Exploring the Abandoned Mountain Goat Railroad

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by DeBandi, Oct 13, 2008.

  1. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

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    We loaded the bikes and headed to the NCN Rally to see some old friends and meet new fellow ADV riders.

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    We set up camp at NCN, then headed north.

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    My brother & I went to explore the historical Mountain Goat Railroad from Cowan to Sewanee, TN.

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    The old grade is in orange.
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    I wanted to see this before it is lost forever in a rails to trails program.

    Some background on the historic railroad.

    The Cowan Tunnel is part of this story. This is a National Historic Landmark. It was built in 1849 by the Nashville and Chattanooga railroad. 2,228 feet straight through Cumberland Mountain.

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    It played a major role in the Civil War. More info on that at http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=379514&highlight=exploring+alabama


    The idea was to mine coal on the Cumberland Plateau. The Sewanee Mining Company -- TCI -- Tennessee Coal and Iron, the same company that is the subject of so many of my Exploring Alabama reports, started on the spur line around 1850. This was the steepest railroad grade in the country in the late 1800s.


    This is my brother on the old line. He is on top of an old bridge at the tunnel.

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    This is the view from his vantage point.

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    Other views showing the original bridge.


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    1856 - Coal shipments began.

    1858 - 15,000 acres were donated by the railroad investors to start The University of the South at Sewanee. This is one of the most beautiful college campuses I have ever seen. http://www.sewanee.edu/ :deal


    1858 - Line was extended to Tracey City.


    1861 - The line was destroyed in the Civil War. (It was rebuilt.)


    1971 - Passenger service was discontinued.

    1985 - All 40 miles of the Mountain Goat Railroad were abandoned by what is now CSX.



    It was a total of 10 miles from Cowan to Sewanee and the scenery was fantastic. A few tough places, but nothing too technical.


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    You see how steep the grade is in this picture.


    We noticed that the Husky had a rear flat when we got to Sewanee. (I guess I had pinched the tube when changing it.) We had no choice but to leave the bike in Sewanee. A super nice man let us leave the bike in front of a business location.


    The rails to trails people are all over this, so I do not expect this to be open to motorized vehicles much longer. The section from Sewanee to Monteagle, TN, has already been converted to hiking and biking trails.
    #1
  2. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    That first one with the train there... :eek1 Train time is anytime! Cool before and after pics!

    Abandoned rail road riding can be awesome! :thumb

    :lurk
    #2
  3. Stretch67

    Stretch67 Mad Scientist

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    Sweet. I do love your historic reports.
    #3
  4. GA. DUALSPORT WANTAB

    GA. DUALSPORT WANTAB Long timer

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    You have a thing for old Rail Road beds don't ya. :wink: Nice report. How did the MEFO DO? :ear
    #4
  5. BlueLghtning

    BlueLghtning Riding is my passion

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    Very Cool! :clap
    #5
  6. bigskydrift

    bigskydrift dual sport hooligan

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    I work for a railroad out here in Montana, and we have some real cool active mountain RR's in operation, the ones that are abandoned have either gone to Rails to Trails or are in private land areas. Old RR beds are cool and I hate to see them lost. Thanks for the report!
    #6
  7. mel brooks

    mel brooks Dirt Chick

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    Another good report DeBandi, thanks! Love the pics.
    #7
  8. dlrides

    dlrides 1:1.618

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    Great report David ! :clap

    Have any more pics of riding the RR line ?
    #8
  9. scarysharkface

    scarysharkface Imbecile

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    +1 on more pics!

    That would be an excellent Fall/Winter ride...

    John
    #9
  10. jgreer

    jgreer hidden for privacy

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    Next time try to get a picture before the train hits your bike :evil





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    #10
  11. SDS

    SDS introverted excavator

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    Dave, did you access the eastern end of the trail off of 41A like the map shows, or did you get on it off of 56?
    #11
  12. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

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    Hey Tim :wave

    We started on Bookout Road in Cowan on popped out at Hwy 56 in Sewanee. :thumb

    This shows the 10 mile section.


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    The old rail bed is still on the mapping software:evil







    This shows the grade starting off the main line.

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    This shows the exit location off hwy 56.


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    Thanks for all the great comments everybody. :1drink
    #12
  13. SScratch

    SScratch Somewhat Tolerable

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    Funny, I rode that route a couple of years ago while planning a GS route for the RA Rally in Shelbyville.
    Got the same pics:
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    Rode the same trails:
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    Got the same flat: :lol3
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    But did not meet the same nice guy. Met these two instead while I was changing the tube. Real country, real nervous, real suspicious. They were probably growing pot or had a meth lab out there, said the land belonged to them and I needed to move along. Whatever. At least they didn't eat me.

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    #13
  14. Xfool

    Xfool Been here awhile

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    I used to think rails to trails was a cool deal, I need to re-think this now.
    #14
  15. Aidan1150

    Aidan1150 Call Me The Breeze

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    A very interesting read DeBandi. Thank-you. :clap
    #15
  16. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

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    :razor

    That's funny SScratch. They do look hungry :arg

    Great pictures:thumb
    #16
  17. Bart Jones

    Bart Jones BGY 504

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    Damn if ole DeBandi doesn't strike again. Thanks for the reports. They are without a doubt some of the best on the site. Keep'em comin and be careful out there.:clap
    #17
  18. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

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    I think I hear a train in the distance. :huh





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    :thumb
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  19. simpson

    simpson wild rover of hell

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    I wonder if those are power poles or telegraph poles, and where are they coming from?
    #19
  20. DeBandi

    DeBandi Exploring Alabama

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    I'm gonna say Telegraph poles. They are coming from the other end of the tunnel & simply following the railroad tracks.
    #20