Two images come to mind for Tweetsie Railroad. Foremost is cowboys and Indians – and bandits, of course, with blazing pistols and rifles – fighting over who will have the train filled with vacationers. It has been like this in Blowing Rock since July 4, 1957, when the family-oriented, rootin’-tootin’ amusement park debuted.
The other picture – same place, but in fall – is a ghoulish variant, when costumed staffers open the park after dark for the run-up to Halloween. For this, the Ghost Train, driven by macabre engineers, circles the grounds.
Sometimes overlooked in any season is the train that put Tweetsie on the map and gave it its name. And Engine No. 12 is front-and-center, with a head of steam, for Railroad Heritage Weekend, Aug. 29-30.
The engine is rare: It’s the only surviving narrow-gauge steam locomotive from the East Tennessee and Western North Carolina Railroad. Until this line – the “Tweetsie” – went out of business in 1950, it hauled iron ore, lumber and passengers around the mountainous area. Part of the rail bed is now N.C. 105, between Boone and Linville; a somewhat flat stretch between the Tennessee towns of Johnson City and Elizabethton is currently being retooled as a rails-to-trails path for hikers and bicyclists (details: www.tweetsietrail.com).
Engine 12, built in 1917 by Baldwin Locomotive Works, was a coal-fired workhorse. It was purchased by rail fans, then briefly owned by cowboy actor Gene Autry, who wanted to move it to California and use it in movies. Instead, it was restored and became the centerpiece of the Wild West-themed Tweetsie Railroad park.
Next weekend, the park’s railroad heritage will have No. 12 and the acquired-later No. 190 locomotive – another Baldwin, once an Army train stationed in Alaska – pulling separate trains around the Tweetsie track. (On Aug. 30, a Sunday, the engines will work in tandem, together pulling one train.) Visitors both days can also tour the railroad train shop, where both classic engines are maintained.
Other Railroad Heritage activities include the viewing of historic documentaries, a memorabilia display, photo sessions, and performances in the Tweetsie Pavilion by Cherokee dancers and demonstrations by Cherokee crafters.
These heritage events are included in regular admission, except for a $5 fee Saturday when one train that No. 12 pulls will consist of 1870s-vintage coach cars.
On track for next weekend
Through Nov. 1 – including the Aug. 29-30 Railroad Heritage Weekend – Tweetsie is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Admission: $41; $27 for ages 3-12. Tweetsie’s weekends-only “Ghost Train Halloween Festival” begins Sept. 25-26. Tickets ($34 for 3 and older) are already on sale. Tweetsie Railroad is on U.S. 321, between Boone and Blowing Rock, at 300 Tweetsie Railroad Lane, Blowing Rock.
The shortest drive from Charlotte – just under two hours – is Interstate 85 South to Gastonia, then U.S. 321 North to Blowing Rock.