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Steam Up Mini Railroad Event

March 27 @ 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

JOHNSON CITY – The George L. Carter Railroad Museum, located in the Campus Center Building of East Tennessee State University, brings the enjoyment of steam locomotion in miniature form back to the Tri-Cities on Saturday, March 27, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Following the canceled 2020 Heritage Days season impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum and its fans are planning for this year’s day of recalling the steam engines that once knit the nation and the industrial world together.

From the smallest work units to the magnificent giants that headed up crack express trains and “hot manifest” freights, many varieties of steam locomotive are always on hand for this event. Even models of Thomas the Tank Engine might make an appearance (and are always on hand in the interactive Little Engineers children’s center).

At no charge, visitors may view the exhibit halls, including the museum’s nationally renowned “Tweetsie” (East Tennessee & Western North Carolina) narrow gauge representation, one of four operating model train layouts in the facility.

“Of course, there remains a mystique about steam engines that has never left the American psyche,” said Geoff Stunkard, Heritage Days coordinator. “These were perhaps the most iconic representation of the growth of industrial progress, connecting people and products more than any previous invention. With so much of the mechanical equipment visible to the eye, coupled with steam, fire and sound, it is simply entrancing to appreciate the design.”

For many communities in the 19th century, being on an active railroad line was life-changing. As the system grew nationally, the harkening of the locomotive’s whistle was intricately linked to dreams of future travel, romance and success. By the beginning of the Second World War, this technology had become far advanced from its origins, but internal combustion in the form of diesels still proved more efficient and economical, a duo of factors that would quickly and permanently end the steam locomotive’s general use on all major railroad companies by 1960.

“At the time, ideas of ecological impact were not firmly established, and the fact this technology actually evolved out of existence is a blessing in disguise,” Stunkard says. “Today, there are just a handful of these machines that can still operate, and their use for demonstration and remembrance has very little impact in that regard. Had this technology continued unchallenged, it is likely governmental activism would have made them almost impossible to witness in person today.”

In addition to the accurately detailed steam trains in operation on the ongoing ET&WNC model layout, which is configured to 1925, the museum’s large 24×44 HO scale layout will host many varieties of steam trains for this Heritage Day.

The Mountain Empire Model Railroaders Club and the George L. Carter Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society serve as hosts during the museum’s operating hours. Memberships are available in both of these organizations.  In addition to the displays, there is also a growing research library and an oral history archive being established as part of the educational services of this university museum.

The museum can be identified by a flashing railroad crossing signal at the back entrance to the Campus Center Building. Visitors should enter ETSU’s campus from State of Franklin Road onto Jack Vest Drive and continue south to David Collins Way; turn left onto John Roberts Bell Drive at end, then right and then next left onto Ross Drive (176) to end, adjacent to the flashing RR crossing sign.

For more information about the museum or its Heritage Day events, contact Fred Alsop at 423-439-6838 or alsopf@etsu.edu. For disability accommodations, call the ETSU Office of Disability Services at 423-439-8346.

Note: Because of COVID-19, all visitors must wear a mask to be admitted and will be temperature-checked at the museum entrance.


March 27
10:00 am - 3:00 pm
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