New in the collection: Miniature souvenir TV sets

Miniature TVs with images of the Outer Banks and Blowing Rock

Before flat-screen TVs there were chubby TVs — and these miniature souvenir knockoffs made in Hong Kong.
“Blowing Rock N.C. on television” offers eight click-through color images, including Grandfather Mountain and Tweetsie Railroad. (Spot any unlisted Hugh Mortons, Stephen Fletcher?)
Viewers of “Outer Banks N.C. / television” can gaze at only a single color slide of the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge, which opened in 1963 (and is about to be replaced). Original price sticker: $1.39.

The two Blowing Rocks, as seen by Tom Robbins

“Blowing Rock was a summer resort, and a rather posh one. Lured by the area’s beauty and cool summer air, wealthy families from throughout the Southeast maintained summer residences there. The Cannon textile barons had a huge estate, as did the R. J. Reynolds tobacco clan, and the Coca-Cola Snyders* from down in muggy Atlanta. Beginning in early June, our sidewalks sported pedestrians  in tennis whites and gold jewelry, our streets opened their asphalt arms to European sports cars and luxury sedans. There were boutiques with flagship stores in West Palm Beach and Boca Raton, a produce stand that displayed fruits (avocados, papayas, yellow plums) that no hillbilly could identify let along afford; and then there as the movie theater that showed first-run films as soon as they opened in Los Angeles and New York — until Labor Day Tuesday, that is, when it went as dark as the Tomb of the Unknown Gaffer.

“It was an annual occurrence. Come June, the merry masquerade began; come September, Appalachian reality settled upon the community with a mournful sigh. The shops were shuttered, golf courses deserted, the last fancy auto went Cadillacking down the mountain and out of town. Even the Lois XVI colors of the autumn leaves failed to paint over the detail that many residents would have to survive for nine months on what they’d earned in three. There would now be fatback suppers, rotgut hangovers, malnourished kids, flour-sack fashions, occasional stabbings; and always outbreaks of measles, whooping cough, scabies and head lice. And then… and then June would jack out of its box and life would get healthy and merry again.”

— From “Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life” by Tom Robbins (2014) 

Robbins, who was born in Blowing Rock in 1932, is best known for novels such as “Another Roadside Attraction” and “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues.” 

* J. Luther Snyder, who moved from Atlanta to Charlotte to open the Carolinas’ first Coca-Cola bottling plant, developed the Chetola Estate in Blowing Rock.


‘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.