J. Alex Lang

A Day on the Blue Ridge Southern

We took a family vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains west of Asheville, NC in March, 2021, affording me the better part of the day Tuesday, March 30 to take a look at WATCO’s Blue Ridge Southern railroad running west from Asheville, and centered on Evergreen Packaging’s massive paper mill in Canton, NC. Confirming that a typical day would have an morning local west and the daily road train to Asheville running east out of Canton, I got out early enough to catch a rising sun over the Evergreen facility.

WAMX BLU Canton, NC & Evergreen Packaging paper mill

Working my way east, I almost missed the T59 local headed west in downtown Canton:

Blue Ridge Southern BLU T59 WAMX 3932 GP39-2 Evergreen Packaging

I explored around the locomotive servicing area and yard office on the east side of Canton.

WAMX 3943 built as Delaware & Hudson 7610
Blue Ridge Southern BLU T31, WAMX 4202-4201-4204 – starting up the SD’s.

The crew fired up the 3 SD45 carbodies (long since rebuilt into SD40-2 “insides”) and started moving around putting their train together.  The switching activity afforded some time to explore and get a few different angles, including this one overlooking the Pigeon River bridge.

Blue Ridge Southern BLU T31 East, WAMX 4202-4201-4204 over the Pigeon River

The train pulled up to the crew office (presumably for paperwork, maybe coffee too…) and I grabbed a quick photo and then set out east for a look at the large bridges along the line towards Asheville.

Blue Ridge Southern BLU T31 East, WAMX 4202-4201-4204 getting their paperwork.

I found the first large bridge not far out from town, and got permission from the car repair garage to park and fly the drone over their property.  I didn’t have to wait long, and a few grade crossings gave me ample warning to get the drone up in the air.

T31 east of Canton, NC

I continued to give chase, shooting T31 from an overpass several miles east of town.  The Southern Railway whistle-post denotes the age-old “long long short long” whistle pattern for a grade crossing.

West of Candler, the train was really moving, and I got an accidental drone shot that wasn’t half bad…

I then got myself into Asheville proper, thanks to some good driving directions from a friend… and was able to get into position with the drone to shoot the T31 crossing the French Broad River in Asheville for interchange with Norfolk Southern.
Crossing the French Broad River

I got some lunch & made a Target run, and got myself in position near the limestone quarry between Enka and Candler, where the line makes a great saddleback.  Many of the secondary routes in the south were built on a less aggressive capital budget, and therefore did not employ the same cut-and-fill techniques seen in the northeast, resulting in an undulating grade profile… best illustrated (exaggerated?) with a telephoto view as follows:

Looking like the MRL of the East, with 3 SD45 carbodies and wood chips.

Continuing west, another drone photo of the former Southern trestle east of Canton, where the three units’ turbos were screaming as the train moved closer to 10 mph up the grade.

Working hard up the 2.5+% grade west towards Canton, NC.

Back into the main terminal area at Canton, another former-Delaware & Hudson GP39-2 shuttled cars about as the T31 came into town.

T31 arrives Canton while T59 works with WAMX 3932 (originally DH 7619)
A parting image of Blue Ridge Southern BLU T31 West, WAMX 4204-4201-4202, arriving Canton, NC.

I was happy with a warm sunny day, with cooperative trains and clouds, and thoroughly enjoyed WATCO’s operations keeping the Evergreen facility moving.  After that, it was time to get back to the family to wrestle up some dinner on the grill.