The Train "Wye"

Black and white drawing that illustrates an aerial view of a historic train
"Wye" Conceptual Drawing

Quick Facts
Elkmont Nature Trail, Elkmont Campground, Gatlinburg, TN 37738
Site of the historic "Y" or "wye" used to turn logging trains around.

Have you ever wondered how a train makes a “U” turn? 

A historic logging train consisted of a locomotive, coal car, and up to eight logging cars, making it almost 600 feet long (about 183 meters; roughly two football fields). With a single track and mountain terrains, it was not easy to turn one of these trains around. To address this, the logging companies developed the “turning Y” to allow trains to return easily and safely to Townsend. Today, we consider this a “three-point turn.”

From a birds-eye view of this spot 100 years ago, you would see an upside-down “Y". The parking lot at the beginning of the nature trail is one “leg” of the “Y". You can see the other leg on the nature trail to the right after you cross the wooden bridge.  

The train maneuvered past the “Y", backed up one leg which extended over a mile, then returned via the other leg, thus turning the train in the opposite direction.  A “Y” is sometimes spelled “wye," and many were located throughout the logging areas of the Smokies. That is how the Townsend Wye got its name.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Last updated: January 11, 2024