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Tweetsie Railroad is a family oriented Wild West theme park located between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina, United States. The centerpiece of the park is a 3-mile ride on a train pulled by one of Tweetsie Railroad's historic narrow-gauge steam locomotives. The park also features a variety of amusement rides, live shows, a zoo and other attractions geared towards families with children. The park also hosts a variety of special events throughout the year.Tweetsie Railroad History
Opened in 1957, Tweetsie Railroad began as an excursion train ride pulled by steam locomotive 12, the only surviving narrow gauge engine of the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad (ET&WNC). Built in 1917 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works, 12 is a 3 foot narrow gauge 4-6-0 coal-fired locomotive that was used from 1918 to 1940 to haul passengers and freight over the ET&WNC's 66-mile line running through the Appalachian Mountains from Johnson City to Boone, North Carolina. The name "Tweetsie" was given to the original East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad by area residents who became accustomed to the shrill "tweet, tweet" of the train whistles that echoed through the mountains. The nickname stuck with the railroad and its trains, and became more identifiable than the railroad's original name.
Two years after the 3 foot narrow gauge portion of the ET&WNC ceased operations in 1950, the locomotive was purchased by a group of railroad enthusiasts and taken to Penn Laird, Virginia to operate as the Shenandoah Central Railroad, opened in May 1953. Rains from Hurricane Hazel washed out the Shenandoah Central in October 1954, and Locomotive 12 was once again put up for sale. Cowboy actor and singer Gene Autry optioned the locomotive with the intent to move it to California for use in motion pictures. However, Autry ultimately determined that the transportation and restoration costs made his plan impractical.
Instead, Grover Robbins, an entrepreneur from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, purchased Autry's option and bought the locomotive in August, 1955. Robbins moved the 12 locomotive back to its native Blue Ridge Mountains as the centerpiece of a new "Tweetsie Railroad" tourist attraction. One mile of track was constructed near Blowing Rock, North Carolina for the train to run on, and on July 4, 1957, the locomotive made its first public trip over the line. In 1958, the track was extended to a 3-mile loop around the mountain, and the trains at Tweetsie have traveled that loop ever since. Grover Robbins' brothers, Harry and Spencer, were also involved with the operation of Tweetsie Railroad, and the park is still operated by the Robbins family.
Tweetsie Railroad became a popular tourist attraction, and quickly evolved into the first theme park in North Carolina -- and one of the first in the nation. A western town and saloon were built around the original depot area. A train robbery and cowboy-and-Indian show were added to the train ride, playing off the Wild West theme that was very popular at the time on television and in movies. The theme was enhanced by regular visits from Charlotte's WBTV television personality/singing cowboy Fred Kirby, who hosted a popular children's show. In 1961, a chairlift and amusement ride area was constructed on the central mountain inside the rail loop, and over the decades the park has been expanded with additional rides, attractions, shops, zoo, and restaurants.
The Tweetsie Railroad theme park is open from early April through October of each year. In addition to the Wild West train adventure and the amusement rides, Tweetsie Railroad has a variety of live entertainment shows featuring talented performers selected from the immediate area and from the Southeast. The park hosts numerous special events each season, including Letterland-themed days in May for school groups, visits by Thomas the Tank Engine and a very popular nighttime "Ghost Train" Halloween event in October. Beginning in 2017, the park's 60th anniversary season, Tweetsie Railroad announced plans to start a Holiday themed event to be called "Tweetsie Christmas".
In 1960, Tweetsie acquired another coal-fired steam locomotive, USATC S118 Class 2-8-2 190, the "Yukon Queen" from Alaska's White Pass and Yukon Route. Also built by Baldwin Locomotive Works in 1943 for the US Army, the engine was part of an 11-locomotive fleet of "MacArthur" 2-8-2s originally purchased for use overseas. During World War II, the locomotives were sent to Alaska for use on the White Pass and Yukon.
In 1961, Grover and Harry Robbins built another train ride and tourist attraction called "Rebel Railroad" in the Smoky Mountains near Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Originally featuring a Civil War theme, the park was renamed "Goldrush Junction" in 1966 and re-themed to a Wild West concept very similar to Tweetsie Railroad. The Robbins brothers sold Goldrush Junction in the late 1960s, and it subsequently went through various owners. In 1976, Jack and Pete Herschend of Branson, Missouri bought the Pigeon Forge facility and redeveloped it as "Silver Dollar City". In 1986, country music star Dolly Parton became a part owner with the Herschends, and the theme park became today's Dollywood.
