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Tallulah Falls X5 in Cornelia gets renovated while bringing together those who love history

POSTED: February 26, 2012 1:30 a.m.
/For The Times

The newly renovated Tallulah Falls X5 caboose.

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If the Tallulah Falls Railroad X5 caboose could talk, oh, the stories it would tell.

It might leave you star struck with tales of how its siblings were featured in the 1950s movies "I’d Climb the Highest Mountain" and "The Great Locomotive Chase." It might even warm your heart with campfire stories from its days as a meeting hut for a Boy Scout troop in the Carolinas.

Thanks to the hard work of a few dedicated volunteers who breathed new life into the old caboose, it has the opportunity to share those stories and more with future generations.

The Tallulah Falls Railroad ran from Cornelia to Franklin, N.C., In its prime, the railroad helped to make the resort town Tallulah Falls more accessible.

It completed its first trip in the late 1880s, its last in 1961.

"The X5 caboose was the last one used by Tallulah Falls Railroad," said Ken Morris, a member of the Cornelia Depot Association.

Habersham native Gayle Snyder Busha’s father was on the railroad’s last run, she says.

"I really don’t remember much, as I was very young when my dad was on the Tallulah Falls," Busha said.

"But I do remember my mom telling me when she heard the train whistle blowing on its way through Cornelia, she knew he would be home soon and would put the cornbread in the oven."

The caboose passed through several rounds of ownership before returning to Cornelia in 1992. Although it was repainted several times, efforts weren’t made to restore it until a few years ago.

"It had gotten in such bad shape. There was a lot of rotten lumber," Morris said.

"(The depot association) started putting donations together about three or four years ago to raise enough money to completely redo it. If we had waited much longer, it probably would’ve been beyond repair."

The actual restoration of the caboose was completed by Taylor Graham and Hunter McCutcheon. The shiny red coat of paint was provided by Jeff Gosnell and the new lettering done by Johnny Watts, Morris says.

"The project came in just under $12,000," Morris said.

The restored caboose now resides on a side track beside the Cornelia Depot, which houses a railroad museum.

"Buck Snyder, the president of the depot association, comes from a long line of railroad people. His father (and other relatives) worked on the TFR and later Southern (Railway Co.) for years," Morris said.

"He’s the one that put the museum together. Anyone is welcome to come up and visit. There are a lot of interesting railroad (artifacts)."

About two years ago, as a way to learn more about the history of the rail line, Morris started The Tallulah Falls Railway group on Facebook. He did it as a way to connect with others who have pieces of the puzzle of the railway’s history.

Today, there are more than 100 members, nearly 300 photographs and countless historical clues.

"I hear new stories every day," Morris said.

One of the most interesting stories he’s heard came from Nancy Brewster, a Gwinnett County resident with ties to the area. Her grandmother, Vera Helen Fisher Griggs, captured a series of photographs of the infamous 1927 Hazel Creek crash near Demorest.

"My great-grandfather Carey William Fisher started Fisher’s Studio in Demorest in 1890. (He) died in 1919, so my grandmother took over the studio after that," Brewster said.

"At the time (of the train crash), my grandparents, my mother and my great-grandmother lived on Highway 441 in Clarkesville. They heard the big crash of the wreck, so my grandmother grabbed her camera and tripod and they all ran through the field to the site of the terrible wreck."

Once they arrived on the scene of the collapsed trestle, Griggs began documenting the wreckage while other members of her family lent a hand.

"My granddaddy, Junius Augustus Griggs, went inside one of the wrecked cars to help. The mailman was bleeding profusely, but when my granddaddy leaned down to help him, the mailman pulled a gun on him and said to back away from the mail," Brewster said.

"He said he must protect the mail until his postmaster got there. My granddaddy pleaded with him to let him take care of him and that he would not bother the mail, but the mailman stayed firm in his decision.

"My mother, Katherine Griggs Pearson, witnessed all of it. I’m not sure, but I believe I remember her telling me the mailman died before his postmaster got there."

Between her own collection and that of her cousin, Sandra Martinez Fol, they still have the original glass-plate negatives from Griggs’ pictures of the train wreck.

The depot association is currently selling $45 framed photographs of the restored caboose as a fundraiser to build a shelter over the freight car. The frames themselves are a piece of history, made from salvaged pieces of the original siding on the car.

"(Before the caboose was restored) it had gotten to the point where you were able to see the daylight through the siding," Morris said.

"We want to put a barn over the caboose to get it out of the elements, so hopefully it’ll last another 100 years."



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