Hit the road—the railroad!


Old-timers and railroad aficionados, including my husband, will tell you that steam engines seem to have lives of their own. Engine Number 300 smelled of oil, diesel, and grease, and the black-and-red machine seemed to breathe as pistons moved up and down and valves clanked open and shut. The steam spewing from valves sounded like heavy, impatient sighs, as if 300 were bored just sitting around and eager to get going.

Engine Number 300, built in 1917, is a main attraction for the Texas State Railroad excursion train that runs between Rusk and Palestine. On our recent trip, passengers of all ages, from toddlers to seniors, accompanied us for the ride. Our 20-year-old daughter wasn’t sure what to expect, but a big grin spread across her face when she saw the old engine, which she pronounced “really, really cool.” She also liked the vintage passenger cars from the 1920s and 1930s. After the passengers toured the engine cabin and took their seats, trusty Number 300 pulled out of the station for a four-hour, 40-mile round trip ride through the east Texas countryside.

Travelers can ride in an open-air car or in an enclosed air-conditioned car with access to concessions. Also available is an adult-only car where soft drinks, water, iced tea, and snacks are served. A box lunch is included in the fare. Our cheerful attendant gave us a brief history of the railroad, which dates back to 1881, when inmates of the Rusk Penitentiary built the line to transport the hardwood used to fuel the furnaces at the iron smelter located at the penitentiary. Iron products produced by the smelter were used in the dome and columns of the state capitol building.

Along the route, bandits collecting money for a local charity “robbed” passengers. Thank goodness we were warned that this could happen! Not to fear: The miscreants were apprehended in Palestine by none other than the Lone Ranger. Yes, after a hiatus of several decades, the Lone Ranger rides again!

On the return trip, we sang “Deep in the Heart of Texas” and were quizzed on our knowledge of Texas history. Promptly at 3:30 p.m., faithful Number 300 delivered us safely back to the Rusk Depot, where a tired but happy group of passengers disembarked for other destinations.

Do you know what the state fruit of Texas is? What was the name of Austin before it was given its current name? What is the state reptile? Ride the train and brush up on your Texania! Visit www.texasstaterr.com or call 1-888-987-2461 to book a trip. On the Web site you’ll find more history of the railroad and engines, schedules, special excursion trains, and more.

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