Sunday, June 29, 2008

Locomotive Difficulty

See updates below

Locomotive of the Tuckasegee and Southern Railroad that fell through the Scott Creek trestle, 1940

I've been scratching the surface of what's available from the National Archives, and came across this photo of a train in trouble. Although I'm not certain, this mishap might have been the result of the 1940 floods in Jackson County, NC. On August 30-31, 1940, unprecedented floods swept through the Tuckasegee valley.

For more background on that flood check out Lynn Hotaling's terrific recap published in the Sylva Herald:

The Digital Heritage website also provides good coverage and lots of links on the 1916 and 1940 floods in WNC:

Now that we have lakes on the upper reaches of the Tuckasegee, flooding from a weather event like that of 1940 won't be nearly as bad. Either that, or it will be a whole lot worse than what occurred back in '40.

Time will tell.

In May 1976, tornadoes and heavy rains swept across North Carolina causing several deaths. The Associated Press quoted an earwitness making the very predictable statement, "It sounded like a train coming." The story went on to report:

Two earthen dams near the community Speedwell south of Cullowhee were "in danger of collapsing"....both dams are on Cullowhee Mountain, one of them on a 20 acre lake. "If one goes, the other goes..."

A little searching failed to yield answers on the train falling through the trestle, but I did discover a website entitled "appROACHES: an annotated bibliography of COCKROACHES in starring and cameo roles in the creative arts." (Prepared by: Marion W. Copeland, 128 Amherst Road, Pelham, MA 01002) Don't assume that cockroaches are a subject of limited significance:

Literary cockroaches usually empathize and are associated with the weak and downtrodden - from Aristophanes' beleaguered farmers in "Peace" (421 B.C.) to the poor, drug-addicted, outlawed and stigmatized whether because of race, ethnic heritage, sex or sexual preference, age or species. For that reason, Willie Baptist, speaking in the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign, used this association to move his constituents to take advantage of a leadership training program especially designed for the powerless: “Let us do as the cockroach and not as the dinosaur,” he advises. “ The sensitive [survival] instincts of the cockroach must be matched by our own mental capacity to attain scientific truth about our conditions and about the strengths and limitations of our enemies.”

With amazing regularity, the cockroach represents or symbolizes the plight of those, world wide, most severely stomped on by the dominant, still patriarchal power structure. There is even a suggestion that, because of that association, the roach may prove one of the heroes of 21stcentury ecofeminism, dedicated as that movement is to cleaning up the remains of the patriarchy--of all modes of dominance--and establishing healthy, balanced ecosystems for all life forms. The goal?--making us all as likely to survive as is the ultimate survivor, the roach.

Anyhow, I stumbled upon the cockroach bibliography because it included a literary cockroach moment set on the Tuckasegee River:

Reichs, Kathy. Fatal Voyage. New York et al: Scribner, 2001. In the fourth of her Temperance Brennen, forensic anthropologist mysteries, Reichs creates a memorable cockroach encounter. Temperence is knocked-out, bound, sacked, and left by the Tuckasegee River in the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, for later disposal by a mad, cannibalistic megalomanical adversary:

“My heart rate slowed…, and cogent thought began to creep back. “It was then the thing crawled across my cheek. I heard dry insect sounds, felt movement in my hair, then the tickle of antennae on my skin. “A scream formed in my throat. I rolled back and forth, batting at my face, my hair. Blinding pain seared my brain, and my innards jammed up against the back of my throat. “Quiet! One functioning brain cell commanded. “Cockroaches! The others shrieked.” (335)

“I kept at my ankles and wrists, yanking, twisting, tugging, stopping periodically to monitor the sound outside my bag. “Roaches scuttled across my face, their feet feathery on my skin” (338).

Once loose, Temperence encounters a far deadlier foe, her human would-be-killer, and the roaches are forgotten.

As it turns out, Reichs will be speaking at Western Carolina University this fall:

Scheduled to participate in the Chancellor’s Speaker Series in 2008-09 is Kathy Reichs, forensic anthropologist and best-selling author whose novels inspired the Fox television series “Bones,” on Nov. 18.

UPDATE - According to another source, the train mishap was the result of the 1940 flood and involved a Blackwood Lumber Company locomotive, seen here before the flood waters had subsided:

The identifying information accompanying the National Archives photos I've been examining is sketchy at best. If the trestle shown here actually did span Scotts Creek, it might not have been anywhere on the current rail line. And there was no Tuckasegee and Southern Railroad. According to a comprehensive list of North Carolina railroad companies, it was the Tuckasegee and Southeastern Railroad, founded in 1922 and running 12.5 miles from Sylva to East Laporte. Had this rail line not been discontinued (in 1946) it might have served us well, helping to relieve automobile traffic congestion between Sylva and Cullowhee.

But that's not what happened.

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