On February 9, 2017, Locomotive 12 celebrated it's 100th Birthday. An official ceremony was held for the locomotive during Tweetsie's Railroad Heritage Weekend.
Tweetsie Railroad's operating season is from the 1st Friday in April to the last weekend in October, then from Thanksgiving Weekend to the end of December for Tweetsie Christmas. The park is open weekends in the spring and autumn, and daily from the weekend after Memorial Day weekend until Mid August. In addition, the park is open on Friday and Saturday nights in from Late September through October for the very popular "Ghost Train" event. The park is also open for "Tweetsie Christmas" on Friday and Saturday Nights from Black Friday to late December. Other special events are held throughout the season, including Railroad Heritage Weekend in August, that focuses on the history of the narrow gauge locomotives, and a large firework display on the Independence Day Fourth of July.
Tweetsie Railroad is located on US 321 between Boone and Blowing Rock, North Carolina.Our Visit
We waited for the train to return to the station area.
Tweetsie Railroad 4-6-0 12 the
only surviving narrow gauge engine of the East Tennessee and
Western North Carolina Railroad. We then went to the refreshment
stand and filled our cups with soda pop.
David told us to get a picture from the platform, so we did. Then we set up on a porch out of the sun. Now we will watch the train leave.
Tweetsie Railroad 4-6-0 12 pulls the trains around the park today. At this point we then walked out of the exit, Chris put our cups in our rental car then David drove Chris and I over to a vantage point to take pictures of the train crossing the high trestle.
The train crossed the high
trestle at the Tweetsie Railroad Park. We thanked David for
bringing us out to get the pictures on the high trestle.
Newton was served by the narrow gauge Chester & Lenoir, which arrived in 1882. It was folded into Southern subsidiary Carolina & North Western and standard gauged in 1902.
The Newton Depot Authority was created in 1995 to save the depot. It was on the property of Norfolk Southern, and they had plans to demolish it due to liability issues. Originally located at the junction of the C&NW and the Western North Carolina Railroads, in 1997 it was moved half a mile down the tracks. The restoration was funded through the Depot Authority with help from donors, grants, and the City of Newton. It was completed in the Summer of 2005.
Next came the Alexander Railroad Pavilion, located across the still active NS tracks. It was started in Fall of 2012 and opened to the public in October of 2016. It was funded entirely by the Alexander Railroad.
The depot authority's partner is the Alexander Chapter NRHS, which owns a majority of the equipment and museum artifacts, and performs the restorations. Under the pavilion is a mixture of local standard gauge and southern narrow gauge rolling stock.The Collection
Lawndale Railway 311- This narrow gauge boxcar was built around 1902 by the Lawndale Railway, a 9-mile pike located 30 miles southwest of Newton. It was retired in 1943 when the railroad quit running. This one is still under restoration.
Virginia-Carolina 50- The newest acquistion of the Southeastern Narrow Gauge & Shortline Museum is Virginia-Carolina standard gauge 2-6-0 50 (Alco 1922). It was originally one of three engines of this class built for Cuban sugar plantations, but the order was cancelled. It saw service for a timber company, and then spent the bulk of its operating life at V-C company. In 1960, the engine was placed in the city park of Lakeland, Florida.
Carolina & North-Western 401 This wooden narrow gauge boxcar was built circa 1875 and ran through Newton on the original narrow gauge. It is believed to be the oldest narrow gauge boxcar on the east coast and oldest piece of Southern Railway equipment. It finished its service life on the Lawndale Railway. from 1910 to 1940. At 37 feet long, it is a member of the longest class of narrow gauge boxcars ever built.
Yadkin Railroad railbus 100
West Virginia Midland baggage car 1. This car is the only known narrow gauge baggage car with a southeastern heritage still in existence.
West Virginia Midland office car "Holly" (Jackson & Sharpe 1902). This car is the only known narrow gauge office car with a southeastern heritage still in existence.
Unrestored equipment is kept at
the museum's shops a few miles west up the railroad between
Conover and Hickory, NC, and in the field across the street from
the Museum. Recently several Rio Grande cars from the Lindsay
Ashby collection have been purchased to provide trucks and other
parts for the restorations.
