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Steam Engine Number "722" Returning Home to WNC and Back to Service.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, located deep in the Smoky Mountains in Dillsboro, NC, has announced that it will be restoring steam engine number "722" and adding it to its fleet of engines used to pull its excursion trains. The 722 was originally used on the Southern Railway's Murphy Branch between Murphy and Asheville between 1904 and the early 1950s to pull logging trains.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is now in its twelfth year of providing a full season of tourist railway round trip excursions from Dillsboro, NC, to Bryson City, Nantahala Gorge and Fontana Lake. The excursion trips range from 38 to 56 miles, and travel over a 791-foot trestle on piers 179 feet, high over Fontana Lake. The excursion trains also travel through the famous 100-year-old, 836 -foot-long Cowee Tunnel that has a 16-degree curve that creates total darkness while traveling through the tunnel.

The railroad excursions also include a steep descent that is followed by a climb up one of the highest railroad grades (5.3%) in eastern America. The excursion trips include a stop at the Nantahala River at one of the major whitewater meccas for rafting, canoeing, and kayaking in the country. The trains stop over for one hour to give passengers an opportunity to view the white water activities and to have lunch at an area restaurant.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad currently has in service a Baldwin steam locomotive, No. 1702. This locomotive served the Army during World War II, and starred in the movie," This Property Is Condemned" with Robert Redford, Natalie Wood, and Charles Bronson.

The advent of the railroad in Western North Carolina in the 1890s resulted in logging becoming a major industry in the area. When the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created in 1934, the logging companies in the area were forced to find other sources of timber.

However, between 1890 and 1934, logging was a major industry that was made possible by the steam locomotive. The mountain terrain is very steep in the westernmost sections of WNC, and required a steam engine with great power and traction. Engineers developed the Shay and Climax type of steam engine to solve these two problems. These steam engines had vertical cylinders placed to the right of an offset boiler. The cylinders turned a crankshaft geared to transmitting power to the wheel that resulted in more traction and power for the pulling wheels.

Northfolk Southern Railway kept the 67 miles of track between Dillsboro and Murphy open after logging in the Great Smoky Mountains Forest was closed, and used the railway for freight and passenger service. Due to the construction of highways and the advent of automobile travel, passenger service dwindled to the point that it was discontinued in 1948. Railroad freight service was finally discontinued by Northfolk Southern Railroad in 1988.

The State of North Carolina purchased the railway in 1988, and leased it to Great Smoky Mountains Railroad, Inc., a group of shippers and investors. Today, the railroad owns 53 miles of the track and the right of way from Dillsboro to Andrews.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad has operated its excursion tour operation since 1988. Guests ride in comfortable, reconditioned coaches, crown coaches, club cars, dining cars, and open cars that are ideal for viewing the scenery and taking pictures.

Kim Lyons, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad Marketing Manager says, "The club cars and dining cars have a historic past, and have been beautifully restored. They are from the Seaboard and Atlantic Coast Lines. The Silver Meteor car ran from New York to Miami. The Dixie Flyer was the gathering place on the Cincinnati-Atlanta-Tampa route. The Champion operated from New York to Tampa."

With the addition of steam engine number 722 to their engine fleet, the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad will have two steam engines in service and four diesel-electric locomotives. Engine 722 operated between Asheville and Murphy on Southern Railway's Murphy branch until the 1950s when it was replaced by diesel locomotives. The vintage 722 steam engine was used by the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad for freight service until 1968, and was then purchased by Southern Railway to be used in its steam-powered excursion train program.

The Great Smoky Mountains Railroad is becoming famous for its role in major movies. Over the last several years, it has played a part in several motion pictures: "The Fugitive", starring Harrison Ford and Tommy Lee Jones; "My Fellow Americans", starring Jack Lemmon, James Garner, and Dan Aykroyd; "Digging to China", with Kevin Bacon; "Paradise Falls", with Sean Bridgers and Nick Searcy; and "Forces of Nature", with Sandra Bullock and Ben Affleck.

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