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‘Tweet-tweet’ went the mountains’ money machine

On this day in 1957: A coal-burning, narrow-gauge engine that once hauled iron ore from an Avery County mine to a Tennessee smelter returns from retirement as the centerpiece of a Blowing Rock amusement park.

The East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad began doing business in the late 1800s. Locals dubbed the ET & WNC the “Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes” railroad, then the “Tweetsie,” after the “tweet-tweet” of its whistle.

After competition from trucking shut down the line in 1950, actor Gene Autry purchased Engine No. 12 for an attraction that never materialized. Autry then sold it to entrepreneur Grover Robbins Jr., who laid three miles of track around Roundhouse Mountain and brought the Tweetsie back home in a 50-mile motorcade that shut down whole towns along the way.

Tweetsie Railroad will prove to be a popular and financial success for many decades, helping to finance such real-estate developments as Hound Ears and Beech Mountain.

Pictured: Pinback button and personalized marshal’s badge from Tweetsie Railroad.