It all started as a high school project for Dan Bray.
“My grandfather Lyon used to talk to me about the Elkin and Alleghany Railroad all the time,” Bray said. “I wrote a high school project and then kept working on it and adding stuff.”
In 1979, after working for five years, Bray published his book on the Elkin and Alleghany railroad.
“I started realizing the older people in town who knew about the train were passing away,” Bray said. “I interviewed over 70 people and had at least two references for each piece of information confirming the same thing.”
Now, Bray has helped by donating his research to the Elkin Valley Trails Association (EVTA) for an updated history of the Elkin and Alleghany Railroad.
“The trails are an affiliate of the North Carolina Rail Trail and it seemed logical to do a study of the history of the train,” said Bill Blackley of the EVTA. “The train is such a part of Elkin’s history and the industry revolved around the train.”
The Elkin and Alleghany Railroad brought lumber down the mountain. The logs were used in the veneer factory in town, chestnut bark was used for tannin in the Elkin tannery, and the leather at the tannery was used to make shoes at the Elkin shoe factory, Blackley said.
“A lot of things went in to play for the train to fail. After cutting down so much lumber, there wasn’t much timber left and the price skyrocketed. Then there was the chestnut blight and which killed off the chestnut trees,” Blackley said. “Along with all of this, the development of the gasoline engine with vehicles and trucks made it cheaper to travel and so they didn’t need the train.”
During World War I during 1914 to 1918, the railroad was also unable to get creosote to coat the railway ties. The creosote came from Germany, who was an enemy of the United States during the war.
“Without creosote, the ties had to be replaced every 12 years and lumber was expensive,” Blackley said.
The Great Depression also played into the railroad’s closing.
The Elkin and Alleghany Railroad opened in 1911 and closed completely in 1936.
Railroad historian Matt Bumgarner of Hickory has structured the new book with Bill Blackley, Randall Ray, Martha Smith, Joe Hicks and Jason Couch helping gather photos and information.
Along with the history of the book, the committee gathering information has also been looking for memories of the railroad from the community.
“Some of the stories that people have told us include memories of prisoners building the trains and the health reports from the prison camps. One story is that the guards were struck by lightning and the prisoners didn’t run away and sent word to a doctor in town,” Blackley said. “People would also tell the weather by if they could hear the train’s whistle. ‘If you could hear the train, it’s going to rain,’ they would say.”
The committee is currently working on the final draft of the book and hopes to have it published by Christmas.
Reach Jessica Pickens at 835-1513 ext. 17 or firstname.lastname@example.org