Passengers steam through Swannanoa once again

Wanda Kiser
Special to The Black Mountain News

The quiet of a Sunday afternoon was broken by the sound of a train whistle and billows of smoke rising along the railroad tracks as the Norfolk and Western Class J #611 rolled through the valley on April 10.

Train enthusiasts and photographers with tripods gathered by the tracks, anxiously awaiting its arrival. Young techies with their smart phones in hand, updating everyone on the latest postings, relayed information on where the train was and how fast it was traveling.

Children occasionally stopped playing to listen, hoping to hear the whistle in the distance, anxiously awaiting its arrival, as parents and grandparents smiled and reminisced of days gone by.

Grandfathers whispered in little ears, and grandchildren would sneak over to the track and lay pennies on the rail, hoping they would flatten by the weight of the passing engine.

The train was behind schedule, and a few folks gave up, citing the cool weather. But the diehards were treated to a fabulous display as the train thundered past. The passengers who were fortunate enough to purchase tickets waved enthusiastically from the windows. The children along the tracks squealed, waved and jumped up and down with excitement.

As the train disappeared in the distance, people in the crowd brushed the soot and cinders from their hair and clothing, marveling at how massive the train was and how quickly it traveled through. The folks thinned out, but occasionally a grandparent would slip back with a twinkle in their eye, remembering the pennies they had forgotten in the excitement, letting their grandchildren find them and marvel at how flat they were. What an adventure!

For the older folks in the Valley, this train brought back fond memories of days gone by, reminding them of the bustling town that Swannanoa once was, with its own depot, boarding houses, barber shops, shoe repair shops, theater, taxi stand, Fanny’s Cafe, Porters Grocery Store, Ward and B & J Drugstores, Vivian’s Dress Shop, Harrison’s Appliance store, Dr. Clapp’s office, garden shops, etc.

At railroad marker #130, just one block from the acres where Beacon Manufacturing once stood, Jones’ Boarding House stood silently in the background, a hulking skeleton of its once proud visage. Its rooms were once full, its banisters polished, its windows curved and inside and outside hallways permitting access to the rooms.

Long since abandoned, no longer needed, its windows are now broken. Graffiti litters the outside, chimneys and walls are tumbling down. It is a stark reminder of how quickly time has passed and how much has changed in the decades since it was such a vital part of Swannanoa.

But just for a moment, time stood still.

Wanda Kiser is a lifelong Swannanoa resident who has lived on the same street near the former Beacon plant all her life.

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