Sunday, May 12, 2013
Texas State Railroad
Engine 300. Build for WWII service in Europe, but never making it overseas, this old war-horse was used to transport freight, lumber, munitions, and now tourist and rail fans after becoming a part of the Texas State Railroad in 1996 celebrating the railroad's 100th anniversary. This would be our chariot for the day's excursion from Rusk to Palestine and back again.
RDB and I were camping at the KOA in Rusk, TX - about 10 minutes from the train depot. We arrived shortly before our 11am departure (RDB had to ask me to slow down - I was skipping thru the parking lot, I was so excited!) We purchased our tickets and settled into the adults-only air-conditioned Car #40 for an hour and a half ride thru the piney woods of East Texas to Palestine. Once there, we'd have a break for lunch, then follow the same path back to the Rusk Depot before heading back to our campsite.
First stop on the trip was the town of Maydelle, TX - home of the railroad's only turntable. The town was established in 1910 specifically because of the railroad, however, it declined passenger service once the rail was up and running. Now, it houses the TSRR's maintenance headquarters. This is also where we met the Eastbound train, Engine 316, on it's way across to Rusk. This train was hosting a rail fan photographer's event - so we saw many passengers hanging out the windows, or down on and around the tracks, waiting to take photos of our train as we crossed paths. Interesting Fact: the Westbound train always yields the right of way to the Eastbound train. Meaning - we have to move over to the sidings to allow the Eastbound train access to the main line.
We continued along thru the woods, crossing various small country roads, and the occasional pasture and cows. At each crossing, the engineer would blow the whistle, giving warning that we were coming through. Many of the crossings didn't have crossing arms or lights - simply Railroad Crossing signs, with the hope that drivers would "Look, Listen, and Live." Interesting Fact: The number of whistle blows can determine your direction of movement: Two whistles - forwards, Three whistles - backwards. Rich and I got a first hand experience of this at the lunch break - we were taking photos near the engine and two whistles (two very loud whistles) warned us that he was about to start moving towards us).
As we came up to the Neches River, the engineer began to blow off steam. No, he wasn't venting about something - he was clearing the engines of excess pressure created as they boiled the water to created steam. Doing this right over the river crossing, with the afternoon sun shining down clearly, created the perfect conditions for a double rainbow. Interesting Fact: The Neches River bridge is the longest bridge on the rail line: 1,100' long and 35' high. The original construction was wood, but is now concrete.
We made it into the Depot at Palestine around lunch. I had packed a small picnic basket for RDB and myself (sometimes cheese and crackers and fruit can be the absolute best!). We spent some time walking around the campground and picnic area while Engine 300 was being refueled and maintenanced. Interesting Fact: It takes 2 hours and over $400 just to get the engine up and running and to the station, before a single passenger steps on board.
The trip back was just as nice, if not even better. We were quizzed by our car attendant on all things railroad and Texas - and didn't do nearly as well as the car with the kiddos who had just gone through Texas State History. She took pity on us either way, and we each received a DVD of "Great Scenic Railway Journey: Presenting The Texas State Railroad" and a very nice keychain to commemorate our adventure. Interesting Fact: the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad in North Carolina is the sister line to the TSRR. I bet you can guess where RDB and I will be heading to next....
And, one last Interesting Fact: Dallas, The Early Years was filmed, in part, using the trains and the rail system. Which means they play the Dallas theme music. A lot. Don't be surprised if you find yourself humming it the rest of the afternoon.
For just a few more rail fan photos, go here.