Ah, The Romance of the Rails:
Take A Trip On A Train
by Eleanor S. Morris
The Texas State Railroad, one of the nation's
largest and most unique steam train systems, has been steaming through
the Piney Woods of East Texas since 1893. Today you can take an excursion
through the beautiful pine woods and hardwood creek bottoms from Rusk
to Palestine (pronounced Palesteen), boarding a historic passenger car
pulled by an antique locomotive.
Pretend it's more than a hundred years ago as you ride the rails on a
nostalgic, relaxing trip through the flora and foliage of East Texas.
"All aboard!" the conductor cries and the historic steam train
chugs ahead for the 50-mile round-trip between the two East Texas towns.
Crossing 24 bridges, the train follows the route built by state prisoners
long ago, and perhaps you'll be reminded of a simpler time, the
Golden Age of Steam.
You can board the historic train at either Rusk or Palestine. Both ends
of the line have a Victorian-style train station. The station offers historical
exhibits as well as a Railroad Store with all sorts of unique gifts, nostalgic
keepsakes and educational toys: youngsters' favorite Thomas the Tank Engine
is there in many guises.
The old cars have reversible seats, and the windows are open, letting
in the sound of birds and bullfrogs, the clickety-clack of the train wheels,
the sudden haunting whoo-whoooo of the train whistle. In spring you'll
see dogwood in bloom, and all summer the train chugs through lush green
foliage, tall pine trees. In fall warm shades of red and gold blanket
the autumn woods.
rhythm of the train is relaxing as you sway back and forth around curves,
watching bright light slanting in between the trees. Whether you board
the train at Rusk or Palestine, the trip takes an hour and a half to reach
the opposite station. Once you've arrived, you have an hour to enjoy lunch,
browse through the depot's store or take a short nature walk until you
re-board for the trip home.
Still a fully self-contained railroad system, train crews maintain and
four steam engines, four antique diesel locomotives, and a complete steam-engine
restoration shop. The track crew maintains more than 25 miles of track
and 24 bridges. The Texas State Railroad is one of the only steam railroads
in the country that runs two steam trains simultaneously. The eastbound
and the westbound trains meet daily at the mid-point of the run. This
gives you rail enthusiasts a rare chance to see two historic steam engines
switch and pass. And, you can tour the steam-engine cab and visit the
engineer as well.
You can camp and picnic on the spot, too. Rusk State Park offers shaded
picnic tables, a scenic 15-acre lake, and full-hookup camping. Palestine
State Park also has shaded picnic tables, and water-only camping sites.
Both parks are adjacent to the depots.
Reservations are recommended: in Texas call 1-800-442-8952; outside Texas