The coffee pot finished brewing around 8:00am. The sun was beating down while Tara made some oatmeal and poured us some orange juice. By this time, Dad & Cindy were sitting on their front porch sipping on some coffee, so we decided to join them for breakfast.
Dad was getting cornhole out for Chase. In no time, we were slinging bean bags first thing Monday morning. Everyone agreed that this “sure beats typical Monday mornings”. After a few tosses, we had a plan for the day. After lunch, we were going to ride a train, see Ruby Falls, and then go downtown for dinner.
After some sandwiches and salads, everyone packed into the van and I pointed it south toward Chattanooga. We arrived at the Tennessee Valley Railroad depot just in time for the 1:15 Missionary Ridge Local. As we walked toward the depot we were able to see some really cool train cars parked out front. The was a train whistle blowing in the background as we walked into to buy our tickets.
When we walked inside there were two younger gentlemen talking on radios. They were both dressed in black and white, one with a train conductor hat – complete with a pocket watch. Ticket prices weren’t bad at all, only $17. I thought this was a great deal for a once in a lifetime experience for Chase and Chloe. Tara had never been on a train, so she wasn’t sure what to make of all this. As we walked out to the platform, we could see one other couple in an otherwise (very) empty train car. I felt sorry for a moment, then remembered it was only 1:15pm on a Monday.
As we boarded we chose the open-air car instead of the air-conditioned one, besides we’d have the entire car to ourselves! As the conductor came and punched our tickets the train started to move. Nobody could hide their smiles as the whistle blew and the sounds of a train on the tracks filled the empty car. After a moment, the tour guide came over the loud speaker to inform us our next stop was at the East Chattanooga station and Tennesee Valley Railroad Repair Yard and the “Turntable”.
When the train reached full speed, I started moving around the car snapping pictures and reading some of the informational plaques. It turns out, our car was built in the 1940’s (or maybe it was the 1960’s) and had been restored with all the original furniture – including luggage racks and bathrooms. Clearly this was a coach car, but I could definitely see the appeal of traveling by train. It was really neat to see the “hidden countryside” which included a river, bridges, and experience the thrill of going through a (very dark) tunnel.
As we approached the East Chattanooga sub-station, we could see all kinds of different trains including some steam engines! The conductor was back on the intercom system telling us we’ll be stopping for a tour of the repair shop and to watch the engine on “the turntable”. With the whistleblowing, we slowed into the station and were instructed to exit our car and follow the conductor. When all (eight) of the passengers were on the platform the conductor started his talk about the repair shop, the specifics of the engine, and introdcuded our engineer all while unhitching the engine from the passenger cards. As we started walking forward, the conductor waved to the engineer and he started moving the engine forward as well. We walked 50 yards toward the turntable stopped as the conductor walked onto this huge circular platform with train tracks in the middle. On one end was a small building not much bigger than an outhouse. The whole thing looked like a bowl, and it was plain to see why it was called the turntable. As the engine slowing creeped forward to a hault in the middle, the conducture activated a motor and the entire turntable began to spin until the train engine had done a 180 degree turn.
We were given a short tour of the repair shop and told to board our car so we could make our way back. This time I took Chase and Chloe and stood at the back of the car. There was nothing but a gate to hinder the view back to the depot. As we passed by the river and went through the tunnel again, I could help but think how refreshing this was. Even though our ride lasted an hour, the contrast from the (sometimes crazy) interstate system with its cookie-cutter exits and fast-food chains, left me feeling notstalgic about taking the train for the next family vacation.