Saluda Train Tales

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, March 2, 2017

A personal exploit and love affair with the Saluda Grade

Stumbling upon Saluda in 1988 looking for the Orchard Inn B&B, Bob Loehne conveniently turned this happenstance into the beginning of a wonderful personal and professional affair with America’s steepest class-1 railroad grade.

In Bob’s train-oriented head, thoughts starting ringing … very steep grade … runaway trains … notorious. He recalled hearing of Saluda when he lived in Seattle. Its reputation had easily spanned our country.

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Hiking and exploring the Saluda Grade, Bob confirmed with his own eyes how amazing the grade on the east side was both for its jaw-dropping, ever so steep grade, and knowing that the train crews would have mastered an extended set of operating procedures in order to safely handle this quite dangerous, two-and-a-half-mile stretch of extreme railroad track.

While eyeballing the confusing switching tracks on either side of downtown Saluda, he ran into an outgoing fellow named Billy Rice. It turned out that Mr. Rice knew just about all the data there was to know about the famous grade, the powerful locomotives that worked the super slope, the freight loads that traversed the incredible hill, and virtually all the train crews Billy had befriended – often with donuts
during his teenage years and over the previous five years in Norfolk Southern employment.

For Bob, the stage was set, the subject was dynamite, and he had an opportunity to tell the story of Saluda Grade through the videotapes of his relatively new video production business, American Altavista.

He was about to undertake a video project that demanded absolute and unerring knowledge about the hill’s long list of key facts and figures, and in which he would tell a railroad story about America’s steepest class-1 railroad grade to an unforgiving audience of rail oriented zealots – from railroad employees to the far reaches of railroad foamers, eternal rivet counters, and the holy grail of train chasers, the rail fans – who would demand nothing less than 100 percent correctness.

Saluda Train Tales is pleased to bring Bob Loehne back to Saluda to tell his story at the Saluda Historic Depot, Friday, March 17, 2017 at 7 p.m. The depot opens at 6:30 for early seating. His video productions will be available for sale and a percentage of the proceeds will go to the Saluda Historic Depot fundraising.

Saluda Train Tales is a free monthly event to educate the community about the importance of Saluda’s railroad history and the Saluda Grade.

Storytelling is the third Friday of the month at 7 p.m., March through December.

These events are at the Saluda Historic Depot, 32 W. Main Street, Saluda.   

For more information, please contact Judy Ward at 828-674-5958 or or Cathy Jackson at 828-817-2876 or

– article submitted by Saluda Lifestyles