Based on a true story . . .


Dean Smith
 

Hi, again.  I've had some interesting conversations recently about staying true to our prototype's history and using modeler's license while we create our own miniature worlds. I've decided to jot down a few thoughts about this dichotomy, which I'm sharing here.  And please don't worry, no feathers were ruffled during these conversations!

 

I have always been a huge fan on Buddy Holly, even though I was only one week old when he was tragically killed in a plane crash in Iowa. So, when I saw that “The Buddy Holly Story,” the 1978 biopic starring Gary Busey, was on TV a few weeks ago, I sat down and rewatched it.  It’s overall a pretty good movie, but it caused a bit of a stir among Holly’s family, friends, and fans because of its many inaccuracies. The 2017 documentary, “Rave On,” is excellent and gives a much more accurate portrayal of his life and times, and I strongly recommend it to all of the “That’ll Be the Day” fans everywhere.

            What, you may rightfully ask, does this have to do with our favorite railroad? I will never forget the excitement of the first few conventions, as we held seemingly endless discussions and uncovered so many facts about the railroad. I proudly displayed photos of my new covered deck bridge which was, of course, painted barn red based on the painting in Mallory Hope Ferrell’s book, Tweetsie Country. I soon learned that the bridge was never any color that good old, Tweetsie Green.  What color were the engines painted?  What was the coupler height? I was fortunate to have met several of the old-timers, including Tighteye Simerly, and will never forget sitting with John Waite and helping him interview Preacher Brown.  Reading Ken Riddle’s articles about the men that he knew and loved so well makes me feel that I almost knew them as well. We fans and modelers of the ET are now so blessed with the plethora of wonderful information that has been, and continues to be, discovered and published.  Dr. Tom has been posting wonderful side-by-side photos of his fine modeling alongside the prototype photos that inspired him. I also love this challenge and will continue to also post similar photos.

            This being said, you may have noticed that I never discuss my model railroad without including its entire name, the ET&WNC-Vida Division.  My layout is based on the ET, but it is more of a movie than a documentary.  There are many differences between the prototype and the Vida Division that exist for a variety reasons: some operational, some personal, and some aesthetic.  While I try to accurately model railroad cars, structures, and scenic areas, there are times when I consciously veer from historical accuracy, if I feel that these changes will benefit the “reality” of the railroad in the basement.  When decisions are made between historical accuracy and modeler’s license, these decisions are not made lightly and, hopefully, end up serving as complementary parts of the whole picture.

            I love learning about the history of our special mountain short-line railroad as much as I love modeling it, and I again applaud everyone who works so hard to increase our knowledge of its history and keeps its traditions alive, both with the written word and in models.  I’m reminded of perhaps my favorite quote about the ET, when an elderly local woman was asked why the railroad was so beloved by the mountain people that it served.  She thought a bit, and reportedly replied, “Well, it’s the onliest railroad around.”  There are many of us who may be fond of other railroads, but the ET&WNC is the “onliest” one in our hearts.  I want to thank all of you for bringing me so much joy over the years.

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