Interview with Dr. French H. Moore, Jr.
Page Three.

Conducted on November 17, 2009, in Abingdon, Virginia

(FM)    Yeah, from here to there, that’s jointly owned.  The deed is joint.  And when they were writing the Deed they called and said, “Hey we’ve got about a mile up there it goes past Whitetop, it goes into North Carolina and goes back into Virginia and then goes back into North Carolina, do you care if we deed where it goes back into Virginia” and I said Nope.  So we own that.

(RS)     I've seen that on the surveys....

(FM)    There’s one trestle on that.  Because when we had that fire.  We were trying to find a trestle to tear down to repair the trestle.  Number six is the one that caught on fire.  And almost as sure as I’m sitting here, know who burned it.  But…..(laughter) unless you see them strike the match to prove that it’s arson.  So we looked at that trestle. Al Bradley and I, we went all the way down into North Carolina as far you could go.  Some of the people down in there had stolen the crossties to it.  (laughter)  But anyhow, that all reverted.  I begged those people not to do this, but they did, and after the fact, they got a grant to try to buy it back. 

(RS)     Houses were built in what was the old railroad right-of-way.

(FM)    That just kills it.  So we decked all the trestles except for number 6 cause  where they were taking out the original rails, you know they’re bolted.  Well rather than taking a wrench and turning those off.  They were taking a cutting torch and just cutting the bolts.  And so the guys out there on the trestle, about 100 feet or so and that hot, they were cutting with a flint torch, you know it’s burning like there on the trestle and of course the trestle is creosote and it caught on fire.  He looked back and there was fire in behind him…  (chuckles)  But we got a fire truck out there and got it out.

(RS)     Which one was this?

(FM)     Number 6.  Same one that was deliberately burned.

(RS)     So this was after it had been going on….

(FM)    No, this was right after when they were taking up the trestle ….

(RS)     Okay, okay…..

"What are you going to do with those trestles?"
"We're going to dynamite them."

(FM)    See, so I’m talking with Norfolk Southern saying look we’re going to buy it and we were trying to figure out how we were going to afford it and all this kind of stuff. And then Mr. Frye saying, my time is running out, my time is running out.  I gotta’ do this by a certain date.  Then I had to go to Roanoke and talk Norfolk Southern into extending that and I said Mr. Frye whatta’ gonna’ do with those trestles?  He said we’re gonna’ dynamite’em, my contract says if they cross a stream, and most of them were just a little stream, a big huge stream about as wide as this table (laughter) .  I have to  take them back to the water level.  To the water level, you can’t see them about the water.  And I’m gonna’ dynamite’em and burn them.  I said oh Mr. Frye, you can’t do that.  And he says I have a date and I have to do that by, so that’s when I got Norfolk Southern to extend that date, cause that would have ruined it.  If they had burned the trestle, if he had destroyed them. 

Trestle over the Holston
Trestle over the Holson:
1964 photo.

And he didn’t want to destroy them, he just said my contract says that I’ve got to,  and he was already hauling off the ties and rails and I said what about the steel trestle across South Holston.  You know that steel and there’s a steel trestle in Damascus and there’s a steel trestle in the forest service.  And I guess he owned all that, the only question in my mind would be the one in the on the right corner of Straight Branch, that’s on the forest service branch, the one that’s like this… And I asked him how much do you want for those trestles… (laughter)  and he said well the price of steel has gone up since I bought it.. And he gave me the price and it was to me ridiculous you know I mean the price of steel that you get for junk.  I said Mr. Frye I can not, I don’t have the money.  He’d gotten into this by now. 

He said, well do you think you could raise what I paid for ‘em?  I won’t make any profit on ‘em.  I said yes sir, I think I can do that.  So that’s how we saved those trestles.  Cause it would have been a disaster to take the one over South Holston Lake and that doesn’t look as big, but that’s big steel beams under that thing that holds from those concrete piers.  So I got those trestles from bridges for what he paid for them as junk.  At the time we bought them and the price of steel becoming so high. So he saved my life there.   So then, we had the tragic fire. 

(RS)     The fire was part of a pattern.  Al showed me some pictures, I think you had some of the photos. They were putting logs on the trail and huge hay bales on the trail, one guy put a bull in the field and put a big sign up that saying

(FM)    Beware of the Bull”.  (laughter)

(RS)    Laughing “Beware of the Bull” ....(laughter)

(FM)    There were two people, the Smith brothers and actually my next-door neighbor, Paul Wagner (Laughter)  …. 

(RS)   Paul was involved with that?

(FM)   See, he had the chicken houses, you see the thing went through his farm, the chicken houses, he’s the one who put the bulls out.

(RS)     Is that Paul’s bull?  (laughter)

(FM)  My next door neighbor…. 

