The Hiwassee Loop
Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) GP38-2 prepares to depart Gee Creek on the Hiwassee Loop excursion trip to Farner, Tennessee.
As part of the ScaleTrains.com special event on May 30, 2019 they chartered a scenic excursion train for their guests operated by the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM). The TVRM seasonally operates an excursion train, The Hiwassee Loop, from Gee Creek State Park near Etowah to Farner, Tennessee. On its way south the line travels over a unique feat of engineering, the Hiwassee Loop. I have wanted to ride a train over the loop for many years after reading about it and the history of the “Hook and Eye” line when I was researching the Georgia Northeastern Railroad (GNRR). The GNRR currently operates on the southern portion of the former L&N “Hook and Eye Division” from Marietta, Georgia to Copperhill, Tennessee. While the GNRR does not operate over the Hiwassee Loop, I find the history of the line very interesting.
In 1874 the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad began construction of the railroad line from Marietta, Georgia to Etowah, Tennessee. To keep the cost down and meet a tight deadline, the line followed the contours of the land and lead to steep grades and tight curves. The crew also constructed a steep switchback with grades between 3.5 to 4.7 percent to climb Bald Mountain near Farner, Tennessee. The switchback could only accommodate four cars at a time and was very inefficient, but the crew did meet the deadline.
The Atlanta, Knoxville and Northern Railway (AK&N) was chartered in 1896 as a successor to the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad. In 1898 railroad management realized the switchback need to be replaced and hired a railroad construction engineer to determine a better route. The solution to the switchback was a unique one, the line would travel nearly twice around Bald Mountain on a 1.5 percent grade before crossing back over its own tracks on a wood trestle 62 feet above the lower portion of the loop.
In 1902 the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) took over the line to keep it from falling to its rival the Southern Railway. The L&N named the line the “Hook and Eye Division” after two of its unique engineering features. The “hook” portion was just north of Talking Rock Georgia where two tight curves were used to negotiate a steep grade around Tate Mountain in Georgia. The “eye” portion came from the Hiwassee Loop around Bald Mountain in Tennessee. In 1906 a “New Line” from Etowah, TN to Cartersville, GA was constructed further west and the “Hook and Eye” became known as the “Old Line”. The L&N Old Line served the industries between Marietta and Etowah with interchange service at each end of the line until 1983 when CSX purchased the L&N and operated it for a few more years. In 1987 CSX sold the 41 track miles from Marietta to Tate Georgia and leased the track from Tate to Ellijay Georgia to investors from Tennessee. The investors gave the new railroad its current name, the Georgia Northeastern Railroad. The northern portion of the line from Copperhill to Etowah, Tennessee was acquired by the Tennessee Overhill Association and the TVRM to operate a scenic passenger excursion trip.
The dome car passes under the Hiwassee Loop trestle on its trip around and over Bald Mountain in Tennessee.
For over 100 years trains have wound their way around the mountain and over the loop. Long freight trains often pass over themselves and the crew could see the rear of their train as the locomotive passed over the trestle. Passengers on the scenic train are often confused when they see the other tracks and wonder what other railroad is operating on those tracks. The TVRM crew provide a friendly commentary of the history of the line and explain that the tracks they see are the same ones we are on. During a portion of the trip the old switchback clearing can be seen off in the forest. Once the train reaches Farner, TN the crew uses a run around track to relocate the locomotive to the other end of the train and begin the return trip over the loop back to Gee Creek.
The view from the trestle as it passes over the lower portion of the line where the train was just minutes ago.
Information on riding the Hiwassee Loop, or other TVRM scenic trains, can be found on the TVRM website at;
The 50 mile round trip is a great way to learn about the history of the line and imagine how it would have been to travel through the region years ago. If you get a chance to ride the train I highly recommend it.