Where Did the Swamp Rabbit Go?
No, I’m not talking about the railroad. My friend Mark Elbrecht has done a great job documenting the path of the Swamp Rabbit up through River Falls. The rest of of the rail has been converted to the very popular trail from Travelers Rest to downtown Greenville.
I’m talking about the actual engines and train cars. But which engine and cars? Is the Swamp Rabbit the train itself, or the path it takes? In this case, I believe it’s the latter. Many different engines have operated along the old Greenville and Northern line. However, the fate of some of the train components that ran on the tracks is equally confusing.
Here’s how this line of inquiry got started…
At the Travelers Rest History Museum on Sunday, Dot Bishop showed me the old chalk board that was used to indicate the schedule for the Swamp Rabbit at the Echo Valley western theme park. Jim Morgan mentioned that the old steam engine that ran on the tracks during that time was being sold to a town in North Carolina. I knew that the engine had been sold to Stone Mountain Park when Echo Valley closed, but didn’t know much about its fate beyond that. I decided to do some digging. In the process I came up with some conflicting information.
First a bit of history about the Swamp Rabbit…
In the 1800’s prior to the Civil War there were several competing ideas for linking the Upstate to the “rich coal fields of Tennesee” as historian Mann Batson put it in his book “The Swamp Rabbit Railroad: Legacy and Legend.” One of these was the ill-fated Blue Ridge Railroad, which left the unfinished Stumphouse Tunnel in Oconee County. Another planned route would go through Greenville and through Jones Gap up through Brevard.
In 1888 the Carolina, Knoxville, and Western Railway was built to follow the Greenville route. Eventually the route extended from Greenville up to Poe’s Cove, aka River Falls. By 1899 the route up to River Falls had been abandoned, but in the early 1900’s there was talk of reviving the line and extending it through it’s originally planned route to Knoxville. It’s interesting that newspapers of the time already referred to the rail line as the “old Swamp Rabbit”, as in this 1908 article from the Pickens Sentinel.
In 1907 the Greenville and Knoxville Railroad was organized to complete the project. That didn’t happen, and by the 1920s the rail was operating as the Greenville and Northern Railroad, with service from Greenville to Renfrew. Service continued on the rails until 1979. As a student at Furman, I remember the trains coming through the tracks that divided the campus from the golf course.
As for the name “Swamp Rabbit,” there are several theories as to how it got that moniker. The most common explanation was that the train followed a winding path through the swamps of the Reedy River, and so picked up the name. From Mann Batson’s book…
You may name your boy Percival, Algernon, or Montmoressi, but if some chap at school dubs him “Sorrell Top,” “Bully,” or “Buster,” the nickname will stick and his real name forgotten. So it has been with this little railroad – its owners christened it the Carolina, Knoxville, and Western, but some fellow with a bit of humor in his make up spoke of it as “The Swamp Rabbit,” and that appropriate name continues to the exclusion of the longer and higher sounding one.
When the route was surveyed, if it ever was, it was evident that they followed the swamp bordering the river, that little grading would have to be done, and building the line would be just that much cheaper.
So we find that the railroad hugs the edge of the swamp from its starting point just below the “medder” to the terminal on the south bank of the Saluda, where the money gave out and the mad suddenly stopped, and it gazes sadly across the stream that has never been bridged.
Mann Batson, The Swamp Rabbit Railroad: Legacy and Legend, page 98
So, it seems that regardless of which engine or cars ran on the track, they were going to bear the name Swamp Rabbit. But what of those cars? Batson mentions that the rolling stock was second hand, and of generally inferior quality. I’ve been able to find photos of two steam engines that ran on the track before it was converted to diesel.
First up is Engine #5. According to RailPictures.net, this engine was built in 1902 and purchased from the Southern Railroad to run on the Swamp Rabbit. The engine is a 2-8-0 design, meaning that it has two leading, unpowered wheels, eight larger drive wheels, and no unpowered trailing wheels – oOOOO.
This photo was taken circa 1941. Here is another view from the USC Library Rail Collection:
The second engine I found is Number 15, and is also a 2-8-0. This photo from the USC Collection was taken around 1938. You can see that the “humps” behind the smoke stack are a bit different, so it is a different engine.
There doesn’t seem to be any record of what happened to these two engines when they left the service of the Swamp Rabbit. It is assumed that they were scrapped.
These are probably not the engines that Greenville residents think of when they hear the phrase “Swamp Rabbit Railroad”, though. They probably remember the old Cliffside 110 steam engine that ran through the defunct Echo Valley Park. Here’s a photo of me in front of that engine at age 8:
This was the engine Jim and Dot were discussing when they talked about it being sold to North Carolina. The engine is closely associated with North Carolina, having served most of its working time around the mill town of Cliffside, near Boiling Springs, NC. According to the website Remembering Cliffside, Cliffside 110 was a 2-6-2 engine built by Vulcan in 1927, and originally used to haul lumber, first for the McRae Lumber and Manufacturing Company in Quincy, Florida, then later for the Beechwood Band Mill in Cordele, Georgia. The engine was purchased by the Cliffside Railroad in 1933, where it hauled materials from the textile mill along a short run to Cliffside Junction just north of the town.