One last view of the Newton
Depot. We said our goodbyes to David and then followed him back
to Interstate 40 with him heading to Winston-Salem and us
heading to Spencer, North Carolina and the next stop on the
Spencer, North Carolina
We pulled into the parking lot
at just before three and would have until 5:00 PM to look around
this unique museum.Chris is making his third trip here and I am
making my first visit to the North Carolina Transportation
The museum was founded in 1977, when the Southern Railway deeded 4 acres of land to the state of North Carolina for a transportation museum. Two years later, another 53 acres was added to the original donation; the entirety of the railway's largest former steam locomotive repair shops. The museum's first exhibit opened in 1983, called People, Places and Time. The museum grew over the years, most notably in 1996, with the opening of Barber Junction, a relocated railroad depot from some 30 miles away, and the newly renovated Bob Julian Roundhouse. Barber Junction serves the museum's Visitor's Center and departure point for the on-site train ride. The Bob Julian Roundhouse serves as the hub for most of the museum's railroad exhibits, but also includes aviation exhibits and site history.
Several bays of the Spencer Shops roundhouse are devoted to volunteered restorations of locomotives and rolling stock in the museum collection. It was here that the 542 was worked on and steam locomotives from 1896-1953 were repaired. In the first 16 stalls, visitors can walk among the massive locomotives and rail cars on display. Moving into the Elmer Lam gallery, aviation exhibits dominate, with a full size replica Wright Flyer, Piedmont Airlines exhibits, and more. Moving into the restoration bays, visitors may also see volunteers working on various railroad pieces, and even manufacturing their own parts, as steam engines have been out of date so long it is impossible to obtain replacement parts from any manufacturer.
The Flue Shop, where all of the flues for steam engines were formerly produced, as become the Bumper To Bumper exhibit, featuring vintage and antique cars. These include several Model Ts, a Model A and even a Ford Model R (the 1907 predecessor to the Model T). A Highway Patrol car from 1935, a Divco Milk Truck, a Lincoln Continental and others are also part of the museum's collection.
In 2005, the museum's Back Shop underwent a massive renovation, which included repairs to the roof, re-pointing of the brick, and a stabilization of the building's floor. This building, where the full overhaul of steam locomotives once took place, is most notable for its size and scope. Nearly three stories tall and two football fields long, it was once the largest industrial building in the state. It may be most notable, however, for the words "Be Careful," standing some three feet tall, visible from nearly anywhere on the north end of the site. In 2009, the museum opened the Back Shop to the public for the first time, with an access ramp on the south end. "Behind the Scenes" tours and special events often featuring a full Back Shop tour.
The museum has a heritage railroad, which operates passenger excursion trains several times per day, year round, but on a seasonal schedule. Trains are usually powered by the Norfolk and Western 620, however, at times it is substituted by the Southern 6133 or Southern 2601. The Southern 6133 and Southern 2601 also assist in special events where two or more trains are operating. Though the museum has no operating steam locomotives of its own, it has used the Lehigh Valley Coal 0-6-0 126 for trips, along with Flag Coal Co. 0-4-0 75, the American 4-4-0 "Leviathan" locomotive, as well as the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's Southern 2-8-0 630. For Caboose trips and at-the-throttle trips, the museum has leased engines from the Grambling Locomotive Works; the Virginia Museum of Transportation and Norfolk Southern previously allowed the museum to use their Norfolk and Western #611 during its two stays. Cab rides to the normal excursion can be purchased at Barber Junction.
Visitors may also purchase tickets to ride the roundhouse turntable every day.Events
The museum hosts a number of events annually and some one-time railroading events that bring rail fans from across the country. In 2012, the Bob Julian Roundhouse was the stage for all 20 of Norfolk Southern's Heritage locomotives during a two-day photographic event. In 2014, the museum hosted Streamliners at Spencer, with notable 1930s - 1950s era locomotives gathered around the Bob Julian Roundhouse turntable for a four-day event. Streamliners at Spencer included the Class J 611 Steam Passenger locomotive, visiting from the Virginia Museum of Transportation. This notable locomotive remained in Spencer for repair and restoration work to allow it to once again pull passenger excursions across the southeast.
The Museum has also operated 21st century steam trips from its grounds over its property and Norfolk Southern using the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum's Southern 630 and rolling stock as well as the NS steam rolling stock fleet in 2012 and 2013. In 2015, the museum was used as the boarding destination for some the Virginia Museum of Transportation's Norfolk and Western 611 trips.
The NCTM is also host to Boy Scout Rail Camp, which allows for Boy Scouts and Leaders to camp out on the historic facility and earn the railroading merit badge. It is the largest railroad related scouting event in the nation. There are plans to implement Girl and Cub Scout events at the museum in 2017.Our visit
We walked into the Barber Depot and introduced ourselves as being from Trainweb.com and were given wrist bands to wear to show that we had permission to look around the grounds. Chris was guaranteeing me he can show me everything within two hours of time.