A TRIVIAL PURSUIT OF STEEP HILLS
SALUDA'S PURE CLAIMS TO MERE FAME
By Bob Loehne
Given 100 more pages, I could write 100 more Saluda train stories. Each of the following items has its own terrific tale, but we'll settle for just the highlights.
FIRST TRAIN UP THE CAIN - July 4, 1878, westbound, 10:30 AM.
FIRST DIESEL ON SALUDA - May 25, 1949, with a 4-unit F7 combo. (My thanks to Frank Clodfelter, Trains, November 1984, Kalmbach Publications, for same of this info.)
LAST STEAM ON THE HILL - Southern's 2-8-2, #4501 ... TWICE! 1972 with 4 cars. 1985 pulling 3 empty pulp wood cars and pushing 2 SD's (why?). 1952 for last steam helper.
MOST RUNAWAYS IN ONE SUMMER - 3 in 1903; one seesawed itself to still east of Tryon.
FEWEST S FOR 18 OR MORE YEARS - Nothing serious since 1971.
LAST DEATH ON THE GRADE - 1940 ... and never a passenger death!
FIRST DIESEL AND LAST F-UNIT TRAIN TO RUNAWAY ON SALUDA - September 20, 1964. Engineer Leonard Biddix tells about his runaway on the Saluda video. He also once had a runaway, three-engine, mid-train helper (in the video, too).
LAST RUNAWAY (THAT CRASHED) - November 14, 1971. Engineer J. T. Stanberry: "Southern said, 'The computer says the train can make it down the hill.' And it was right!" 1
TWAS A VERY GOOD YEAR
1927 IS KNOWN For 30 freights and 8 passenger trains traversed Saluda in one 24-hour period; air brakes were deemed reliable enough that the extra crew of brakemen that tended every train was eliminated; and the Brotherhood of Railway Clerks of Southern Railway opened their Mountain Hare, which is now the Orchard Inn bed and breakfast iust east of Saluda.
IDEA FOR SAFETY TRACKS - 1903. Engineer Pitt Bellew, recovering from his own runaway wreck injuries, suggested inescapable safety tracks. The facts: Installation completed October 1903. No. 1: 1080 feet, 4.3 to 9.87. No. 2: 1580 feet, 5.47 to 10.27.
FIRST PASSENGER RUNAWAY - October 1904, smashing hard into the tier barrier at the high end of the Melrose safety track. There were no injuries, but one heavily damaged engine. A year earlier the train would have crashed in Slaughter Pen Cut, likely with deaths. Thanks Pitt ... great idea!
LONGEST HILL CLOSURE - July 14 to August 3, 1916, due to torrential rains which caused wide spread damage all around Western North Carolina including, the complete washout of the cinder fill west of Sand Cut.
MOST TIME WHOLE TRAIN SPENT ON SAFETY TRACK NO. 1 -- 13 days ... after engineer took the No. 1 safety when he found that the above cinder fill was washed away. The damaged train was removed on July 28, 1916, after repair of the uphill tracks.
SAFETY TRACK NO. 1 REMOVED - 1955 after IOC approval (based on an improving safety record and better train control by diesels). 35 years later, site is hard to locate.
NUMBER OF RUNAWAYS SINCE NO. 1 WAS REMOVED - 2. Both the 1964 and 1971 runaways were out of control well before passing the site of the removed safety track.
SAFETY TRACK NO. 2 LAST USED - January 4, 1985, when three of four SD's crept past the switch, unable to stop their heavy coal train when the switch did not align to the main line (see Saluda video and July 1985 Railfan & Railroad, Carstens Publications).
INTERESTING FAMILY TRAIN STORY - Mona Patterson's father used to be the head helper driver at Melrose. She told me that after school she'd hang on to the side of a box car for the ride down and then sit atop the coal in her daddy's tender for the ride back up. She was 8 years old back then and 74 in November 1989, when we talked.
