In my youth, I spent a few weeks each summer with my maternal grandmother in Bridgeport, Tennessee. She had everything a kid needed to keep from getting bored. At the bottom of her big front yard, across a narrow gravel road, was the Southern Railway's main line between Asheville, North Carolina, and Knoxville, Tennessee. There was a decrepit passing siding that guaranteed a few slow-moving trains each day, and in each direction, so errant boys such as my cousin and me could easily hitch a ride the mile and a half or so from Grandma Lou's house to the swimmin' hole on the French Broad River. That spot had been the site of a pumping station that supplied water to the tank at the Bridgeport depot back in the days of steam.

The Southern had dropped the last fire on a steam engine in June of 1953 so my memories of steam in Bridgeport are pretty vague. I do remember hearing them starting a train on a rainy night and listening to the rain on the tin roof of my upstairs bedroom at grandma's. Besides the tank and depot, there was a wye for turning engines but I don't remember any of it except the weed-covered roadbed.

That big building to the right at the beginning of the video once housed the Bridgeport Post Office. It too was closed by the time I was growing up.

As well as I remember, the video was shot sometime in 1962. This scene between Aunt Ella's house and the railroad was around 1957, judging by the "new" '56 Chevy my cousin Ilea and her husband were driving at the time.

(left to right) my cousins Sandy and Audrey, my elevenish year old self, and "Monk" Jackson who lived with his grandmother across the tracks from Aunt Ella and Uncle Ott Tucker. That's Uncle Ott's International flatbed truck behind the Chevy. He logged in what later became the Cherokee National Forest.

The Huff Bridge at the center left was built in 1922, the year my mother was born.

One afternoon a train crew in a caboose was stopped at the same spot where I was standing when I shot this film. They were waiting for a meet and they gave my cousin and me some money to walk to Laymon's Grocery about 200 yards away and bring back four 1-pint paper containers of butter pecan ice cream (with those little wooden paddles that served as spoons) and they shared it with us as we got a tour of the caboose. That's a treat I will always remember!

The "new" Asheville Highway (TN 25-70) bridge over the French Broad had been opened in 1922 and the old one condemned and closed to automobile traffic shortly afterward. That didn't stop locals from driving across its wooden-planked decking and it certainly didn't stop it from being a magnet for all the neighborhood kids. The south approach was right next to the driveway of a huge house with a galleried porch overlooking the river. It was owned by a lady that we all knew simply as "Miss Jo" and she had apple orchards along the shore of the river where a kid could sneak a few after a swim in the muddy water.

I see by the Google Earth satellite view that the house is gone, only a pier remains of the bridge, and the 1922 bridge has been replaced with a modern span.

The Home
The Cheneworth Gap Times-Picayune & World Observer