(RS)  (Laughter)

(FM)    But it’s ended up a great benefit to them because, we said look Paul, we’re sorry, we own the right of way and we’re coming through on our property and you can go across it and you can have your bulls in the field if you want to, but you have some liability there.  Unless you fence it, and we’re not going to fence it.  So now, there’s this federal thing about protecting the water, you know it’s the federal government or whoever came in and built him a fence on the east side of the trail so that it’s the trail and way over here is the river.  Then they figured how many acres are in there and they get so much a month, a year, that it’s tied up that they can’t use.

(RS)     That’s in that great big bend between Alvarado and Damascus…

(FM)    Yeah, they tore the chicken houses down. 

(RS)     Yeah, chicken houses are down and they got, they planted a whole bunch of trees and none of them grew…..

(FM)    Yeah, but that fence now that’s along the trail, on the east side, that is to keep the cattle out of the river.  Now they could have gone along the river, but he got more money, on an annual basis, owning all that land inside that right of way.  And uh….. (laughter)
….. But anyhow,

(RS)     So Paul is the bull man?

(FM)    Paul is the guy that had the bulls. 

(RS)     Did you ever get any personal threats?  Were you ever threatened personally….

(FM)    Not directly, you know they would come in the office and say that they were not coming back….this is what you’re doing to us out here…..But nobody threatened to shoot me or anything like that.

(RS)     Not to your face…..

(FM)    No, the only time I had something like that was on the Planning Commission had a public hearing and had to move it to the high school.  For the zoning ordinance for the county, and we had the Sheriff’s Dept. there.  They wanted to walk me to the car afterwards, and I said look, I’m not afraid of those guys.  I don’t want you to walk me to the car.  I’ll go out there myself.  But nobody ever said anything, but there were people in the room that had guns.   Today I would have my own gun in the room because I have my permit.  (laughter)  No, I don’t think that anybody ever threatened to do harm....  

(RS)   Cause it was pretty heated. 

(FM)    Oh man, tell me about it.  And it went on for a good while. And that’s when the Creeper Trail Club was organized.  Mel Heiman decided that if we had a disinterested group, like the Trail Club to go out there and try to smooth over with the landowners.  They were the ones who tried to work with the Smith brothers.  And you know the real funny thing, their daddy and I were as close of friends as you can have. 

(RS)     Who was their dad?

(FM)    Frank Smith, the veterinarian.

(RS)     Oh yeah, Frank.

(FM)    And Jenny was their mother, and I use to date Jenny when she was younger.  But anyhow, that family, Jenny included, was just bitter about it.  And we have spent a ton of money out there, just to keep them happy.  Yeah, like the fence under the trestle…..

(RS)     Now you got that elaborate fence separating the whole property....

(FM)    I know, the town paid for all of that, just to get them off our backs.  And had to put walkways under the trestle, we had to haul stone out there and fix a place for their horse watering and……. They just could not be satisfied.  Just constantly that were in the council meetings and giving us hell. 

(RS)     They seem to be the ones who wouldn’t let go.

(FM)    No they wouldn’t.  They were the last.  And they were, they were the ones would be using the trail to get to their logging operation and put the fence up and the gates and the edges where you had to go through the gate all the time and all that stuff.  It was just to aggravate us.  And they were the ones who wanted us to close it at night.  Cause they didn’t want people if they got in trouble to knock on their door asking them to call for help.  You know, if you live on a road, you expect to help people if they get in trouble, or if you live on the Creeper Trail, it’s like a road, no cars, but just nice people walking and riding their bikes from everywhere in the country, in the world actually.  And they just raised cane because we wouldn’t shut it down at night.  And Damascus now helped with that because Damascus did not want to vote to not have it open at night.  Cause they had a lot of people over there I think,  who would ride at night. 

(RS)     Oh yeah.

Trestle 6 burning
Trestle 6 burns in 1983.
Arsonists were thought to be

(FM)    And they didn’t want to and they didn’t want to see……

(RS)     Oh yeah, people in Damascus actually use it to walk back and forth.

(FM)    I know…..

(RS)     It would be near impossible to enforce that.

(FM)    So it was going to be really hard.  So anyhow, we, so then I went ski patrolling at Beech.  One of our ski patrollers from up in Nortonsville came down the patrol with us and he and I were sitting there one Sunday afternoon talking and he said, “What are you doing or what’s going on?”  And I started telling him about our trestle that had burned down and that I was trying to get it fixed.  Or find someone to fix it.  And he said, “You know there’s a trestle down in North Carolina, just south of Martinsville where they have abandoned the railroad and this boy's dad had tractor and trailers and did that kind of work.  And he said, you know this guy came to my dad and said he had a trestle out there and it was a liability and he would give it to my dad if he would just haul it away.  (Laughter)  I said look, talk to your dad and see how much he’d charge to haul it out here and put it up.  Well he talked to his dad, and he said well he’d do it but it was just so far from Martinsville to bring all the equipment down and a crew down here, you know, and he just didn’t want to do it.  So I said, well we’ll see what happens then. 

