The Mountain Top Track

This December 1, 1856 report details the high maintenance costs for track running through the Blue Ridge mountains.

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A supply of sand is not neglected; for, though the brakes completely control the train in ordinary weather, yet, when the cold is intense, and the track, wheels, and brakes are all covered with snow frozen into hard ice, they will not hold. Then, as usual, sand is applied in front of the forward drivers or in front of the middle drivers, as is, under the circumstances, most expedient; and the friction may be increased to whatever amount is necessary for the safety of the train.

With the passenger trains, there is a man at the brake on every platform, who never leaves his post while on the mountain, whether the train be ascending or descending. For the freight trains, four brakemen are required to attend to the brakes of three cars, or five brakemen to those of four cars.

Such tracks as this over the Blue Ridge are very dangerous under negligent or unskillful management. But with care to observe the rules prescribed, and to keep within the authorized loads and speed, they are quite as safe as, if they are not safer than ordinary railways worked with ordinary care.


The current expenses of maintaining and working this track are scarcely as great as might be expected from its anomalous and difficult character.

The ordinary consumption of fuel by one of the mountain engines, ascending the eastern slope of the mountain, from the foot of Robinson's Hollow to the summit—a

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distance of 2 62/100 miles—in which an elevation of 660 feet is overcome, and many curves of 300 feet radius are turned, is 42 cubic feet, or very nearly one-third of a cord. The total weight of the engine and train, or mass moved, is 70 tons.

The cost of fuel is there $2 00 a cord.

The fuel used in traversing the whole length of the track, from the Greenwood Station to the western base of the mountain, a distance of 8 miles, including both the ascent and descent of the mountain, is two-thirds of a cord, costing $1 33, exclusive of the cost of firing it up.

The total cost of working the two engines when making tow round trips each per diem, is as follows:—

2 Engineers,at $75each per month$150 00
6 Brakement," 20" "120 00
2 "" 25" "50 00
2 Firemen," 25" "50 00
2 "" 17 50" "35 00
1 Machinist," 75" "75 00
Wages of engine and train hands, per month$480 00
Fuel, oil, &c., for two enginges, per month, when making
each four trips a day
350 00
$830 00
Annual locomotive expenses, $9,960.

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Salary of Superintendent, per annum$1,200 00
2 Section Masters, each $400800 00
12 Laborers (negroes), at $150 per annum1,800 00
1 Laborer at wood station150 00
2 Watchment at trestles, $240480 00
1 Night Watch at terminus365 00
Annual Cost of Superintendence and Maintenance4,795 00
Add Locomotive expenses9,960 00
Cost of Maintaining and Working
or, per mile per annum, $1,845.
$14,755 00

To this total must be added, of course, the cost of repairing the locomotive engines and cars; and also the depreciation, properly due to this track, of the cars and engines and the track itself.

The engines, when delivered to the Company, were all exceedingly substantial, and have needed but small current repairs beyond what the machinist of the track has been able to give to them and to the cars. No separate account has been or could be kept of the other repairs of the cars—the track being worked in connection with the road east and west of the mountains.

Depreciation is always a very important item of railroad charges; but, while the machinery and track are comparatively new, any estimate of that item which might be here offered would be altogether speculative—while the object of this paper is to present only ascertained and reliable facts.

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The writer does not wish to close this brief description of a road which, though built for a temporary purpose only, he thinks is likely to exercise a material influence on many future works, without duly acknowledging his obligation to those gentlemen whose co-operation materially aided in the rapid progress and great success of the work.

To his principal assitant, Thomas S. Isaac, he is indebted for the skilful and accure execution of his plans:

To C. R. Mason and Wm. S. Carter, contractors, for their great energy and obliging promptitude in providing and applying their forces wherever needed to press forward the work:

To Messrs. M. W. Baldwin & Co., of Philadelphia, for the excellent engines that work the road: and, finally,

To George S. Netherland, superintendent of this track and machinery, for his prudence, carefulness and indefatigable and intelligent personal attention to the maintenance of the way and the management of the transportation across the mountian.

No. 288 H Street, Washington, D. C.,

About this Document

  • Source: The Mountain Top Track
  • Author: C. Ellett
  • Date: December 1, 1856