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Old 10-13-2008, 08:54 AM   #1
DeBandi OP
Exploring Alabama
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Thumb Exploring the Abandoned Mountain Goat Railroad

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

We set up camp at NCN, then headed north.

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

The old grade is in orange.

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.

It played a major role in the Civil War. More info on that at

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.

This is the view from his vantage point.

Other views showing the original bridge.

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.

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.

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.
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DeBandi screwed with this post 11-26-2009 at 03:10 PM
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Old 10-13-2008, 09:01 AM   #2
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That first one with the train there... Train time is anytime! Cool before and after pics!

Abandoned rail road riding can be awesome!

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Old 10-13-2008, 09:03 AM   #3
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Sweet. I do love your historic reports.
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Old 10-13-2008, 09:20 AM   #4
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You have a thing for old Rail Road beds don't ya. Nice report. How did the MEFO DO?
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Old 10-13-2008, 09:28 AM   #5
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Very Cool!
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Old 10-13-2008, 10:11 AM   #6
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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!
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Old 10-13-2008, 10:41 AM   #7
mel brooks
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Another good report DeBandi, thanks! Love the pics.
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