LAST REGULAR PASSENGER SERVICE TO SALUDA - December 5, 1968, when fabled engineer Frank Clodfelter drove the Carolina Special for the last times down and up the Saluda grade with Train #28 to Hayne and Train #27 back to Asheville. Frank was driving F3's on that last day - #4144 eastbound and #4138 westbound - draped in SR President Brosnan's funeral black and white colors. The swan song consist was an F-3, baggage car, passenger car and another unneeded passenger car, all to carry one real passenger and several railfans. [Would that exact consist sell out today? In a heartbeat!]
PET NAME OF THE CAROLINA SPECIAL - the Carolina Creeper.
LAST PASSENGER TRAIN OVER SALUDA - September 13, 1989 - 7-car Norfolk Southern, Asheville to Charleston, executive inspection train ... idea, planning, video crew transportation and music by Bill Rice ... video available from American AltaVista.
MOST PASSENGERS TO WALK DOWN THE STEEP HILL - 300 passengers departed safety track No. 1 the morning of July 16, 1916, slid and slopped down a steep muddy hill, and made their way to Melrose one day after the worst flood in Saluda area history.
INTERESTING PASSENGER FACT - Bill Schafer of the Southern Railway Historical Assoc., says, Saluda grade is so steep that on even short passenger trains, say three cars, the rearward passengers are sitting higher than the nose of the lead engine.
EARLY COMMUTER - Present city utility commissioner John Rhodes used to commute to work in Saluda by "boarding" slow uphill freight trains just below east switch.
INTERESTING MELROSE FACT - Though there is no trace of it now, the Melrose Go-Cart Track used to operate next to and just south of the remaining safety track.
SALUDA GRADE FISCAL THEORY - Bob Loehne's and Sadie S. Patton's (Hendersonville Historian) theories are that the hill is so steep because it was far cheaper that way. Sadie says in a December 11, 1949, clipping in the Asheville Citizen Times that a course was plotted which required heavy grading and cutting plus several tunnels. It would have taken 13 miles to go 3 crow's miles (same as between Old Fort and Black Mountain) and cost much more. Easy grade idea nixed ... railroad 'legend born.
SALUDA MOUNTAIN FACT - There is no such mountain! There is a Saluda city in both NC and SC, a Saluda Gap, a Saluda Street in Columbia, SC, and a Saluda Cocktail.
WHAT SOME SALUDA RESIDENTS THINK - That the grade is steepest grade only east of the Mississippi or Rockies ... probably once was a number one steep hill out west.
SLIGHTLY INTERESTING SAND CUT FACT - The well known mid-hill observation point used to be called Big Cut because it was a cut into sand in excess of 70 feet high and 16 feet wide at the base. April 1990 update: This cut could became just a half-cut soon. NS has been plowing off the south side to reinforce the earth fill on the next curve east. Maybe now we will call it something dramatic like Big Open or Sand Curve.
BEST PLACE TO JUMP OFF A RUNAWAY TRAIN - Just ask engineers Biddix and Stanberry. As with almost every runaway since the turn of the century, when the railroad stopped berating crew members for jumping from runaways, Sand Cut has been the place to land.
THEY RUNAWAY BACKWARDS, T00 - If you stall on the hill, just double over ... or slide, backward down grade into the safety track ... like an ammunition train did once.
GREAT MODELING IDEA - If you are a serious modeler and want to build yourself a decent replica of Sand Cut, why not put your cat's litter box beside your layout and next time your limited loses its brakes and heads for the Melrose safety track, make like an engineer who follows railroad orders and, joining the birds, jump in the box.
STEAM HELP - 2-10-2's were the mainstay and the class of Saluda's helper engines, serving the hill from 1917 to 1952. These Santa Fe types were special because:
1) They had water pipes running horizontally over the driving wheels to sprinkle water on tires while braking downhill to keep tires from over heating and falling off
2} They had second air pumps because of the excessive air brake demand; and
3 Both water glasses were extra long for safe reading on Saluda's steep grade.
STEAM MAGIC - Because the Santa Fe's were so heavy they were not allowed to operate between Hayne and Asheville, except at Saluda grade, until bridges were strengthened in the 1930's. How then did they ever get to Saluda in 1917? Assemble them there?