Operations on the Saluda Grade
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Down the Grade.
When the grade was in operation, the most difficult task was to get a fully loaded coal train from the top to the bottom, all the while retaining control of hundreds of tons of coal and steel. In order to safely run the grade, each train was required to make a stop in the town of Saluda, N.C. Here the train is prepared for the trip down the grade.
The first step was to completely lock down the brakes on the first several cars of the train. Then the retainers were set up on each of the rest of the cars. This was all done by hand by the brakeman. (See picture below)
This process took close to an hour as each car had to be set up and then checked to make sure it was ready for the trip down the mountain. One veteran railroad man said of this stretch of track, “Either you run that train or it runs you” This section of track was probably the most difficult in the country as far as day to day operations went. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to witness several coal trains go down the grade. It is an experience I will never forget.
After the train rolls out of Saluda it starts down the grade. Following it down on Pearsons Falls road is an experience every rail fan should have! The most striking thing is the noise. I have never heard anything else like it. Ever. The screeching sound of the brakes as they fight to hold back the awesome weight of the train against the grade is a sound that will stay with you always. It is a groaning and squealing noise. There is a sense of the power and the stress on the machine as it does battle with the mountain. It is almost eerie in it’s quality. Like the screech of something from the netherworlds.