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This story is about the section of railroad known as the Saluda Grade. It is the steepest section of track in the Eastern US. Many people lost their lives building this rail and working on the trains that carried freight up this dangerous track.
In 1877, Charles W Pearson presented a plan to build tracks up the mountain to connect Spartanburg to Asheville. Typically, a grade of 2% in considered to be a steep railroad. This section of tracks hits 5% at times. The mountains rise up so quickly that there was no other choice but to accept Pearson's plan if the line was to be built.
The work was slow as the men used mules, oxen, picks, shovels and dynamite to build these tracks. There was a lot of hard and dangerous manual labor. Many of them lived in tents and shanties built in the rock quarry where they carved out the rock for the railroad. This quarry became known as the town of Rock Cliff. It even had it's own post office for a few years.
On July 4th, 1878, the first official passenger train pulled into Saluda (known then as Pace's Gap). in 1880, 14 men were killed in train wrecks on this stretch. Over the years, deaths continued to mount and in 1893, 3 men died and another lost his leg in a wreck. The train derailed in a sharp curve and left a mess of coal, steel, timber and a carload of cattle. This is how it got it's name of Slaughterhouse Curve.
In 1903, Pitt Ballew was the engineer of a 13 car load of coal heading down the mountain. When he realized there wasn't enough air in the brakes, he warned the other men that the train was a runaway. Two men jumped off and two others escaped on the caboose when they pulled the pin and separated from the train. Pitt tried desperately to try and regain control of the train. It became obvious to remain on the train meant certain death. Although the train was going too fast, maybe as fast as 60 mph, he did jump. The train crew found Pitt barely alive. The engine was buried under a pile of coal. Behind the coal cars were 2 merchandise cars that were totaled and a car full of eggs, which remained on the track.
While Pitt was in the hospital recovering, there were 2 more runaways. The next runaway claimed 2 lives at Slaughterhouse Curve. The last one was contained enough that it did not flip in the curve but did run backwards all the way back towards Tryon. There was another train headed up the mountain and the operator in Tryon barely caught the train and got them into the side track as the runaway came through.
By 1903, 27 men had been killed working the Saluda Grade. As Pitt Ballew lay in the hospital, he came up with the idea of having safety tracks. By the end of 1903, 2 sets of safety tracks had been built along the grade. From then on, the tracks were always set to send the train into the safety track unless they confirmed that the train was under control. One of these safety tracks was installed at the Melrose switching yard. At Melrose, trains could take on water, sand and coal.
One year after the safety tracks were built, a passenger train ran away and up to the end of the Melrose safety track, damaging the engine. There were no injuries and never were on any passenger trains. The passenger train that ran this route was called the Carolina Special and was in service until 1968. The scenery alone was worth the price of a ticket on the ride.
On April 2, 2003, Norfolk Southern cut the rails to this track. They are cut in Saluda and Landrum and will likely be abandoned as this track is too expensive to be useable. Already, there are trees that have fallen across it and places where runoff has covered some rails.
Now your adventure on the Saluda Grade begins. At the Melrose yard, an operator was stationed 24 hours a day. In the early use of the safety track, they had to listen for the correct sequence of whistle blows before opening the main track. Later, they used radios and eventually a phone for communication. There is a small hut where the operator stayed and this is where you need to go to find your first clue.
The second stage will take you to a nice view of the river and the most photographed spot on the Saluda Grade. All coordinates will be at 13.xxx North. This stage is at 19.xxx West
As you walk towards the third stage, you will see 3 sets of tracks. The center is the main line, the left is the side line where trains heading up would wait while the train coming down would pass. The right track heads into the woods. This is safety track # 2. There is a small trestle near the end of the safety track. After 105 years it is falling apart slowly. this stage is at 19.xxx West.
The 4th stage will take you to Slaughterhouse Curve. Just imagine what a mess it would be to have train cars and all of their freight piled up in a tangled heap. This stage is at 18.xxx
The 5th stage is just another pretty spot that passengers would enjoy on their trip up the mountain. A small waterfall on one side and the river on the other. This stage is at 18.xxx
The 6th stage will be in Rock Cliff. If you do not know what stinging nettles looks like, this is the time to learn. See the picture below. It grows in large patches here and it is not fun to tangle with. It makes me itch like crazy. It's dead in the winter but will be back in warm weather. The men would build scaffolding up the rock face, as high as 70 feet so they could pick and blast rock off. Some people lived under the rocks in this area. this stage is at 18.xxx
The 7th stage will take you to Melrose Falls. Take a few minutes to enjoy the views on both sides of the tracks here. This stage is at 17.xxx
The final location will be under a monstrous boulder. The cache is located at 18.xxx West It is stocked with souvenirs for everyone. If you notice it is getting low, let me know and I'll find some more.
We hope you have enjoyed this adventure!
I suggest you bring a small pack and have water, some snacks, a flashlight, clippers for briars and nettles, a camera for the wonderful sights, and of course, a friend to share the adventure with!
After stage 4, you can either keep walking or go back to the car and park at the second parking location. Follow the trails from there to get you back to the tracks. This cache is located in a fairly deep river valley and the GPSr does not get great signals here, so plan to be looking for a while at each stage. At a few locations, I have put a small G (for geocaching) within 20 feet of the clue. I wouldn't waste my time looking for it, but if you see one, you know you are close.
After following shymntmn while he hunted this, I am happy with all coords. His GPSr zeroed out within 20 feet or less of all stages except near the cliff. Which is expected. My suggestion is to walk the tracks watching your device. Make sure it has settled down as much as possible, then go up and down the tracks a few times until you find your closest location. Make a mental note of where it is and then head into the woods. If no luck, then start scouring every inch! Of course having friends (with good vision!) on this search will definitely be helpful. I'm also satisfied with the ratings. Terrain could be overrated but some will have some real difficulty with a couple of stages.
If you need some coal for a stocking, you will find plenty along the tracks. Just be sure you are getting coal and not broken brake pads. I would guess that the pads contain asbestos and stocking full of that would be bad for little Johnny. Most of the coal will be found on the shoulders or even further. Most everything you find in between the tracks or right next to them will be brake pads. Coal is solid black and kind of light. The pads will have grey or white speckling in it.
Congratulations to farmallcub52 and notBillyBob for the First to Find!
(No hints available.)
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Last Updated: on 11/15/2017 3:39:03 PM (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada) (11:39 PM GMT)
Coordinates are in the WGS84 datum