While in service at Cliffside, the engine earned the moniker “Old Puffer.” Here are a few photos of Old Puffer in service at Cliffside from the website:
When Cliffside converted to diesel in the late 1950’s, 110 was sidelined as a back-up engine. In 1963 it was sold to the Echo Valley Park to become the new Swamp Rabbit. The engine retained its number, but was spruced up, and a decorative cap was added to the smokestack.
110’s tenure at Echo Valley was short-lived. When the park closed in 1968, the engine was sold to the Stone Mountain Park, where it entered service in 1969, re-christened as the “Yonah II.” The distinctive “110” was left on the front of the engine, but the smokestack was converted back to its original straight shape. The engine ran the park for nearly twenty years until running gear issues forced its retirement in 1988. At that time the train was mounted on a sideline as a non-functioning display piece.
In 2012 the Old Puffer once again made its way back to North Carolina. Stone Mountain donated the engine to the New Hope Valley Railroad in Bonsal, south of Raleigh. In February of this past year the train was moved to its new location, and in June a dedication ceremony was held. The Forest City Courier ran an article about the dedication, and the most touching part of the article was a pair of photos. The first shows the last run of the Old Puffer in Cliffside in 1962. The photo shows Cliffside Railroad president Paul Bridges shaking hands with R. S. Biggerstaff. Standing next to him is Bridges’s daughter, Janice.
Right below that is an image of 110 at the June dedication, that recreates the photo. A younger Paul Bridges, son of Janice Bridges, shakes hands with Cliff White from the Cliffside Historical Society. Paul’s daughter, Nicola, stands next to him.
The plan is to restore the engine to operating condition, a process expected to take five to seven years. The train will then take tourists on the track at New Hope Valley, just as it did at Echo Valley and Stone Mountain.
However, that’s not the end of the story…
As I was doing the research for this piece I came across another engine claiming ties to Echo Valley and the Swamp Rabbit. The Denton, North Carolina, Farm Park has a tourist railroad called the Handy Dandy Railroad. On the information page for the train it states the following:
This Locomotive was built in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It is a 1941 040 switch engine built by Porter Locomotive Company. The locomotive was located at Bethlehem Fairfield (Maryland) Shipyard; The United States Navy Shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia; PC Company #9 Old Dominion Iron and Steel Company, Richmond, Virginia and Echo Valley Park, and Swamp Rabbit Railroad, Greenville, South Carolina.
In 1980, It was sold to Denton FarmPark, It was restored by the Denton FarmPark staff and was made a part of the Handy Dandy Railroad which rides tourists on the 1.5 mile track around the park every year during the Southeast Old Threshers’ Reunion at Denton FarmPark.
So, were there two engines at Echo Valley?? I’ve only seen the Cliffside 110 in old photos of the park. The park was so cash-strapped that it’s hard to believe they could afford the upkeep for two steam engines. The date of the engine makes it unlikely that it was a pre-Echo Valley engine operating on the Swamp Rabbit rails. It’s possible that it was kept as a utility or back-up engine, but that also seems unlikely.
I think I’ve found a more likely explanation buried in a rail fan discussion forum. One poster suggests that it was the cars – the old converted SAL 5200-series cabooses – that were part of the Echo Valley train that wound up in Denton, and not the engine itself.
So, if you want to ride the old Swamp Rabbit Railroad train that ran through Echo Valley, it looks like you’ll have visit two parks – one to ride with the original engine, and one to ride the original rail cars.
On a final note, Cliffside, NC, isn’t that far from Greenville. Just last month Laura and I drove through on our way up to Boiling Springs to watch a football game between Furman and Gardner-Webb. At the time I noted the old textile mill on the river in Cliffside, and remarked that it would be a cool place to come back and take photos. At that time I had no clue about it’s connection to Echo Valley.
Yesterday Glynda and I had the chance to drive up that way. We explored the town, taking photos of the old churches, houses, and schools.
We stopped at the location of the old textile mill on the banks of the river.
However, the only hint of a railroad we could find was a bridge over seemingly nothing near the community of Henrietta. The path of the gulch covered by the bridge was too straight to be natural, and had to be the old railroad bed. Checking Google Earth later confirmed this. We also saw one trestle on abandoned rails on up north of Caroleen that may have been part of the rail. I guess, like the Swamp Rabbit, Cliffside Railroad has vanished in the countryside. Perhaps with this new interest in Cliffside Engine 110, the town can resurrect their abandoned rail as a trail, as Greenville and Travelers Rest have so successfully done with the Swamp Rabbit.
View North Carolina Trains in a larger map