siding near the top of  Mount Mitchell.
Mt Mitchell Train
Here is the actual photo that was used as the basis of the color postcard at the top of the page.
Note that the cars were redrawn and the brake- man completely removed from the postcard version.
These cars were built by the Southern Railway’s shops at Asheville just for the excursions over the logging railroad.
(Mac Connery Collection)

This photo shows the one of nine switchbacks used on this mountain line. Note the sharp downgrade on the left.
All these cars are marked Mount Mitchell RR and the picture dates from 1921 when the line was operated for excursion only.
(Mac Connery Collection)

Postcard Souvenir Book

Postcards 1 to 3

Top Photo - Southern Railway train at the
Black Mountain depot is meeting
the Mount Mitchell Scenic Railroad Train.

Middle Photo -The Mount Mitchell Scenic RR train
is leaving Black Mountain Town for the long
climb to the top of Mount Mitchell.

Bottom Photo - The Climax is negotiating one
of the nine switchbacks.

Postcards 2

Top Photo - Arriving at Mount Mitchell.
Highest Peak East of the Rocky Mountains.

 5th Photo - At the Pinnacle, near the summit of
 Mount Mitchell.

6th Photo - On top of Mount Mitchell.
In “The Land of the Sky”

Perley & Crocket Lbr Co

The shop area of the The Perley & Crockett Lumber Company near their mill at Black Mountain, NC circa 1918.
These Climaxes were used on the Mount Mitchel Railroad.
(Mac Connery Collection)