One of the interesting things about this region of East Tennessee are the railroads that ran through the region. ETSU has its own museum dedicated to the railroads that once ran through the area.
“We try to get Appalachian stuff that ran in West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia –– where the coal was,” George L. Carter Train Museum volunteer Mike Baker said.
The George L. Carter Railroad Museum on ETSU’s campus consists of two rooms that house different model train displays. The museum is dedicated to preserving the history of the railroad, and on the last Saturday of every month they host an event called “Heritage Days.”
“The mountain empire model railroaders get together once a month and have a meeting,” volunteer Jeff Stunkard said. “As it gets closer to this time of year, we figure out two things: What we think the public would like to see and what equipment we have to make that happen.”
This Heritage Day theme was about the trains that brought coal through the areas of West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia. The themes of the Heritage Day vary from month to month.
“We’ve done eastern, midwestern, western and Appalachian railroads,” Stunkard said. “We’ve done specific days on industries. It might be logging industries. And we do a southern type railroad day that includes the railroads here in Johnson City. It’s eclectic, there’s not a forethought plan.”
Stunkard said the average amount of visitors on a Heritage Day to the train museum is about 75 to 100 people.
“A lot of times we have people who come in for a specific railroad that they’re interested in,” Stunkard said. “But we still get a lot of visitors that are here for other events on campus but still come in for heritage days. The most popular ones are obviously ones that are regional to this area.”
The train museum also includes various artifacts from different eras of railroad history along with the train model displays.
“At the end of the 1960s when the railroads were getting out of the passenger business, a lot of this stuff was discarded,” Stunkard said. “All this beautiful china is actually very rare. It’s hard to come by … It’s a very collective part of railroad history, and we were very thankful to have something like this to display, so it’s not just lanterns and keys.”
Stunkard says that the best part about putting the model trains on display is the end result.
“We do it because we love trains,” Stunkard said. It’s fun to have something where you’re working with the public opposed to something you’re doing by yourself.”