So then, Gene Mathis....  Gene use to be the president of Pittston Coal Company.  And he retired and moved to Abingdon and he loved the trail….. He still does…..and he use to ride his bike and everything.  So somehow Gene found out what we were trying to do and we didn’t have any plans, you know.  Drawings…so he said what if I send my engineers over here and they’ll measure that thing and make you a drawing of it.  And I said, that would be wonderful.  (Laughter)  So sure enough it’s a guy lived here in town, was one of the engineers and they came out there and they measured all those pieces.  So he gave us the plans, so then but he didn’t want to do the tearing it down.  So then we started looking for contractors.  And we found a contractor in Roanoke who builds wooden bridges.  And so we started negotiating with him.  Well of the money I was getting from Richmond, I had saved $100,000 back and hadn’t spent it.  Something I knew, I had to fix that trestle.  People said that oh you don’t need to fix it.  We’ll just tear it out and people can go down the hill and come back up.  (Laughter……)  Come on….. Give me a break man… (Laughter)

(RS)     That’s the highest one….  (Laughter)

"Just everybody down there saw this big helicopter coming and so that means we had lots of money.  (Laughter)
All of the sudden the price went up to $10,000."

(FM)    It’s high and it’s steep.  The little creek down there and you know it’s not but a step across the creek.  I said we’re not going to do that.  We’re going to figure out some way to get that trestle back.  Cause that just puts, you know,  a break in missing link in chain or whatever you want to call it.  So then we needed to go down there and look at the trestle and of course they were going to give it to his dad.  So uh, Gene sent a helicopter over here and I think Al Bradley flew in the helicopter, several of them flew to Martinsville.  And this friend of mine met them and took them out and they looked at the trestle.  Just everybody down there saw this big helicopter coming and so that means we had lots of money.  (Laughter) All of the sudden the price went up to $10,000.  (Laughter)  That he had wanted to get rid of….all of the sudden it was $10,000 (Laughter) 

So I made a deal with the contractors, well….. So then I’ve got to get permission from Richmond to spend the money.  They’d been carrying it over and carrying it over cause I hadn‘t done it.  I said I’m not ready to spent it till I can get this trestle fixed.  Well here comes the people from Richmond, and they look and they said, “uh, we just can’t spend that much money on one trestle.”  I said look guys, that one trestle is the key to this whole thing.  And I said, you gave me the money, and I’ve saved it back to do this with.  Now the guy wanted like, $95,000 to move the trestle in parts and put it back together.  I  said this is our chance, he’s the only guy I know of anywhere in the country that builds railroad trestles out of wood.  And he’s willing to take it down, haul it down here and put it back.  For $95,000.  “Well, I don’t know….if we can do that or not……  (Laughter)  And so they went back to Richmond, Well, about two days later they called me and said “Okay, we’ll let you have the money.” 

(RS)  Laughter

(FM)    Well it’s over…  so then we hired that guy and he did, he came down, he had the plans, and he took the parts and he put it together and then we got the Job Corp to come back.  Actually we used the Job Corp out to the lake and we got the Job Corp over in one of the back counties when we went over there and we used the Seabees from Marion..

(RS)  Really..

(FM)    Yeah they were woodworking and on some of that stuff we got them to help us too.

(RS)  Wow.

(FM)    You know, then we got the Reserve here is an engineering outfit and one year they did us a project and they checked all the trestles, you know where their down in the water and just you know, the integrity of the trestles.

(RS)     Yeah.

(FM)    Of course, for nothing.  It was one of their projects.  So anyhow we got the trestle fixed, we got the railing back on it and the floor back down and then we opened it.  And in the meantime, let’s  see…. In ‘85 is when trestle #6 was damaged, near Watauga.  And in ‘86 Congress designated the right of way as a National Recreation Trail.  Now Rick Boucher helped to do that.  And in June of ‘87 we had the dedication as a National Recreation Trail.  In ‘89 we finished the construction and repairs and the floorboards were complete and in ‘97 we estimated 25,000 people on foot, bike and horse.

(RS)     Let me ask you, when did people start riding the entire length?

(FM)     Traveling?

(RS)     Yeah, when is that…..

(FM)    Well let me see, I guess the National Forest Service, already had theirs open.  And then next I guess was Damascus, because I don’t think……  they had to do the big steel bridge in Damascus, and I think that’s the only bridge they’ve got in the city of Damascus.

(RS)  Two of them. 

(FM)    Two of them?

(RS)     Trestle 16 and 17.

(FM)    And uh, so ‘97 we had 25,000 people on foot, bike and horse.  Now we estimate what about 150,000.

(RS)  150 to 200, depending on who you’re talking to.

(FM)    And depends on how you figure out where they start.  Anyhow, that’s kind of how it came about.  And it’s just, know you, it’s just been way beyond my imagination.  I knew it was going to be a neat thing, and I hadn’t really thought about the advantage of having downhill for the 16, 17 miles coming to Damascus. 

(RS)     That has been the magic key…..

(FM)    I ran into Phoebe Cartwright the other night (at an event in Abingdon). They won one of the prizes at that thing.  (laughter)  And she and I sat down and talked about when she first came back and opened up Blue Blaze.  The first one and what a great thing it had been for them. 


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