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Construction of the Champion Fibre Company's 3-foot-gauge railroad began in 1930 from the end of the Buffalo & Snowbird Railroad at a dualgauge yard called Junction. Champion brought in equipment from its Smokemont operation; however, Bemis Lumber Company always operated the narrow-gauge and did the logging. Motive power on the narrow gauge consisted of two 35-ton Shays, a 35ton Climax, a Heisler, and a rare class-A vertical-firebox Climax known locally as "The Black Satchel."
The Big Snowbird operation was cut out by 1942 and a line was again started into the Dick Creek section. The narrow-gauge equipment was stored at the Robbinsville mill. The area around Squally Creek was slated to be logged by trucks, but during the tire and truck shortage of World War II, the Dick Creek line was extended up and over the mountain on a 9 per
G. P. Vance Jr. collection.
THE Oconolufty River trestle above Smokemont holds Champion Fibre train circa '27
Bruce Smith, Mallory Hope Ferrell collection. TINY Shay 11 switches CFC interchange at dual-gauge yard at Junction in the '30's.
GRAHAM COUNTY RAILROAD (BEMIS LUMBER COMPANY)
Built for Hoover Bros. Lbr., Clearfield, Pa., No. 1; to J. M. Bemis Lbr. Co., Bemis, W. Va.; to Bemis Lbr. Co., Robbinsville, N. C., in 1925.
Built for Foster-Lattimer Co., Mellen, Wis., No. 3; to Langdale Lbr. Co., Antigo, Wis., No. 3; to ArkansasAlabama Lbr. Co., Wetumka, Ala.; to Arkansas-Wis. Lbr. Co., Sylacauga, Ala.; to Foster Creek Lbr. Co., Stephenson, Miss.; to GC.
Used on construction trains. Scrapped 1929.
This engine was never used on the GC or the Bemis log lines. Thought to have been bought for T&NC by GC. Lima records indicate only the sale.
cent grade into the Squally Creek basin. During the war, Champion Fibre Company moved its remaining 3-foot-gauge equipment to Fires Creek, N. C., on the Shay-powered Tennessee & North Carolina Railroad. After those two lines were abandoned about 1948 one narrow-gauge Shay and a Climax were sent to a West Virginia logger and later were preserved by fans in Michigan and New Jersey.
Originally Shay 1925 doubled as Graham County road engine and as the Bemis Lumber Company woods locomotive. During the day the Shay hauled log trains in the mountains above Robbinsville and at night, with a different crew, made the run to Topton.
In 1929 the No. 4 Shay was purchased from the Hassinger Lumber Company of Kennarock, Va., for use as the woods engine and occasionally for service on the GC. The No. 4 was an unusual four-truck job, but was not very successful. She was in a woods wreck and broke her crank shaft in 1940. Lima wanted so high a price to make the special part that Bemis bought Shay 1926 for the same amount. The No. 4 was hauled from the woods and spent her last years running the dry kiln at the mill. It is interesting to note that Grandpa J. M. Bemis gave his personal check to Hassinger Lumber for $1400. For this sum Bemis received a side door caboose, log loader, log cars, dump cars, and the big Shay.
In 1940 GC loaned No. 1925 to the now abandoned Tennessee & North Carolina Railroad. The T&NC promptly wrecked the Shay, and No. 1926, which had been purchased that year from a nearby power company, be
cliff. Luck was with "Big Ed" that day; the 1926 stayed on the right of way.
The track is on a shelf blasted from the side of a 4000-foot mountain of the Snowbird Range. U. S. Highway 129 is up above the cliff on the top of the ridge, and Rowland Creek and the Southern Railway are 800 feet below. Heading downgrade on the 6-per we passed the runaway track; there's no problem with such a short and light train.
Trains heading into Topton run backwards since there is no wye or table there and the ruling grade is with you. Flanges squealed as the Shay led the consist around the descending track.
It was noon when we arrived at Topton. Ed got down and oiled around the Shay. Ed said that when sand or grit gets into the Shay's gears he just "gives 'em some oil and the gears will work themselves clean." We sat in the little yard waiting for the Southern's "Hobo" freight and ate our lunch.
In the shade of the Shay I munched on some of Mrs. Collins' cookies and had a chance to talk with conductor Cown Bateman, who has been on the GC since 1928. Cown had been back in the caboose during the trip down. He said that business was "pretty good" and that the train usually was running three days each week and sometimes more. Back in the 1930's (1930-1936) when the Bemis mill had been closed it had been hard to keep the line going, but they somehow had managed.
Our discussion was broken up by the sound of the Southern's GP9 coming into the yard from the Murphy Branch. The diesel stopped next to Ed and the engineer called down to
see if Ed had any honey for sale. Ed promised to bring some with him next trip. The green and gold growler dropped off the cars, picked up what we had brought down, and backed down to the main line.
Since the limit for the Shay up "The Mountain" is two loads and two empties, two trips were necessary to get the seven cars up to the siding at the top of the grade. There Ed, who is noted for his hymn singing and Bible quoting as he runs his engine, oiled about and whistled off for home.
The round trip on the Graham County usually requires 5 to 6 hours. The rest of the time and the days the railroad doesn't run - are spent switching in Robbinsville or repairing one of the sidewinders in the Bemis machine shop. Those fellows could just about build a Shay from the ground up.
The future of the line seems secure. There is still a great deal of timber in the mountains above the mill, and Champion Fibre and Bemis will realize a return from their joint tree farm in a few years. The Shays too are in good hands. Cown Bateman and L. W. Wilson, who acts as general manager for Bemis Lumber Company, had just returned from a Shay parts shopping trip to West Virginia's then inactive three-Shay Mower Lumber Company.
An afternoon rainshower was approaching as I gave my best regards to the crew and rushed for the car. Ed called to me, "Be sure to send me some of those pictures!" In his thankyou note for the 8 x 10's he added, "The 1926 is in the shop for complete overhaul, so it looks like we'll have the Shays for some time!"
I surely hope so. I