The Little River Lumber Company
As a little boy in a family of 12, my dad, William (Bill) McCarter's family lived in the Little River box car houses for a time. His dad Walter Lee McCarter worked logging for the company in the 1930's.
The houses for the workers were built just like a boxcar. They had a steel ring at the top to hook a chain to when they needed to be moved. The back of the house rested against the mountain on rib locks clamped on wheels to hold them there. The front of the house was put on stilts. These mobile communities of portable houses became known as string towns. When the timber was cut in a section, they would hook the houses up and move to a different section to begin logging a new area.
As a child there, my dad had fond memories of playing under the floor made by the stilts. They also fished in Little River and roamed the majestic mountains of the Smokies. It was a time of close family togetherness in their two one room boxcar houses.
One of the stories my dad told me about living there was about the family table in the boxcar. Because of the chestnut blight, all the chestnut wood became riddled with worm holes. It was considered inferior and was very cheap so the Lumber Company constructed all the tables for the boxcar houses out of it. These tables were the center of family life. Here they took family meals and he and his brothers and sisters did their homework. Many days he remembers his mom laying out patterns to make their clothes or piecing together quilts to guard them against the cold.
My dad said that some of his best memories were made around that family table. Later in life he asked his mom what had become of the table. Wormy chestnut was now a sought after wood. His mom, Lenora, told him that as soon as she could afford a new table, she busted the table up and used it for firewood. She wanted no reminders of the time she and her family had to settle for a cheap wormy chestnut table. As times change, the value of many things change along with them, but the love and memories surrounding them remain the same.
Raising 12 kids in two boxcar houses, boys in one and girls in the other, was probably not very easy. It was impossible to get ahead. When working for the Company, it almost always cost more to live there than a man could make logging for the company. The popular song by Tennessee Ernie Ford comes to mind, "Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go, I owe my soul to the company store."
From 1901 and 1939 The Little River Lumber Company clear cut almost all the land on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains. The company laid 150 miles of train track, cleared about 75,000 acres of land and cut 560 million board feet of lumber. They cut about two-thirds of the land that is now the National Park.
As most of the land in America was logged, the pristine mountains of the Smokies remained untouched. Even if you could cut the trees, you had to transport them out to sell and there was no way to do this. With the construction of the railroad, the Little River Logging Company found a way to do the job. The building of railroads and logging was very strenuous, dangerous work. Here long hours were the norm. Trees were cut by sawyers, one man on one side and one man on the other, of the massive trees. This was very demanding physical work and one never knew which way the trees would fall. However, during this time in history, the country was experiencing the great depression from 1929-1939. The mountain people who worked for the Little River Lumber Company, which operated from 1901-1939 considered themselves lucky to have a job and be able to earn a living.