Tweetsie-Historic Steam Railroad and Theme Park
The Railroad With A Heart
Fun At TweetsieClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Fun Time Was Had By All At The Pretend Robbery
The History of Tweetsie
Tweetsie is located in the mountains of North Carolina. It is between Blowing Rock and Boone, just a few miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway at mile marker 291. It has been an historic institution in this area since the days of the Great Depression and remains a beloved memory in the hearts of all the people who have been touched by Engine # 12.
Number twelve is the last remaining engine of the ET&WNC Railroad. That stands for East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad, but my Daddy had us convinced it meant Eat Taters and Wear No Clothes when we were kids. Tweetsie, #12, was built in 1917 and is a coal fired locomotive. The ET&WNC line carried people and freight 66 miles over the mountain between Boone, North Carolina and Johnson City, Tennessee. The railroad line operated from 1882 until 1950 when the “narrow gauge” part ceased to operate.
Engine Number 12 did some traveling before returning to her home town. She worked in West Virginia for a while then was bought by the famous Singing cowboy, Gene Autry who intended to use the engine in movies out in Hollywood. But the cost to get her across country was prohibitive and he sold Tweetsie to a man named Grover Robbins for the great sum of $1 on condition it not be resold for profit.
Mr. Robbins created a three mile loop of track around the mountain and opened a tourist attraction featuring #12. People loved the idea of taking their children on a short and safe train ride and flocked to the area. Eventually a Wild West town was built and a live show designed to thrill and chill the riders. A local celebrity personality, Fred Kirby, was hired to make regular appearances as a singing cowboy. As, kids, we loved him and he became a hero to us.
In time, more was added to make a visit to the theme park more entertaining and a chair lift was constructed. As it carries the rider up, up, up the mountain, one can see the entire park and almost to town. About the same time a “country fair” ride area was built and has a Ferris wheel, tilt-a-whirl, bumper cars, and many more rides commonly found at fairs everywhere.
It became necessary to obtain another engine. Old Number 12 sometimes was in the shop for maintenance or repairs. So Number 190, the Yukon Queen, was purchased and brought to the Tweetsie Park in 1960. She had quite an exciting history and was a great addition. The Yukon Queen was built in 1943 for the United States Army and served in Alaska as part of MacArthur’s 2-8-2 platoon of eleven locomotives. The Queen worked hard on her assigned route on the White Pass and in the Yukon.
That pretty much covers a brief history. Now we can get on to the fun stuff. This is what one can expect to see and do at Tweetsie right now.
Scenes From the Train
What To Expect At Tweetsie
A visit to Tweetsie will never be forgotten. It is an experience that touches the heart and takes one back to a more innocent time. The Wild West theme entertains both children and adults; it is age proof and sort of old fashioned in its simplicity. The employees dress in Western wear and the gift shops are full of hats, chaps, child-sized holsters and play guns. For those who favor the other side, Indian headdresses, spears, dream catchers and the like are also available. But all of that is the material part of the Tweetsie experience.
Upon entering the Park, you will find yourself transported back to the 1800’s. There are life size statues of horses and replicas of stagecoaches, and wagons everywhere. The railroad track in just at the entrance and if one has great timing, it will be loading passengers. Go there immediately. This is THE Tweetsie experience and everything else fades next to riding the train. Sit in the back of the 2nd car or front of the 3rd car for the best view of upcoming live shows. Once loaded, the engineer tells about the engine that is pulling the train today and pulls out. Coal smoke floods the air and people in Car 1 may even get a cinder in the eye if not careful.
The train slowly chugs around the mountain and over the trestle (look down and you will be awed) as the engineer keeps us informed of the history and current conditions of Fort Boone. We pass several items of interest, a “Hanging Today” sign and an abandoned gem mine. Then we roll into the tiny settlement and the train stops. Suddenly the Sheriff is there with his sidekick and they are ambushed by bad guys who want to steal the gold on the train and to rob the passengers! A fight ensues with gunfire and wrestling. The bad guys win and decide to hold the entire train prisoner. They board and force the engineer to drive on. A bad guy is stationed on each car and “casually” checks and reloads his pistol.
The train continues the loop and we pass an Indian settlement, an old time shooting gallery, a graveyard and other strategically placed old west items of interest. Then the train approaches Fort Boone and the action starts again. The bad guys “force” the train to a stop and jump off, dragging the Sheriff with them. Unknown to them though, the Fort is under attack by Indians! The soldiers shout for the engineer to “get those train passengers to safety” but are they not allowed to move the train. Outlaws, Indians, Lawmen and Soldiers stage a fight while maintaining funny dialogue. Rifles, pistols, spears, fists and even a stick of dynamite are employed in the struggle to win control of the gold and the passengers.
The stick of dynamite is thrown after a cowboy who ran and hid behind the outhouse. It explodes and the walls fall down revealing the cowgirl sitting on the wooden rim of the hole. She is angry and comes out shooting.
When I was a kid the Indians came aboard and pretended to scalp people, but I suppose it is no longer Politically Correct. We always loved it though. sigh
Finally the bad guys are defeated, the Indians run away and the good guys take a bow. They board the train cars, verify all passengers are safe and accounted for, and give each child a gold shell from their pistol. Then we set off again to complete the journey back to the depot. There are a few more sights along the way, but they cannot compete with having survived the Great Train Robbery.
The train puffs into sight of the Depot and people wave as we wave back. We all had a great time and made a memory that will never be forgotten. As we depart, cowboys help us off and some of us immediately line up to ride again.
Other Things To Do At Tweetsie:
- Pan for gold
- Visit the Petting Zoo
- Ride the rides at the Country Fair
- Watch a live show at the theatre
- Ride the Mouse train and Mouse Mine
- Ride the Chair Lift
- Visit the Saloon and watch the Can-Can Girls dance
- Eat at several great food kiosks
- Watch fudge being made and grab a sample bite
- Take lots of photos-the views and flowers are gorgeous
- Visit the shooting gallery
- Play in the arcade
- Sit in the Jail and see how bad guys were locked up
Interesting Tweetsie Facts
- The nickname Tweetsie was given the train by locals who constantly heard the shrill whistle echo through the mountains as the she passed by on her route.
- Tweetsie was called the “railroad with a heart” by people in the Great Depression because they were allowed to ride for free if they didn’t have money for a ticket.
- Also the train employees would pick up groceries and supplies for folks and drop them off on the return trip.
- The elevation at Tweetsie is 5506 feet above sea level.
- Tweetsie becomes scary in October and the Ghost Train rides through “Death Mountain”
- Contact Tweetsie at: 300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock, NC 28605
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