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Steam locomotives helped open the United States

lunch_breakYou know the sound, chu-chu-chu and the high whine of a whistle blowing smoke. The sound is irretrievably linked to the expansion of the North American continent.

 

Steam locomotives are massive machines of black metal that belch pure power. There are many steam engines preserved in museums, but there are also a few still running commercially. Most have mostly been relegated to hauling tourists on scenic jaunts through the countryside, but some are still employed in the traditional work of the railroad. This is the domain of the mechanical steam giants, monsters with drive wheels up to five feet tall that are still running and hauling freight, nearly 100 years after they were first manufactured.

 

Many of the engines burned coal to boil the water needed to create the steam that drove the big engine. But the machines were versatile and could be adapted to their local supply. In Indonesia, some engines burned eucalyptus wood and thus smelled sweet and drove some of the local animals crazy.

 

In Texas, land of pump jacks, the engines were modified to burn oil. There was no need for a fireman to shovel coal into the big furnace. Instead, he and the engineer endured excessive heat while opening and closing values allowing just enough oil into the furnace to give the engineer the power he needed.

 

It was and still is a tough job. Even after a short one- and one-half-hour tourist run, the fireman and engineer emerge from the locomotive covered in sweat. The furnace can reach temperatures of 2,000 degrees

 

Once the run is complete, the real work starts for the engine crew. tappingThe engineer circles the machine with a hammer and taps every nut on the drive train to ensure all are tight. Just one nut working its way loose can lead to disaster. If one of the big drive rods comes loose, it could puncture the firebox, spewing flames on the track. If the boiler is perched, the escaping pressure will result in explosion.

 

Two popular steam engine rides in Texas are The Texas State Railroad that runs from Palestine to Rusk and The Grapevine Vintage Railroad. The trips attract a wide variety of people. Grandparents were seen with little children. There were couples both with and without children, a seniors group and even rail buffs complete with hats with pins of all the trains they have ridden.

 

The Texas State Railroad

The trip from Palestine to Rusk is one-hour-30 minutes. The train chugs alone past parts of rural Texas and through woodlands.

 

There is a 90-minute stop at Rusk for lunch and a quick tour of the Station Museum and gift shop. Then the train is switched from one end of the cars to the other and tows the passengers back to Palestine for a 4.5 hour excursion. Snacks and drinks are available on the train and box lunches are available for purchase but must be ordered in advance. You are also allowed to bring your own cooler and snacks.

 

The Texas state prison system established the railroad in 1881. Prisoners laid the tracks as Rusk was the state’s primary iron ore smelter. Prisoners also ran the smelter and the railroad was needed to carry the wood to fuel the large furnaces.

 

The engine is Southern Pine Lumber Company locomotive 28. It was built in 1917. The tender behind the locomotive carries 6,500 gallons of water for the boiler and 24,000 gallons of oil.

 

Cost for the ride start at $32 for open air seating to $65 for air conditioned posh cars. For $225, you can ride in the cab of the engine. However, the engine ride is only available to people 18 and over. The railroad also has a diesel locomotive going from Rusk to Palestine.

 

Throughout the year, the railroad offers special trips including a Valentine’s Day run, Fall Foliage, a Pumpkin Patch Express and more. There is also a campground at the station. For more information, visit https://www.texasstaterr.com

 

grapevineThe Grapevine Vintage Railroad

The Grapevine Vintage Railroad offers three different trips. There is a 90-minute trip from Grapevine to the historic Texas Stockyards, which includes a 1-hour 45-minute layover before the 90-minute return trip. There is a run from the Stockyards along the Trinity River and there is also one hour excursion “fun trains.”

 

Grapevines’ Engine 2248 was built by the Cooke Locomotive Works in Paterson, New Jersey in 1896. The train pulled both passenger and freight cars for the Southern Pacific Railroad in California. The engine later was owned by Walt Disney before helped launch the Texas State Railroad Excursion in 1976 and moved to Grapevine in 1993.

 

Engine 2248 pulls Grapevine Vintage Railroad's four 1925 luxurious Victorian day coaches and two 1927 open-air touring coaches. Cost of the Grapevine to Stockyard trip is $26 for first class or $16 for touring class. The Trinity River trip range from $10 to 15 for the one hour run and the Fun Run is $10.

 

As with the Texas State Railroad, Grapevine also has a diesel engine running too and offers special rides including a “Hold Up” throughout the year. For more information, visit http://www.grapevinetexasusa.com.

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