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Flying on the Carolina Special

By Frank Clodfelter | April 16, 2021

An engineer’s spending habits led to some fast running on a Southern Railway Ps-4

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Two steam locomotives "meet" on track.
Two steam locomotives "meet" on track.
Southern Railway Ps-4 Pacifics on the north- and southbound Carolina Specials meet at Barber Junction, N.C., circa 1940. Photographer Frank Clodfelter was fireman on train 21 in the foreground. Classic Trains collection

Around 1940, give or take a little, I was firing Southern Railway Ps-4 Pacifics heading the eastern leg of the Carolina Special between Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C. This little rural train served towns like Mocksville, Cooleemee Junction, Woodleaf, Bear Poplar, Davidson, Mooresville, and the tobacco center of Winston-Salem. We met the Special’s Asheville connection at Barber Junction, N.C., about 13 miles west of Salisbury, in mid-afternoon. Passenger changeover, mail and express loading, and a drink of water for the engines, gave time for the engine crews to grab a bite at Bame’s Grill & General Store.

My regular hogger was one of those economy-minded individuals who squirreled away his earnings, and no one ever observed him spending more than 15 cents on a trip. Once he ordered a serving of hominy, and, glancing at his plate, complained “13 kernels of hominy and it cost me a nickel.”

The Carolina Special’s northbound trip from Barber to Greensboro may never be worthy of the literary immortality of Mr. Pickwick’s stagecoach journeys through England, but this train made up the difference in speed. If we were over 30 minutes late on arrival at Greensboro, my hogger would miss his bus connection back to his home in Winston-Salem. Taxi fare was dear. The fastest, most spirited, most thrilling ride I have experienced in the cab of a locomotive was an unlimbered Ps-4 cutting the night wind bound for Greensboro.

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