Located on ninety-three acres along the Tennessee River in downtown Lenoir City, the Lenoir Car Works was once the largest and most important business in Loudon County. The earliest operation was the Bass Foundry and Machine Company, which produced iron railcar wheels; in 1907 the company produced three hundred wheels per day. The Lenoir Car Works, a small plant for building and repairing freight cars, was founded in 1904 and purchased by Southern Railway the following year. Soon after, the Bass Foundry became part of the industry. By 1907 the Car Works produced ten to twelve cars per day and employed approximately 500 men.
During World War I the work force swelled to 2,700 men. The average number of employees varied between 800 and 900 men, and most area families depended on the plant for economic survival. The only major strike occurred in the early 1920s and resulted in the death of one striker and the involvement of the Ku Klux Klan. The local Klan sent threatening notes to nonunion “scabs” and burned crosses in their yards.
The complex contained a machine and blacksmith shop, a wood shop, an erecting shop, and a boiler and engine house topped by an imposing smokestack. The engine house powered the complex and supplied electricity to parts of Lenoir City. In the mid-1920s wooden freight cars were declared unsafe, and orders decreased, although the steel foundry, the iron foundry, and the old brass foundry continued to produce four to five hundred wheels per day. During World War II the machine shop was converted to a second steel foundry and produced various castings for oceangoing freighters and other craft.
After World War II diesel engines made the old steam engines obsolete, and the iron foundry closed in 1957. Steel and wrought-iron wheels replaced iron wheels and led to the closing of the steel foundry in 1963. In 1980 Sarten Metal Reclaiming Company purchased thousands of patterns and molds from the original pattern shop and moved many of them to the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga. The last area to close was a newer, more modernized brass foundry, where journal bearings and insulated glued rail joints were produced.