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NRHS 2014 Convention Ozarks Rail and Water Tour: Silver Dollar City, Showboat Branson Belle, and Eureka Springs & North Arkansas Railway June 11, 2014



by Chris Guenzler



Elizabeth called me up at 4:00 AM to wake me up. At 4:40 AM Bob and her met me outside and we went to McDonalds for my now usual breakfast of Hot Cakes and Sausage. We then drove over the Holiday Inn where Sarah Jennings sold her a bus ticket to get her to Silver Dollar City. Bob would follow the bus to there. We loaded two buses and Elizabeth sat by me on my bus that I hosted. The bus took us to Silver Dollar City and we went to the steam shop where they had coffee and cinnamon rolls for our group. We got a train ticket and a silver coin as we waited to tour the shop.

Silver Dollar City Railroad History

Silver Dollar City, opened on May 1, 1960, and operated by Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation, is a theme park near Branson, Missouri, based upon an 1880s Ozark frontier town. It features modern rides as well as a blacksmith, craft stores, and buildings appropriate for the era, and is generally rated as having the best food of any major theme park in the country. The park first gained national attention when CBS-TV's The Beverly Hillbillies filmed several shows in the park to start off the 1969-1970 season.

For the rail enthusiast, Silver Dollar City is the home of the Frisco Silver Dollar Line Steam Train, a 24-inch gauge, three-mile railroad. Reportedly, the Frisco name honors the railroad that supplied the ties and rail, and even some construction help, to make the train ride possible. A normal trip features a hold up, while during Christmas the robbery is replaced by Grandpa telling the Christmas story. The entire trip takes about 20 minutes.

The Frisco Silver Dollar Line was added in 1962, and originally served at least partly as a mode of transport from the old parking area to the park. Initially, there was some difficulty in getting the train working properly at the park due to the grade of the uphill slope. Reportedly, the train kept sliding back down the last hill, wheels churning furiously, setting fire to the surrounding trees. When the entire loop was built, the grades were still a challenge. The park solved the problem in what has been described as "a classic frontier-theme-park style" by building up extra steam while the passengers are entertained by a comedy train robbery.

The first locomotive on the line was a 1922 Davenport 0-4-0T from the Wayne County Board of Roads Commission. This locomotive has a special history as it was once owned by Henry Ford. According to the Greenfield Museum at Dearborn, Michigan, Ford had used it to entertain his grandchildren and to teach them steam locomotive operations. In 1962 it was converted into a 4-4-2 and a tender was added along with a diamond stack and other "wild west" fixtures. Numbered 76, the Davenport operated on the Frisco ine until it was retired in the 1980s. This locomotive was purchased for Silver Dollar City from the defunct "Adventure Town" of Alexandria Bay, New York, at a cost of $15,000.

Several German-built steamers also exist and operate at the park. They come from manufacturers such as Orenstein & Koppell and Kolben Danek, all originally built to 60 centimeter gauge (close enough to operate on two-foot gauge track). Two 1934 Orenstein & Koppell-built 0-4-0Ts were purchased from Peter Buescher & Sohn of Mueater, Germany, in 1965. One of these, No. 43, has been restored to service as a 2-4-0T and is in use today. A larger 1938 Orenstein & Koppell 2-4-0T, former Kies unit Schotterwerke Nordmark No. 13, is also in use and retains its large European-style cab. The newest engine on the roster is a 1940 2-4-0T built by KolbenDanek for Hans Vatter, AG., which carries the number 76. All of the locomotives have been "westernized" and painted red and carry the Frisco herald. While there can be as many as three steam locomotives fired up at any one time, there are only two sets of passenger cars. The cars feature forward facing bench seats with open sides and covered tops.

There is actually some interesting controversy about the Silver Dollar City railroad. Different records show that the locomotive fleet of the theme park was once actually much larger than what is there today. For example, there are records of other O&K, Henschel and CKD locomotives coming to the park in the 1960s and 1980s. Some of these records show the steamers being passed on to other operations such as the LaPorte County Historical Steam Society/Hesston Steam Museum. However, the Hesston Steam Museum website states that Dr. George Mohun, of Novato California contacted us, offering 4 locomotives and 8 flat cars, the remains of the Mecklenburg Pommersche Schmall Spurbahn Railroad in East Germany, intended for a steam tourist railway near San Francisco. This railroad was never constructed, and the equipment was stored on his ranch for 17 years. After an inspection trip, funds were borrowed and the equipment was purchased. The equipment arrived on April 14, 1987. The brand-new, yet 47 years old, CSK (CKD) was immediately placed in the shop for cleaning and inspection. It was fired up for the first time ever in August 1987, and now serves as our regular locomotive for weekend operation.

In conversations with the staff at Silver Dollar City, a number of people have heard rumors about the extra steam locomotives, but no one has direct knowledge about them. Many of the internet listings show several steamers arriving at Silver Dollar City in 1987, and then Hesston in 1989. However, this conflicts with the 1987 operational date that Hesston shows for the locomotives.

One final steam locomotive that has a questionable history with Silver Dollar City is Henschel 15918, built in 1918. This locomotive, built new for Heeresfeldbahnen as HF 2064 (German Army), was reportedly sold to Silver Dollar City in 1968.

Besides the Silver Dollar City theme park in Branson, Herschend Family Entertainment Corporation also operates Dollywood in east Tennessee. This park also has a steam railroad, a three-foot gauge operation using former White Pass & Yukon equipment.

The NRHS Shop Tour and Train Ride



Davenport 4-4-2 76 on display. I talked with our host who took me into the shops before everyone else so I could get clear pictures of everything.





A locomotive cab.





Side rods.





Whistles.





Orenstein & Koppel Germany 2-4-0T 43.





Orenstein & Koppel Germany 2-4-0T 13. That ended my private shop tour and I went back outside.





Our NRHS group waiting to go through the shop building at Silver Dollar City.





Another view of the display engine. We then made a Photo Line to get the train backing out of the shop building and coming our onto their mainline.





The engine backed by the photo line.





The roller coaster started their safety runs of the day.











The Photo Runby.









The back up move.









The posed pictures. They pulled the train up one car at a time and loaded our NRHS members by using two ladders. I boarded the 4th coach and had a bench to myself so I could slide side to side to get pictures on our train trip. Now sit back and enjoy a ride of the Silver Dollar City train. We stopped at the station to take water on our first of two trips over the railroad.





























So that is a trip around Silver Dollar City. We detrained at the regular station.





One last view of our train before we all walked back to the buses. We took our car driven passengers back to Lot 5. I said my goodbyes to Elizabeth and Bob before they headed to Kansas City and a flight home via Denver to Sea-Tac Airport then home to Lynnwood, Washington. We sure had plenty of fun together on this trip. The buses headed to the Showboat Branson Belle. As we were driving there we came to an accident and I had the driver stop the bus. Bart Jennings' car had been totaled and I made sure he was ok. He then put me in charge of the boat trip and told me what I needed to do. I got back on my bus and we headed onward to the Showboat Branson Belle.





We crossed Table Rock Lake Dam on the way to the Showboat Branson Belle.



Click here for the Showboat Branson Belle Trip