TENNESSEE TRAIN TREKS OFFER RAIL BUFFS NOSTALGIA
Dec 30 2004 Nashville
A half-mile down the tracks, a headlight winks. As a crowd awaits on the depot's sun-baked platform, a shrill whistle and clanging brass bell split the still air.
A moment later, throbbing locomotives shake the concourse. Airbrakes shriek. As engines exhale, tractors trundle by pulling freight and baggage carts. Bleary-eyed passengers alight from the Pullman car, each keen to claim his suitcases.
Such scenes still live in the memories of some who recall passenger trains' heyday. But Tennessee visitors can enjoy rail nostalgia daily at a score of sites, both historic and entertaining. Even the most avid railroad buff never lacks for activities to whet his-ah-whistle!
In the Volunteer State, such nostalgia is often in depots, restored as rail museums. Some display steam locomotives or vintage rolling stock. Others offer rail excursions.
At Newbern's RR Museum, for example, Rev. George Butler, a Presbyterian minister, proudly leads weekend tours through the town depot, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
"Along with Memphis," said Butler proudly, 'we're one of just two Tennessee places where Amtrak passenger trains stop," Butler says. In a ticket agent's office, visitors can see a pot-bellied stove saved from another depot, a telegraph key, railroad spikes, tools and photos depicting rails' heyday. (Ask, and Butler will also tell you about Elvis Presley's 90-day stay in Newbern while the rock 'n' roll king worked construction!)
The state boasts a score of steam locomotives, many operational. At excursion sites, the aim is less to 'travel' than to listen for echoes of a bygone era. That magic happens at Tennessee Central Railway in Nashville; Tennessee Valley RR Museum in Chattanooga; aboard Knoxville's 'Three Rivers Rambler' or on Southern Appalachian's 'Secret City' excursions near Oak Ridge.
Rail enthusiasts at TVRM, off SR 153, began decades ago preserving locomotives from railroading's Golden Age. Local trains now link East Chattanooga's terminal with the popular Chattanooga Choo-Choo complex, in a classic depot six miles away. TVRM, with its turntable, shops, tunnels and rolling stock, also offers Georgia excursions, mid-March to October, and on November weekends. For details, visit www.tvrail.com.
Knoxville passengers board the 'Three Rivers Rambler' at Volunteer Landing for a leisurely, yet exhilarating, 80-minute trek behind a chugging 2-8-0 to the French Broad, Holston and Tennessee Rivers' confluence five miles away. En route, they pass a marble quarry, then pause atop a high trestle to view headwaters of the mighty Tennessee.
At Oak Ridge, a 'Secret City" train lets visitors glimpse a vast industrial complex where atomic bombs were built at the war-ending Manhattan Project. Tennessee offers many other rail history sites along its Great Rail Trail. Attractions include:
? Casey Jones Village (Exit 80A from I-40, Jackson). Engineer Casey Jones' 1890s home is lovingly preserved. So is a 4-6-0, sister locomotive to the legendary steam engine in which Jones died heroically in a 1900 wreck. Nearby, the Old Country Store serves up home-cookin' buffets and offers an authentic ice cream parlor. At the adjacent Station Inn, guests may spend a night in a cozy caboose or coach!
? Chilhowee Park, on Knoxville's fairgrounds, displays a vintage Southern Railway 2-8-0.
? Cookeville Depot Museum (I-40 Exit 286) offers free exhibits and a
4-6-0 steam engine. Tennessee Central provides Watertown excursions. For details, visit www.cookevillechamber.com
? Cowan RR Museum (Franklin County, Front Street) A century-old depot exhibits railroad relics, model train layouts and a rare Porter 2-4-2 locomotive.
? Dollywood theme park (Pigeon Forge) Has open-air rail rides through Smokies foothills behind 'Klondike Katy', a 2-8-2, among five steam locomotives in the park.
? Erin RR Park commemorates a railroad chartered by Andrew Jackson in 1852.
? Etowah L&N Depot Museum (McMinn County near Athens) Exhibits at a 1906 depot depict rail and regional history.
? L&N Depot (World's Fair Park, Knoxville) Classic depot, home to Gulf & Ohio RR.
? Little River RR Museum (Townsend) Has a Frick steam engine, vintage L&N caboose, two flatcars and other rail memorabilia.
? Lookout Mountain Incline (Off I-24, Chattanooga) World's steepest passenger railway ascends a 72 percent grade up to historic Lookout Mountain. The trek offers scenic river valley vistas. Once atop the mountain, guests enjoy historic Point Park. For more details, visit www.LookoutMtnAttractions.com.
? Lynnville RR Museum (Off US 31, Giles County) has memorabilia, track-laying tools to timepieces, a 2-6-2 locomotive and an HO-scale model railroad.
? Memphis Transportation Museum (Collierville) No. 1351 is among just five surviving Frisco 'Mikado' 2-8-2s. Also exhibited are a 1915 luxury car and a caboose.
? Mid-South Live Steamers (Columbia) Maury County Park has a large-scale model railroad featuring 14,000 feet of track and pivoting transfer tables.
? NC & St. L Depot Museum (off US 45B, Jackson) A 1907 depot has a free museum, 'whistle stop' political displays, an Amtrak diner and model railroad.
? Newbern Depot RR Museum (Northeast of Dyersburg) A museum, open weekends and by reservation, in what remains an active Amtrak train stop.
? Niota (Mouse Creek) Depot (McMinn County) This 1854 station once was on the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad, later part of the Southern system.
? Old Smokey RR Museum (Depot Street, Knoxville) Vintage rolling stock on tracks at classic Southern Rwy. Depot near Regas Restaurant.
? Oliver Springs Historic Depot (NW of Oak Ridge, Anderson County) This renovated 1896 depot has a library, archives and free museum. Builders reversed plans to make the depot a mirror image of others. A Southern caboose is displayed.
? Rogersville Depot (Hawkins County) An 1890 Southern Rwy. Depot houses a Newspaper and Print Museum where the state's first newspaper began in 1791.
? Southern Rail Charters (Nashville) Offers rail excursions to Cookeville. For details, visit www.southernrailcharters.com.
? Thompson's Station (U.S. 31 Williamson County, south of Franklin) This 1866 depot replaced one destroyed in a Civil War battle.
? Walking Horse & Eastern RR (Bedford County, south of Murfreesboro) Special 8-mile rail trips link Shelbyville, Wartrace.
Tennessee's rail heritage is getting richer daily. Cities, like Grinder's Switch (Hickman County), still work to preserve their past. The Centerville depot there soon will be a museum housing memorabilia of Minnie Pearl, comedienne of Grand Ole Opry fame.
For more information on this advisory and additional Tennessee tourism news, contact:
Department of Tourist Development News Bureau
Department of Tourist Development News Bureau
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