Working on the Railroad
Most of Ed Atkinson’s railroad career took place between the time he ran away in 1874, at age 17, and the time of his marriage in 1892. Ed joined his brother George and the crew that had begun working on the railroad the year before. They were cutting timber on the right of way, building the trestles, and laying the rails for the Spartanburg, SC to Asheville NC section of the railway through Polk County, NC. This section of track was to connect with other sections to ultimately form a rail system from Charleston, SC to Asheville, NC, and then on to connect with a line going over the Blue Ridge Mountains into Tennessee and points beyond.
Construction costs, because of difficulties encountered in working the steep terrain, were much higher than projected and funds ran out before the railway reached Buncombe County. In early 1880, work on the railroad was suspended until Buncombe County could raise additional funds for completion of the section on to Asheville.
Along with the railroad employees who were left without work, Charles Amos was left without a market for the provisions and lumber he had been supplying to the railroad. He anticipated that Buncombe County would quickly raise the needed funds. In view of this, Mr. Amos hired Ed Atkinson, his brother George, and several other railroad men to work on his farm and run his sawmill to stockpile timber.
When work on the rail line resumed, Ed worked on various sections, the most memorable of which became known as “The Saluda Grade.” This section of track boasted the steepest grade incline of any east of the Rockies. It was so steep that a second, or helper engine, was required to assist in hauling the cars to the top of the grade. In future years, it would be the site of several “runaway” trains attempting to descend the steep grade. Southern Railway acquired the railroad after work resumed, and in 1895 the final connections were made for a continuous line from Charleston, SC to the Ohio Valley. Ed was always proud that he had helped to accomplish this.