Remarks to the National Model Railroad Association (NMRA) Piedmont Division March 9, 2021

This is a rough transcript.

“A Tale of Two Railroads: The Western & Atlantic and the Memphis, Clarksville & Louisville.”

Thank you for having me today. I’m very excited to be here today and talk about two of my favorite railroads. I don’t like to limit how many of my favorite railroads I have, so I’ll just say they are two of my favorite railroads: The Western & Atlantic railroad and the Memphis Clarksville & Louisville Railroad.

I presume since we’re in and around the Atlanta area, I presume most people are probably more familiar with the Western & Atlantic Railroad. But these are two pretty interesting railroads, in my opinion, because they date pretty much to the same vintage in the sense that they’re both antebellum railroads, and they’re both southern railroads. So they have a lot of striking similarities, but they have an incredible difference in what the outcome was for both of them.

I’m going to give you a brief little history and then do a little comparison of the two railroads, and then I’d certainly be happy to answer any questions that anybody may have as we get going. But I wanted to kind of start this one off here as a little bit of a scene-setting just to kind of illustrate some of the geography that I’m talking about for these two different railroads.


These railroads really were instrumental in several developments in several key cities in the South. In the postcard picture on the bottom, there is a view of Atlanta from the 920s or 1930s. In the middle there, we have a view of Nashville, Tennessee, both great railroad towns back then and still are today. In the upper left-hand corner is a picture of Paris, Tennessee, and if we have any L&N fans, Paris, Tennessee, was a very important depot and repair facility for the Louisville & Nashville Railroad for many years. It’s not as busy as a rare town these days but certainly had a great history tied to railroads.

…That was a quick little geography lesson. I was a history major, not a geography major, so that’s the sum total of my knowledge on the geography front, but pretty straightforward, I believe. I want to mention some of these cities, so I’d like to do that upfront just to kind of give everybody a lay of the land.

So interestingly, the Memphis Clarksville Louisville railroad is not a super well-known railroad today. It has a great history. It has a great history in the sense that it was never always a super highly regarded rare, even from its earliest inception. It was created to build effectively between Guthrie, Kentucky, and Paris, Tennessee, and it was so derided by people in the local community and people in the press that it was said that it was a railroad that would begin in the woods and end in a hollow tree.

So that tells you something about how well received it was. It’s a great name for the railroad, maybe not if you were an investor in the railroad at that point in time.

But it’s served a really important purpose, and it was chartered in 1852, which, of course, is about a decade before the civil war broke out. It was chartered by the state of Tennessee. …It built fairly quickly based on how a lot of other railroads built. We’ll get a little bit deeper into the history of it. It was fully completed by 1861.