Back when I was a youngster about 80 years ago, I can recall a railroad in a comic strip, called the Toonerville Trolley. In later years, when I got into writing history about Pulaski County, I ran into articles about a railroad in this county that had a similar name.
It was the Altoona Narrow gage railroad that was built sometime around the year 1890. This railroad was used to haul workers to and from the Altoona and Langhorne Mines that were located in the mountains several miles north of the Town of Pulaski.
Daniel Gray Langhorne must have been born with coal dust flowing through his veins. And he spent about all of his life taking coal from the mines he owned.
In the early days of railroading, while extensions were being added to all of the main lines, a new passenger station was built near Washington Avenue and Dora Highway by the Norfolk and Western Railroad Company. In 1907, a new freight station was constructed at the intersection of Jefferson Avenue and First Street, North. In later years the Norfolk and Western Co. was busy luring many capitalist investors to the south with stories of the great possibilities of industrial development along the path of the railroad lines.
In order to properly entertain these people when they arrived, accommodations had to be furnished. For this, the railroad company constructed a large 100 bed hotel or inn. This improvement was called Maple Shade Inn and was built on a large lot that the railroad owned south of the tracks.
The Inn became a stopover for people traveling as well as a resort hotel for people who came to spend entire summers enjoying the spacious lawn, mineral water, and cool summer nights in their attempt at buying good health.
It was also a place where passengers could leave the train and walk across the green lawn and enjoy a meal on short stops made for that purpose.
Trains have always excited the adventurous book of Americans, young and old. Maybe it’s because from the time of the first railroad there has been that challenge in man to control a machine to the point where the two together could accomplish the seemingly impossible.
Men developed such a devotion to their engines that, according to legend, when a train crashed into a rock near Hinton, W. Va., years ago, the physician attending the wounded engineer tried to console the man by telling him that his life might yet be saved, but George Alley reportedly said, “Oh, no, dear Doc, that cannot be, I want to die so free. I want to die on the engine I love, old 143.”
More than 100 years ago the Bertha Mineral Co. came to Pulaski to manufacture zinc, One of the first things they did was build a narrow gage railroad line to be known as the Altoona Railroad from the Town of Pulaski to Little Walker Mountain to haul coal some seven or eight miles to its furnaces in town.
Later the line was extended to the Empire Mines of D. Gray Langhorne, who had operated coal mines there with mules and wagons for many years.
The train that ran to the Altoona and Empire Mines was not one of those that wrecked or broke speed records or made earthshaking changes in the history of the world.
It was a peaceful train, whose engine bore the name Cynthia, a train that took its time and existed in tranquil surroundings. How lucky were those who were around in those early years when the little Altoona Railroad several times a day ran trains up and down between Pulaski and the mines, through the green valley we now call Brookmont, crossing Robinson Tract Road near the present community center building and along the south slope of Little Walker Mountain.
Many residents of the Brookmont area remember when the train ran back and forth hauling coal and miners.
A former engine on the Cynthia would leave for the mines at 6 in the morning and would always pull one car loaded with miners and 10 or 12 empty coal cars. There was another run at about 6 in the evening, and several in between.
Anytime a person wanted to ride into town, he would go out and flag down the train and hop aboard.
There is no way of knowing how many tons of coal were moved along the little Altoona Railroad starting its journey to Pulaski and to many other parts of the country before it all suddenly came to an end in 1938.
It was at that time that the mines ceased operating, and the little railroad that had become so much a part of the people’s lives was no longer needed.
The tracks have all been removed, and the only sign of the romantic Altoona Railroad is an occasional hump or an unfilled cut, grown up in hemlock trees and brush.