WTF Fun Fact 13359 – The Biltmore Mansion Railroad

The Biltmore Mansion in North Carolina features 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, and elaborate gardens and grounds that sprawl over 8,000 acres.

During the mansion’s construction, a miniature railroad system was built to transport the massive amounts of building materials required to construct the estate. After the mansion’s construction was completed, the railway system was repurposed for transporting guests and farm products around the estate.

Building The Biltmore Mansion

In the late 1800s, George Washington Vanderbilt II commissioned the construction of the Biltmore Mansion in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The estate still stands as a major tourist attraction. It features a whopping 250 rooms, 65 fireplaces, and gardens that span over 8,000 acres.

Constructing the Biltmore was no easy feat. The mansion necessitated a massive amount of construction materials. And these had to be transported to the remote construction site in the mountains and over rugged terrain.

That’s why Vanderbilt commissioned the construction of a miniature railroad system to transport the building materials to the site. The narrow-gauge system spanned over three miles and used a small steam engine that pulled flatbed railcars loaded with supplies like bricks, lumber, and stones.

Navigating the Blue Ridge Mountains

The railroad system was a significant engineering feat for its time. It was designed to navigate the steep inclines and tight corners of the mountainous terrain with ease. It was also able to transport much larger quantities of building materials than traditional wagons or trucks. As a result, Vanderbilt was able to transport massive amounts of building materials to create his elaborate mansion.

Once the mansion was completed, Vanderbilt repurposed the railway system to transport guests and farm products around the estate. Visitors could also take a ride on the railway and enjoy the scenic beauty of the estate’s gardens and grounds.

Today, visitors to the Biltmore Mansion can see remnants of the railway system, including the original steam engine, tracks, and bridges.

Today, remnants of this innovative transportation system – the original steam engine, tracks, and bridges – are still visible. They serve as a powerful reminder of the bold vision and ingenious problem-solving that went into constructing the Biltmore Mansion, adding another layer of intrigue for modern visitors.

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Source: “Building an Empire: Restoring the Biltmore Estate” — Yesterday’s America

WTF Fun Fact 12765 – The North Carolina Nuclear Bomb

The North Carolina nuclear bomb incident occurred around midnight on January 23/24, 1961.

Despite the potential for catastrophe, not many people know about the event. But when documents from the incident were declassified in 2013 after a Freedom of Information request, we found out just how close the U.S. came to suffering a self-inflicted nuclear disaster.

North Carolina Nuclear Bomb incident

Residents of the small farming town of Faro, North Carolina (near Goldsboro) awoke one night in 1961 to the sound of a B-52 bomber accident.

The Boeing B-52 Stratofortress broke up in the air, releasing the two 3–4-megaton Mark 39 nuclear bombs it was carrying. But dropping a bomb like this is different from having it explode. The nuclear payloads inside the bomb casings are what would have caused the major disaster and they had extra fail safes.

The plane

The plane was meeting up with a tanker for in-air refueling when the crew saw that it had a fuel leak in the right wing. Eventually, the pilot lost control of the rapidly leaking aircraft and ordered the crew to eject at 9000 feet. Unfortunately, two died in the crash, unable to parachute out, and one man died during his parachute landing. Five men survived.

The bombs then broke free of the aircraft and broke up roughly 1-2000 feet above the ground, releasing their payloads (but not activating them).

A very close call

In order for the payloads to detonate, the four arming mechanisms would have needed to break. In 2013, the US government released records showing that 3 out of the 4 mechanisms did fail, and one bomb had started to arm itself and charge its firing capacitors.

Only one functioning arming mechanism stood between North Carolina and a nuclear disaster. No one knows why the fourth mechanism stood up to the damage and failed to cause the explosion.

Remnants remain

The second bomb did not fully arm itself, but plunged into a muddy pit where it could not be recovered. All the military could do was remove the mechanism needed to detonate it and extract pieces of the bomb. Then, it covered the remaining parts with an easement, where it still sits today.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Remembering the night two atomic bombs fell—on North Carolina” — National Geographic