A beloved steam locomotive comes home
The public can ride New Hope Valley Railway on the first Sunday of each month, starting in AprilBy Angela Bendorf Jamison
The New Hope Valley Railway will bring historic steam locomotive, "Cliffside Railroad 110," home to North Carolina after more than 60 years in residence at Stone Mountain Park, Ga. The Stone Mountain Memorial Association, which manages the park, recently gave this old-time engine to NHVR located in Bonsal, below Apex in southwestern Wake County.
The engine — numbered 110 and affectionately called "Old Puffer" by the train crews who ran it down the three-mile Cliffside Railway — served the town of Cliffside, N.C., located 47 miles west of Charlotte. From its beginnings in the early 1900s, it hauled supplies for town residents from nearby junctions, sent finished products to connecting railways and brought in raw materials to Cliffside Mills, the South's largest gingham textile plant. The train carried passengers in and out of Cliffside and even picked up school children on their way back to the schoolhouse during its mid-day run into Cliffside.
The most famous passengers on the Cliffside 110 were a family of chickens who took its first ride in the early 1930s just as the train was nearing Cliffside Junction. One of the engineers spotted a hen and three chicks on the tracks, stopped the train and loaded them on board. The family of chickens must have enjoyed that first ride because for years after when the whistle sounded they would scurry up to the train to board and then hop back off to scratch and peck around the yards as the train stopped or pulled into the shop between runs.
As automobiles became a more popular mode of transportation for passengers, the Cliffside 110 continued to carry freight until it was retired and replaced by a more modern diesel engine in 1962.
"As New Hope Valley Railway celebrates our 30th anniversary," said NHVR president Mike MacLean, "it's only fitting to bring a steam engine with such rich North Carolina history back to its original glory".
A dedicated team of NHVR volunteers has been restoring and running trains since 1983. Their knowledge and expertise will help put the Cliffside 110 back on the tracks chugging among the North Carolina pines once again, MacLean said.
The NHVR shares a similar history to that of Cliffside's. Both railways were organized in the early 1900s and their short tracks were used to carry materials and some passenger cars from North Carolina mills to connecting rail lines. While the Cliffside freight cars were hauling textiles, the NHVR's were running timber along with other supplies like cotton, corn, beans and tobacco.
NHVR will restore the historic steam engine so it can operate on the 4-mile main line used by the railway for public ride days, generally held the first Sunday of each month beginning in April and running through the end of the year. The restoration effort will take five to seven years and cost an estimated $350,000 to $600,000, which will be funded exclusively through the generosity of members and donors.