“Ghost Train of The Mighty Balsams” – by Clifford Davids

Logging operations

Logging operations at Sunburst

The quiet, peaceful waters of Lake Logan, N.C., provide a welcome respite for the discerning visitor in a remote mountain setting. Located in the heart of the Mighty Balsams and surrounded by thousands of acres of pristine wilderness, this majestic wildlife sanctuary calls itself home to a bounty of ducks, geese, heron, and more.

You might choose to rent a log cabin on the edge of the lake and spend your days lazily fishing. If you’re the more active type, you can participate in a variety of outdoor adventures from hiking to biking to kayaking. Afterwards, you can take a quick dip in the clear, refreshing waters. It can be the perfect escape – but beware!

The local rental estate agents will never tell you that beneath those cool, placid waters, at the very bottom of that pristine mountain lake, lie the remains of the infamous Sunburst Logging Camp, a wild and untamed logging town that was brought to its knees by a devastating wildfire. The raging fire had ignited on the day before Thanksgiving in 1925, and devoured everything in its path. The camp post office, sawmill shed, blacksmith shop – everything was destroyed in the flames.

Seven years later, in the depths of the Great Depression, the charred remains were flooded by the Champion Paper Company when they dammed the Pigeon River, creating that deceptively tranquil retreat. And it was in the years between the fire and the flood that the Ghost Train of the Mighty Balsams first appeared.

Balsam Gap

Balsam Gap, N.C.

Loaded down with virgin spruce, Old No. 5 had been the last train headed down the mountain on that fiery day in 1925. The locomotive rumbled along the steep, rocky terrain with its heavy burden, picking up speed as it hurtled towards the doomed camp. As the train rounded the deep and treacherous Balsam Gap, the engineer saw the burning remains of the logging town through the black smoke. He quickly realized that the blazing inferno had also destroyed the train track, leaving him no time to brake. He grabbed for the cord as he barreled down the rails, causing the train’s whistle to make a horrible, ear piercing wail.

When the dazed survivors gazed up from the charred ruins, they were overwhelmed by the screech of the iron as the train thundered straight past them, cloaked in the thick, grimy smoke. It happened in an instant, and then it was gone – the last thing they saw was the engineer fighting for control. The train just vanished completely into the mist and soot, the sound of its engine fading into the distance. And then…eerie silence.

Over the following decades, frightened residents spoke of dismal nights when they would hear a shrill whistle followed by a brilliant light, and then the ghost train bursting out of the darkness hurtling straight towards them. The train always seemed to veer off at the last possible moment, disappearing back into the forbidding blackness, the engineer still searching for a place to unload his valuable burden.

So enjoy that quiet, peaceful lake – but take care! You never know when the ghost train will come screaming towards you down its lonesome, never ending track

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–The Ghost Train–

“Ghost Train of the Mighty Balsams”

–Photographs courtesy of the Haywood County Public Library–

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